Living History event connects San Angelo’s past with future

Historical event held at Dunbar Historical Library

By Mbulelo Maqungo, Ashley Rodriguez
On December 2, 2019

Photo by Cora Bishoppetty: (From left) Murry Johnson, Sandra Gray and Ella Mae Johnson enjoy stories from another guest speaker. The event was coordinated by ASU junior Destiny Brown, who is researching what life was like in San Angelo during the civil rights era.

An ASU student on Nov 18 hosted an event in collaboration with the West Texas Collection at the Dunbar Historical Library to help raise awareness of the historical impacts of the African American community in San Angelo. 

Destiny Brown, junior, organized this event in the hopes of bringing the community together to learn about the contributions of African Americans to the Concho Valley. She said she hopes their stories do not go untold. 

Many well-known members of the community spoke about their formative years and experiences at what was once the only library for San Angelo’s black community during the years of segregation. 

Topics of integration, education, business and a sense of community were shared at the event, with all the speakers holding a wide range of opinions. 

“I traveled all across the country after finishing school here in Angelo, but by the time I came back, it felt like integration was fairly easy here compared to other cities,” said Sandra Gray, Lake View High School’s first African American teacher. “People came together with little fuss.”

Gray earned many accolades during her time as an educator and while she worked at Ethicon, some of which included being named as a Woman of Distinction and a Red Ambassador for the American Heart Association. 

She took on the position after noticing the lack of diversity within the organization.

“I wasn’t born here, but I was raised in San Angelo after 1943,” she said. “Believe me when I say that I had to go around the whole mountain to get to my dream job.” 

Ella Mae Johnson, president of San Angelo’s Rosary Reading and Art Club and the local NAACP chapter, credits her accomplishments to her religious upbringing. 

“Our mother lived by the saying ‘spare the rod and spoil the child,’” Johnson said. “My three siblings and I learned right from wrong through discipline, whether it was at home, the schoolhouse or Sunday school.” 

Robert Butler, another speaker at the event, offered a unique perspective during his time in both segregated and integrated schools. 

“Maybe it was different in bigger in other cities, but after we integrated, we lost a bit of independence in our own community,” Butler said. “We all knew who owned the local salons and barbershops, washeterias and shopping stores on our side of town. So, now, when folks were given more shopping choices across town, our businesses started to lose their relevance.”

Butler, a 40-year veteran of the Air Force, was among one of the first fully integrated graduating classes of San Angelo Central High School. 

“No part of my childhood felt underprivileged,” he said. “I think I can speak for most of us that our schoolteachers and folks made sure we never went without.”

Other speakers at the event included Murry Johnson and Erma Brooks.

Those in attendance enjoyed an assortment of pizzas, pasta and beverages courtesy of Trophy’s Pizza.

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