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Austin’s Civil Rights Heroes

To demand an end to racial inequality and segregation, 4,000 Black, white, and Mexican Americans marched from East Austin, Texas, to the Texas State Capitol on August 28, 1963. Their walk and protest rally at the Texas capitol, which coincided with the much more well-known March on Washington, was ignored from recorded history outside of the Austin area.  Booker T. Bonner, a prominent civil rights activist, was in charge of the pro-integration march and protest. Bertha Means was another influential Austin leader who organized protests against civil rights injustices before the march and was an inspiration to many. She organized a rally at the Austin public skating arena where they denied Black residents access to the facility. Years later, organizers established a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) chapter in Austin, which established “survival programs” patterned after the original Black Panther Party for Self-defense (BPP). Larry Jackson organized Austin SNCC, and according to the Portal to Texas History website, “Mr. Jackson was raised in segregated Hearne, Texas, but spent part of his youth in Los Angeles and Houston, where he was exposed to integration (at least compared to his hometown) and civil rights activism. In Houston, he became involved in SNCC; later, he moved to Austin to start a chapter there. Mr. Jackson talks about the breakfast and daycare programs he ran as the founder of SNCC in Austin. He also discusses his collaboration with white and Mexican American activists and politicians. The Austin SNCC Chapter sold Black Panther Newspapers on …

To demand an end to racial inequality and segregation, 4,000 Black, white, and Mexican Americans marched from East Austin, Texas, to the Texas State Capitol on August 28, 1963. Their walk and protest rally at the Texas capitol, which coincided with the much more well-known March on Washington, was ignored from recorded history outside of the Austin area. 

Booker T. Bonner, a prominent civil rights activist, was in charge of the pro-integration march and protest. Bertha Means was another influential Austin leader who organized protests against civil rights injustices before the march and was an inspiration to many. She organized a rally at the Austin public skating arena where they denied Black residents access to the facility.

Years later, organizers established a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) chapter in Austin, which established “survival programs” patterned after the original Black Panther Party for Self-defense (BPP). Larry Jackson organized Austin SNCC, and according to the Portal to Texas History website, “Mr. Jackson was raised in segregated Hearne, Texas, but spent part of his youth in Los Angeles and Houston, where he was exposed to integration (at least compared to his hometown) and civil rights activism. In Houston, he became involved in SNCC; later, he moved to Austin to start a chapter there. Mr. Jackson talks about the breakfast and daycare programs he ran as the founder of SNCC in Austin. He also discusses his collaboration with white and Mexican American activists and politicians. The Austin SNCC Chapter sold Black Panther Newspapers on the campus of UT-Austin and was visited by the BPP Field Marshall Don Cox in the 1960s. A large anti-Vietnam War movement in Austin influenced activists across the state.

Austin has a long history of racial discrimination against Black people. According to Austin’s “Black Perspectives” website, “Following abolition, Black Texans migrated to Austin to live in communities around the city. In 1928, however, the Austin City Plan forced Black residents East of downtown by closing public facilities and schools in other parts of the city. Amid the Great Depression in the late 1930s, segregated public housing reinforced the concentration of Black residents on the East Side. Then, in the 1950s, the construction of Interstate Highway 35 served as a physical barrier that separated East Austin from the rest of the city.

Meanwhile, city officials constructed other parts of Austin to meet the needs of white residents. According to Andrew Busch’s history of Austin’s built landscape, officials and residents engaged in the ‘possessive investment of whiteness,’ positioning their concerns of infrastructure and leisure as environmental–as opposed to racial–issues. Steering Black residents to the city’s East Side was only the first step in concentrating political and economic power within white communities.”

Larry Jackson was known for his refusal to support the war in Vietnam as a result of his activity in the Civil Rights movement and was inspired by Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted in Houston when he lived there. In part, because of his political activity and connections, he was able to enroll at UT-Austin and avoid the draft. Jackson met Muhammad Ali on Wheeler Avenue at the YMCA, which fostered a strong sense of fighting for civil and human rights. He lived in the same area in Houston as Mickey Leland. He had relationships with well-known entertainers such as Eartha Kitt and Aretha Franklin, who were all interested in helping the cause of Martin Luther King Jr. He attended the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Jackson was an anti-war advocate, as was Ali. Larry started up the Black Panther Party and SNCC in Austin. He started the first “Free Breakfast Program” for school children in Austin to feed them a good breakfast. The Austin School District was not doing this like most schools in the country until the Black Panthers started free lunch and breakfast programs.

Jackson was able to get the Black, Mexican American community, and liberal whites to support the breakfast program, and he helped to crack the racial wall preventing Hispanics from being elected. According to Jackson, “Austin is a racist city and is more racist now than it was in the 60s.” 

By working with the Austin anti-war movement, which was made up of whites who wanted social change, he created a strong Black movement dedicated to civil and human rights. He named the daycare center that he organized the Angela Davis Day Care Center.         

There are many more civil rights stories in Austin’s history, including Wilhelmina Delco’s victory of being elected to the Austin ISD Board of Trustees and becoming the first African American in Austin to be elected to such a position. In 1971, twelve black students at the University of Texas conducted door-to-door surveys. They gathered signatures for a petition to obtain a shuttle bus route into the Black community of East Austin. There was a Black press (NOKIA News) and others that addressed civil rights in Austin. More stories will come on this subject as we move forward.

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