We moved to Crane in 1959 when Dad accepted a job with Texaco. I was getting ready to start first grade and had a new baby sister who occupied a lot of my mom's time. Dad had fixed up an old bike for me, and I was free to roam within limits. Having come from the isolated Pegasus Gas Camp where there was next to nothing to do, I was delighted to explore the modern, two-story public library, swim in the three free city swimming pools where swimming and diving lessons were also offered at no cost, and participate in the free summer recreation programs offered to the town kids during the summers. Dad was excited about the Little League and Pony League games and Golden Glove boxing as well as the Crane High School football, baseball, and basketball teams. He was quite the sports fan.
As a family we joined the First Baptist Church where my young parents, at only twenty-five and twenty-six years of age, became actively involved in teaching the youth. Mom also became a working member of the Women's Missionary Union that participated in mission efforts both at home and abroad. She was well aware that mission fields exist in our own back yards. It wasn't long before Dad was coaching Little League or Pony League teams and helping with Golden Gloves, and Mom was having the young people over for cocoa and her homemade giant sugar cookies.
The swimming pools were located at our city park, the summer recreation programs were held at the exhibition hall nearby, and the baseball games were at the fields just north of that. We lived just up the road on Elizabeth Street, and I was allowed to walk from our house on hot summer afternoons to the swimming pools and to other activities around the park. We often had picnics near croquet courts that were laid out for the public to enjoy.
Behind those croquet courts, the baseball fields, and the city park was a long, stone and mortar wall, which I always assumed was just the boundary line of the park. Beyond that was the section of town where most of the "colored folks" (as we called them then) lived. The black boys would walk across from their neighborhood to participate in the Little League games. We were often in that part of town for the baseball games or because some of the poor folks lived there, as Mom and Dad were frequently helping out a family in need, black or white, who were down on their luck. I noticed on those trips behind the wall that there was another school (Bethune) and even another swimming pool in that part of town. It seemed odd, but it was understood that those were the places where the "colored folks" went to school and swam. However, there were no separate ball fields to keep the races apart.
Once Dad started coaching Little League, he was eager to have all kinds of kids playing on his teams. He himself had grown up poor, the youngest of nine children being reared by a single, widowed mother, and he was not a practitioner of racial or social prejudice. Even though schools were not yet integrated in Crane, Dad chose interracial teams. Dad's team performed well, and a few of his players became some of Crane's best athletes. Other coaches also led the way toward integration by having integrated teams.
Back row, left to right: Assistant Coach Cecil Gibson, Vance Gibson, (unknown), Ellis Lane, Billie Perdue, Mark Evans, Coach Harry Harmon.
It's funny how the kids on the teams didn't seem to have any problem getting along with each other. I have since learned that it was the racial blending of the Little League teams that helped to smooth the path and prepare the way for racial integration in the public schools later and to break down the walls between the races in Crane. I am proud of my dad for being a catalyst of this change.
It was quite a revelation to me to learn that a seemingly innocent wall, so familiar to me as a child, had been erected for the purpose of shutting a group of people away from the eyes and concern of the white townspeople. The separate school and swimming pool were built to keep them in the part of town "where they belonged". It somewhat reminds me of how Native Americans in our history were forced onto reservations. How terrible that the Miles family (mentioned in the quote) felt they had to move to another city to escape discrimination.
I, however, saw a different side of Crane. I was never aware, during the ten years we lived in Crane (1959-69) that the wall was intended to be a segregation wall. It certainly didn't serve that purpose for my dad's team members, the Little League baseball teams, or for us as a family. By the time we were in high school, I think that most of my generation were oblivious to the wall and its purported meaning--but perhaps I speak only for the white kids. Nevertheless, it never entered into our conversations, and both Afro-American and Hispanic kids became our friends. Most of the e-mails I have received about the wall and this photo have been in agreement about the wall, but in disagreement about who all is in the photo!
Here is a quote from an e-mail from Randy Robbins (first boy, left, bottom row):
"After living in the world away from Crane, I soon realized that men like Vance's dad, my dad Jeff, and Harry Harmon were ahead of their time in trying to change attitudes concerning racism. It was fathers and coaches like Harry who contributed to many of my generation's hatred of injustice and an enduring belief that "all men are created equal." When this picture was taken desegregation through Brown vs Board of Education was a few years in the future. I have always been proud that my hometown was ahead of the curve with respects to racial equality, and the the two men in that picture provided the foundation of that pride."
Over time, our community became less racially divided in other areas. Not long after Daddy started coaching in Crane, he was approached by a Hispanic man who also wanted to coach baseball. Knowing that Dad was unbiased, he asked Dad to speak for him. The next year the Hispanic man had his own team.
P.S. L. Crumley writes this about the photographer:
"I think his name was A. L. . He worked for my father at Texas Electric as a linesman. He took photos of weddings ect. on the weekends."