Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project

Part II of a series investigating projects that document religious and cultural diversity across the country.

By Lauren Horn Griffin

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As we prepare to launch our own research project mapping and documenting the cultural diversity of Texas, we want to give our readers an idea of the types of initiatives from across the country that examine religion and culture in the public sphere. Each of these projects, like the IDCL, are working to provide resources that will further conversations about the challenges and possibilities of diversity in the U.S. We will be posting a series of blogs profiling a variety of projects that are dedicated to improving understandings of religious diversity.

Based at Texas Christian University, the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project conducts interviews communicating the experiences of black and brown people in Texas from the onset of the civil rights era. Detailing the role of local people in the black civil rights and Chicano/a movements in Texas, the goal of the project is to express and explore the relationships between local, state, and national actors, documenting and preserving the voices of people who might otherwise be left out of our histories. The project also compares, contrasts, and relates the two civil rights movements in twentieth-century Texas, exploring the ways in which they overlap as well as the different struggles they faced. While most research on these movements looks at them separately, this project recognizes that they occurred in intimate conversation with one another.

These interviews are available on their searchable database, the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Interview Database. This publicly accessible website provides interviews with researchers as well as teachers, journalists, and the general public. They are broken up into short clips so users can search for a specific subject and watch several clips on that topic rather than a full-length interview. The full interviews will be available on the Portal to Texas History and archived in the TCU Library Special Collections. Though the project is based at Texas Christian University, the interviews were conducted by students and professors from TCU, the University of North Texas, and UT Arlington as well as the African American Museum of Dallas. In addition to civil rights issues like school desegregation, the interviews also cover more recent areas of inquiry such as electoral politics, economic justice, and grassroots community organizing.

For example, there are 45 clips that deal with the intersection of religion and these civil rights experiences, which can be found by using the search function. These clips detail the role of churches, liberation theology, and community groups during the civil rights era. One interviewee, Alphonzo Saenz, talks about growing up in Houston in the 60s; he describes how his Catholic faith gave him hope for the future of his community: “it’s a religious thing.” Another clip features Estrus Tucker, who talks about the role of Liberation Community, Inc. as a grassroots organization that combined civic activism and faith, including liberation theology and the pedagogy of the oppressed.

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CRBB recently collaborated with the City of Fort Worth to collect oral histories as part of its Latino Americans: 500 Years of History programming; “Viva Mi Historia,” took place on two weekends during Hispanic Heritage Month at two locations in Fort Worth.

The project has been funded by a series of grants from the Institute for Urban Living and Innovation as well as support from several departments and centers at TCU. In 2014, Civil Rights in Black and Brown received a major gift from the Brown Family Fund, a unit of The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, to support the project’s field work in the summer of 2015. Additional generous support for this phase of the project and ongoing work into 2016 has also been received from The Summerlee Foundation of Dallas.

Moisés Gurrola interviews Mr. Santiago Diaz, a 101-year-old World War II veteran.

In very recent news, the group just received a $200,000 Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a project called “Oral Histories of the Multiracial Freedom Struggle in Texas,” which will capture first-person accounts of activists involved with two civil-rights movements from 1954 to the mid-1970s. They plan to conduct 400 more interviews, soon to be available on their website.

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