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Lubbock's black community says life mostly good in city, though problems existed

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

It's been almost 100 years since Will Sedberry arrived in Lubbock without his family and worked for a short time as a cook at the Merrill Hotel before anti-black sentiment convinced him to return to Waxahachie.

A master's thesis written by Texas Tech graduate student Robert L. Foster in 1974 detailed the influence of black residents in Lubbock before 1940. According to its research, Sedberry returned 11 years later with his family in 1922 and permanently settled here. He was among the pioneers who helped pave the way for others who came later, despite hardship, prejudice and discrimination.

"I've seen a lot of changes since I was born here in 1942," said Frances Bell. "There were a lot of things we (blacks) could not do. There were places where we couldn't eat, and there were places where we had to use the back door."

Bell, a 1959 Dunbar High School graduate, said gradual change began to take place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She said the changes came about as a result of determination and faith.

"The church has always been important," she said. "It's a gathering place for people and gave them a chance to communicate with each other."

Other residents, who arrived in Lubbock later, recalled mostly pleasant experiences.

"Actually, I've been pleased with my life in Lubbock," said Henry E. High, an 82-year-old who moved here from Tyler in 1951. "When I came here, I didn't know anyone except that I had an uncle here. So I went out and did what I could do to make a dollar."

High said he landed a job maintaining the grounds at the old Circle Drive-In three to four days a week and later was offered a chance to learn other aspects of the business such as running the projector.

"The owner said if I wanted to work, he had a job for me," said High, who later worked at The Avalanche-Journal before a 30-year career with the U.S. Postal Service.

"When I came here, there were very few blacks for the first 10 to 15 years," he said. "I spent most of my time working. I worked a lot of nights, and from time to time the police stopped me, but they let me go because they recognized me and knew I had been working."

According to Foster's research, one account indicates that Earl Johnson was the first black person to establish residence in Lubbock, purchasing land in 1913. Another account, though, said Calvin Quigley was the first to do so, when he purchased 10 acres of land south of 19th Street near the present intersection of Avenue B. The area bordered by Avenue A, Avenue C, 16th Street and 19th Street became known as "the flats," an area where many black residents lived.

In October 1917, construction began on the first black church, Mt. Gilead Baptist. The two-room structure, located in the 1600 block of Avenue A, was finished in 1918. According to the 1920 U.S. Census, 63 blacks lived in Lubbock. A decade later, the city's black population increased to more than 1,100.

Curtis Harris left Texarkana and moved to Lubbock in 1960. The 69-year-old Harris said he has had good and bad experiences in West Texas.

"I first came out here because at the time it was hard to make a living in East Texas," he said. "I migrated here to work. I wound up getting married and staying here.

"I remember I bought a brand new car once and was driving it down the street. A police officer said, 'Boy, whose car are you driving?' I told him, 'This is my car.' I guess he didn't think I deserved a car like that."

Harris, 69, said he worked at Reese Air Force Base for 20 years before retiring and beginning a second career at Frito-Lay.

"At one time, I was the kitchen and dining room manager at the officer's club," he recalled of his time at Reese. "The money was good, but the pressure was bad. I was overseeing a staff of more than 40 people."

Despite an occasional brush with prejudice, Harris said he had relied on his faith to carry him through difficult situations.

"I got a little taste of it," he said. "But I became a Christian early in my life. I didn't go out and get in trouble. When you have Christ in your life, you learn to accept things. I accepted some things and worried about things I could change."

Earnest Peeples, a Lubbock resident since 1974, said his time here has been enjoyable.

"For me personally, it's been a good experience," he said. "I've gotten along with everyone, and I guess that's because, in a way, I've stayed to myself; but at the same time, I consider myself a people person."

Peeples said he moved to Lubbock from Oklahoma City to attend Bible college at Sunset Church of Christ. He is an assistant pastor and youth pastor at Manhattan Heights Church of Christ.

"I met my wife here and got married here," he said. "I've watched Lubbock grow. I can remember when 50th Street was about as far as Lubbock went; there were cotton fields outside of it. Then, Lubbock just took off. One day, everything was the same, and the next day, it was all new houses."

Peeples, 60, said he worked at Texas Instruments for more than 12 years before taking early retirement and focusing primarily on community work. As a member of a primarily white congregation in Oklahoma, he said his transition to Lubbock in the mid-1970s was smooth.

"For me, it was like moving from one street to the next," he said. "I felt at home and never had a problem. I don't have any complaints."

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The A-J Remembers The Most Important People in Lubbock's History

SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION