Friday, April 15, 2011

Growing Up White Next to a Black Neighborhood

The area of Austin called Clarksville is different than it was when I was born December 6, 1936. At that time, and up until the time we moved to South Austin in 1945, the former slave neighborhood was located between West 10th and Waterston Avenue with West Lynn Street on the east extending west to the railroad tracks that are now in the middle of MoPac.

It's hard for my children and grandchildren to understand that time in Austin's history when schools and neighborhoods were segregated by race. Only blacks lived in the area called Clarksville and the children didn't go to Mathews Elementary where my sister and I went.

My family lived in four different houses just outside the black neighborhood. At one house our backyard was up against a black family's backyard. That's where we lived when I was between five and nine, and I remember talking to some kids over that fence there often, or until my parents told me not to. Since most other blacks lived east of Austin, living where we did gave me an opportunity many white kids didn't have. I got to know some of my black neighbors, even though I had to keep it a secret from my parents.

I grew up in a segregated town, not really understanding why, and it wasn't until I was in college in 1954 that blacks in Austin began to be reluctantly accepted in some places. I left Austin in 1956 to join the marines. One of my friends was a black private from Houston. In California, we could go to restaurants together and the beach and just about anywhere we wanted. My friend rode back to Texas with me once and by the time we got to Austin, without discussing it, we started getting our food to go.

Perhaps due to my early experience growing up in Clarksville, I've always believed in equality of the races. I included a character in my novel, Where Love Once Lived, who is about my age and is black. I gave him my experiences, from the other side of the fence, however. Several scenes take place in the neighborhood, including memories of the neighborhood, Mathews School, the Confederate home, and what it was like to live in a segregated area. There is also an interracial marriage in the book.

Now, I have the opportunity to return to the neighborhood. Sunday, April 17, 2011, between 1:00 and 6:00 p.m. I'll be signing books at the Clarksville Family Fun Fest in the parking lot of the Clarksville Neighborhood Center. I know the neighborhood has changed, but it is my hope that someone who remembers that time in our history stops by the booth. I'd love to talk to someone who lived in Clarksville back in the 1940's, and most of all I'd like to hear what they think of my Clarksville fictional characters.


  1. From Peg by email:

    What a great opportunity. Hope you do meet someone from "your time."

  2. I got to meet Rev. Steve Maning, the pastor of the Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksville. He is not from "my time", but he knows the history of the neighborhood. His father would be my age, but he died recently. He wanted to buy a book, but I talked him into letting me donate it to the church.