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Despite numerous struggles, blacks see progress since days of segregation

By By Lourdes Vazquez - LVazquez@vicad.com
March 16, 2010 at midnight
Updated March 19, 2010 at 10:20 p.m.

Above: Earnestine Hill recalls segregation in Victoria  and what it was like to grow up in a segregated community. "You don't miss what you never had," said Hill, about the lack of liberties and rights blacks faced. Left inset: A collection of Aunt Jemima dolls decorates Hill's kitchen and dining room area, including this doll acquired from Mammy's Cafeteria in the 1950s.

SEGREGATION IN VICTORIA

F.W. Gross Victoria Colored School, 702 E. Convent St. Jim Wyatt hopes to preserve the building and it's history

Blacks were allowed to attend the Uptown Theater, but were required to sit on the balcony seats.

Earnestine Hill said some homes in Victoria would house black students so they would be closer to the schools because there was no bus service for them.

Prominent blues legends, such as Etta Jones, Louis Armstrong and T-Bone Walker, visited and performed in Victoria.

The first day of school, Earnestine Hill was scared to pull the chain to the commode located outside of the school, fearing the water would fall on her head.

"The school building is still there, and as I passed by, I often think of those things outside, " said Hill, who grew up during segregation in Victoria.

"You don't miss what you never had," Hill said.

Surrounded by photos of generations of her family, the mother of four, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of 13, Hill recalls the racial disparities she faced.

"They (adults) were very cautious about you going out," said Hill, as she remembered being told to use the bathroom before leaving the house.

Hill recalled The Uptown Theater, now First Victoria Bank, which only provided restrooms for whites.

"We would have to go behind the theater to the bus station to use the restroom," said Hill, who admits she is older than 75, but wouldn't give her actual age.

"That's just the way it was. It was something you were taught," said Hill, as to why people conformed.

"At that time, there wasn't a Martin Luther King Jr.," said Hill.

Her youngest daughter, Deborah Hill, was her only child not to experience segregation in school.

"They integrated schools one grade at a time," said Hill, who herself, grew up in a segregated classroom with second-hand books.

"We felt there was better opportunity in integrated schools," she said.

She also found that despite the lack of resources, black students excelled.

Born and raised in Victoria, Hill has seen the progress of blacks in the Crossroads area.

"We've come a long way. People began to work in offices," she said.

Jim Wyatt, Victoria City Council member, was part of the last class to graduate from Gross High School in 1966.

"It's been a struggling history and gives me hope that my grandchildren, as much as my children, will have opportunities," said Wyatt, who grew up on the south side of Victoria.

"It's important you know your history to continue in the direction to over come whatever adversity may be present," he said.

"I kind of know what life is like abroad. I've traveled, and something about Victoria that draws me here," Hill said.

Ron Peace, a Dallas native and first black Victoria school district superintendent, recalls at one point during the early 2000s when he, Wyatt and Bruce Chen, head of DuPont, all blacks, held prominent positions in the community.

"I look today and who are the doctors are being recruited here," said Peace, of the highly trained medical staff in Victoria.

Peace also helped establish Martin Luther King Jr. day as a holiday for the school district, as well as the annual walk.

"It's a day that would be to honor," said the former superintendent who made certain it was not just a holiday off, but instead a meaningful experience.

"The biggest complement would be to do it very similar to march," Peace said.

The importance of such events and seeing individuals as yourself in high ranking positions is kids, said the former superintendent.

Kids need to see people like themselves so they know they can accomplish anything, Peace said.

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