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Reflections: Life in a partially integrated society

MOLLIE F. BELT | 3/3/2015, 8:19 a.m.
I have heard the stories so many times. I feel I lived them – that I experienced them. The stories ...
Mollie Finch Belt, publisher of The Dallas Examiner

The Dallas Examiner

I have heard the stories so many times. I feel I lived them – that I experienced them. The stories are real for me also – my husband’s experiences living in a partially integrated society – attending an integrated high school but not able to do so many things his White classmates could do: go to the movie theatre downtown, bowling ally, swimming pool and eat at restaurants, because he was a Negro. He was excluded from participating in many school activities with his classmates because of the color of his skin: i.e. school clubs, parties and study groups.

The only activity that truly welcomed the Negro students was athletics.

My husband, James Belt Jr., grew up in Harlingen, a small town in Deep South Texas near the Mexican border. There were very few Negroes living there in the 40s and 50s. So there was only one school for Negroes.

Booker T. Washington School for Negro students in Harlingen was a very small building with three classrooms that housed 40 to 50 students in grades first through 12th. One room had first through fourth grades, another room had fifth through eighth grades, and the third room had ninth through 12th grades. There was one teacher in each room.

The Brown v. Topeka decision in the mid-50s led to the closing of the Booker T. Washington School and the integration of Negro and White students in South Texas.

All of the Negro students were transferred to Harlingen ISD. But integration into Harlingen ISD was difficult. Some students were expelled, some dropped out, and others transferred to other schools in Texas. Only five Negro students graduated in my husband’s class – including my husband.

Harlingen High School was the only high school in town. Major business owners – of car dealerships, banks, the movie theatre, lawyers and doctors – and all of the elite White upper-class residents of Harlingen sent their children to Harlingen High School.

My husband was a star athlete at the school. He played basketball and ran track. However, he could not go to his high school athletic awards banquet his senior year because it was held at Harlingen Country Club. Negroes were not allowed at the club, except to work in servant capacities. The coach presented him with his Outstanding Track Athlete of the Year award the next week at school.

My husband was the fastest runner on the track team and because he ran the fastest and jumped the highest, he won the right to participate in the state track meet at the University of Texas in Austin. However, he could not stay in the housing provided for student athletes at the University of Texas or the hotels in the city because they were “White-only” facilities. He had to stay alone at a Black hotel on the eastside of Austin.

My husband is now an attorney and we have two children, Melanie and James III. For many years, my children had a disdain for the University of Texas because of this story. When my daughter graduated from high school in Dallas she had an opportunity to go to the University of Texas on a full scholarship and she would not even go to the university for a visit. Her counselor could not understand.