John P. & Vernelle P.


As Interviewed by Ella Stapleton, March 8, 2015

John P. & Vernelle P.: In Their Own Words

John P.

There were two high schools in Austin at that time -- Anderson and Stephen F. Austin. Stephen F. Austin, was for the white kids and Anderson for the black kids. While I {John} was in high school, they had completed two more high schools for whites, so then they split us in half, separating which school we went to, but they did not build a new high school for blacks. Though we did not see the blacks a lot, it was not that out of the ordinary when we did. We had more contact with the Hispanics because in junior high school, they used zoning rules where certain people in areas would all go to the same junior high school, both Hispanics and whites -- and the rich and the poor kids. There were knife fights and lots of tension between the two groups of people. Overall, I just tried to keep my nose clean because I did not want to end up with a four inch switchblade in my ribs. The Latinos went to the white school, while blacks did not, and that is why there was more discrimination and conflict between the two groups.

We were not really aware of what was happening to the blacks at the time. We just did not have any contact with them while I was younger. Once I got older, though, my father was quite aware -- he was active in the accepting of black people. He got into a position where he would hire black people. That was something I noticed because it was new to me. Social injustice is not just based on race; it is also based on gender, age, religion or any type of difference that the majority does not have.

My best buddy was a Jewish boy, and I could tell that my mother did not want to be good friends with his parents. She did not object to me playing with him, but definitely the families did not socialize. Then I moved to Austin and one of my girlfriends was Jewish, and they were not able to join a lot of the clubs, like golf. There was a lot of discrimination in clubs at that time. People find different ways of excluding other people. It was not economic. It was purely because they did not believe that they were equals and they should not have been treated as equals. Some people would even lie and say that they were not a part of their religion so people could get socially ahead and help their offspring.

Vernelle P.

When I was growing up the discrimination against women was something I didn’t really think of as social injustice. I just thought this was the way things were. When I started making decisions about college, I wondered, what would I study? Well, my choices were slim: A) get married (and raise a family); B) if you were going to get a job, you could become a nurse, you could become a secretary, or you could become a teacher. Those were your career choices. That was it. I didn’t think about the opportunity of studying something different. It did not even occur to me.

At the University of Texas I did practice teaching. I was nineteen years-old teaching Algebra 2 to high schoolers who were maybe eighteen years old, and I felt way over my head. It was just too much for me, so I never taught. So I went with choice A -- getting married. Once you are married, you are expected to raise a family and not work. You will stay home and take care of the house. Your husband has no choices, either. He has to be the supporter. He has to find a job and support me and the children and the house and whatever else.

The social injustice I also faced was not nearly as direct as segregation. I finally got my CPA license and decided I would go to work, but when I went to work, I was forty years old. I sent out resumes and did amazing on my CPA exam and had good grades in college, but in those days, none of the big CPA companies would even talk to me because I was an old female. I remember thinking that since I was older and I was a female on top of it, why would they want to invest in me, spend money training me when maybe in another ten years I would want to be out of there. They could take in a younger person. The same bias applies now in females. They will get married, have three kids and go on maternity leave and probably retire to stay with their children when I could train a male who I know will not have to leave and will work hard to support himself and his family.

So when I went to work, I went with a local firm. They were taking me in for the small business department instead of as a tax worker. On my first day, they took me on a tour of the office and pointed out the copy machine and said, “Look, this will be very helpful to you”. They basically wanted me to a secretary when all I wanted to be was an accountant. I was only there a year, and when I moved again, I said that I wanted to work with taxes. When I finally got a job, I did not work with the big eight, but instead, spent the next year downtown working for a tax firm.

The age discrimination was and still is huge today. I remember one time when I was forty-five, we were switching insurance at the office. I was always on my husband’s insurance, but this was a good deal so we considered switching, but then I learned that because I was exactly forty-five I would have to get a physical on my own dime. This was so maddening because they had set it just so because I was older, I could not have the same opportunities as my younger co-workers. It was age discrimination again, plain and simple. They knew exactly what my medical history was, and that I was a not “dangerous” candidate. It was purely a result of my age. Overall, they just did not want me to be equal because I could or could not have special problems in the future.