Barbara Becker

As Interviewed by Max Becker, February 11, 2012

Barbara Becker: In Her Own Words

Ok, so tell me about some of your experiences with Civil Rights in the 50ís and the 60s and kind of in the time you were involved with it.

Okay, most of the involvement was by listening to the radio, speeches, and watching demonstrations on TV later, that would be in the 60s. Back in the 50s, there was not much talk about integration. And living in a small town in West Texas, there were very few blacks, and they were definitely segregated. They went to their own schools and their own churches. Then in the 60s, it became a matter of listening to the speeches, observing on TV, knowing how limiting segregation was to the black people, and taking a side, and making clear your views that there should be equality for both races.

So, where were you living at the time?

We were living in a small town, Andrews Texas, out in West Texas. About ten thousand population. Now one of the things we did that made me aware of the discrepancy of the races was during high school, going down to the black part of town and helping with the Vacation Bible School at the black church. Because you saw the difference in the living conditions, education, and the financial situation that existed. And that they were mainly poor, and didnít have much of a chance to advance in that situation. It made me very much aware from an early age that things needed to change , that they needed to be able to go to the same schools that we did.

How old were you at the time?

Oh, at the time I was in high school when I was aware of the difference in the conditions. And it was mainly from that one experience helping with the Vacation Bible School.

What was it like, just living in a time like that, what was it like?

Well, we were ignorant for one thing, until you had some experience that brought you into some knowledge of the blacks, you were ignorant of about everything concerning them. We were very isolated from the situation that started occurring in Alabama, Mississippi, and those southern towns where there were demonstrations. And it was obvious if you read, and watched TV and listened to the news, that there was a clash, a definite clash between the races, and that something, something had to give. They either got rights that they were asking for. Remember at that time, they didnít get to vote, and if they voted, you had to pay a poll tax, you had to pay for the right to vote. And of course, that tax was instituted mainly, to keep blacks from voting. And if they didnít vote, that kept them down, and they had no power whatsoever. Because if you donít have the power to elect officials, you have no power. And so the Civil Rights was about voting, it was about education, it was about using public facilities that white people took for granted. You know the whites in those states could get on the bus and go anywhere, they could walk into any restaurant and sit down, the blacks at that time could not. And that was one of the things they were fighting for, just what we take for granted every day, to be able to do, is what they wanted to do. And it was a long struggle and it caused a lot of anger. A lot of the anger was from the whites, who did not want to give in to allowing them to have the same rights that everybody else had. So it was very ugly to see, often it was very ugly and it was very dangerous for the participants and we were made aware of that. For me, mainly through the news and through reading and forming an opinion and being able to voice that opinion and not back down, to make it known where you stood. And of course making it known where you stood and wanting them to have their rights and being for integration. One made enemies among what used to be your friends.

What were the daily activities that you guys did in that town?

Well, in that town, there were not many things that I did. After marrying in 1960 and having a child in 1962, we became active in Dallas, where we lived among a black community that was flooded every year, those homes were flooded. And we worked with them to get them out of the flood plain and into houses. So we were down in that community with our son, who was six, seven, eight, nine, ten years old, and he became acquainted with the children there, made friends with them. We became working partners with them, along with a vista worker, who was a paid employee to work with us. We were all volunteers. And we set up a breakfast program for children before they went to school to help with their nutritional needs. We set up tutoring after school in the little center that we organized and provided. But the main that we did is help guide them and work with the city to get them out of that community that flooded every year and into safe housing where they would not be losing everything they had over and over again. That was one of the most rewarding things that we did, that your grandfather and I did, because we made good friends and we felt like we accomplished something. Of course by then, there was integration in the public schools, however, in many of the areas in Dallas, many of the schools were still all white. There certainly was not complete integration, as there still is not complete integration.

How intense was the segregation back then (where she lived), like you said, almost everything was separated where you lived, but how strict were they about it?

Well, as I said, in the little town where I lived, there were so few black residents that I never saw any of that and I can tell you that we did not see a black person walk into a restaurant and sit down. But, of course we had little stores, we saw a few blacks, every now and then, shopping at the grocery store, going to the post office, going to the local corner drugstore. As far as the commercial side of town, they certainly used those things. But as far as working was concerned, their jobs were pretty menial, Iím sure because of the conditions under which they lived they could not afford anything very fancy, certainly not fancy. But jobs in filling stations, different things of that sort.