Thursday, February 7, 2013

Black History Month

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.   

During the first week of February, I traveled to Longview to visit the Black History Month exhibit in the Gregg County Historical Museum.  This fine museum is housed in a handsome 1910 bank building which has its own historical marker. The large entry gallery boasts a superb permanent exhibit about Longview and Gregg County. Other exhibits are alternated in an even larger gallery, which sometimes is equipped with chairs and can be converted into an auditorium for history programs. I've had the pleasure of speaking in this venue on a couple of occasions. 

Museum docent Arlene Roberts
This year's February exhibit is: "Black History: African Americans in Public Service." Miscellaneous displays include a nice collection of African American dolls. But the focus of the exhibit is African American citizens who are conscientious public servants in Gregg County. This exhibit hall features numerous photos and explanatory captions of men and women who are devoted citizens of Longview and surrounding communities. 

One of several portrait displays of Gregg County public servants
Sgt. Vince Williams
Chief Wilbert Williams
Vince Williams is a veteran East Texas police officer, who currently is a sergeant on the Marshall Police Department. Vince provides security for the Gregg County Museum: every evening at 10 o'clock, he checks the museum building, and he is a reliable presence at museum events. Wilbert Williams is a retired chief of the Longview Fire Department. Walter Derrick was the first African American coach at Gladewater High School. He was the first African American Mayor of Gladewater, and he has served 22 consecutive years as a member of the Gladewater City Council. 

Mayor Walter Derrick 
A number of those exhibited were military veterans. I was reminded of Doris Miller from Waco, one of the first African American heroes of World War II. Soon after Eakin Press moved from Austin to Waco, the director of the firm asked me to write a short biography of Miller. Miller joined the U.S. Navy before the nation entered World War II. At Pearl Harbor Miller was aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia. As the stricken battleship was sinking, Miller carried his mortally wounded captain to a less exposed position, then manned a machine gun. Miller became the first African American awarded the Navy Cross. Sadly, he went down with his next ship, the escort carrier Liscombe bay, in 1943. There are numerous memorials to Miller in Waco, and I never pass through the city - nor do I experience Black History Month - without thinking of this brave Texan. 

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