Saturday, June 29, 2013

Travel: 18/6/11 (part 1) Texas: Family Tour – Segregation and Assassination

Hotel breakfast buffets look the same wherever you are in the world. If you were beamed into the middle of one you could tell instantly that you were in a hotel restaurant at breakfast time. Where you were in the world... that might be harder. You will have to look at the guy cooking the eggs to get some sort of clue. Or for those subtle regional variations that are slipped in amongst the typical English, American and "Continental" breakfast faire. 

Two flags over Texas

After breakfast, it was time for a tour of Texas attractions especially those related to my girlfriend's family (or as they are now known, my wife’s family). We started with the Elementary School named after her grandfather. The head and some of the staff even took time off their weekend to show us their school. It's a very impressive school with a computer lab full of Macs and an electronic whiteboard which incorporates a projector so teachers never need to get dirty fingers again. It does mean there's nothing to throw at pupils, but I doubt that's allowed any more.

The school services poor areas and even provides breakfast and lunch on non school days for those people whose families who have trouble providing nutritional meals.

This is not what the tour looked like.
We then drove to the sites of other schools in the area, ones where the grandparents and parents were educated. One school no longer exists, the other is still there. It should be noted that these were times of segregation when, if you weren’t white, an education was not something you just came by. People had to fight to make it happen. The grandparents were educated because of programmes instigated by the black community to send kids to school. Often private schools because they were the only ones that would take them. Later special schools were built and these are what the next generation went to.

The grandparents had a firm belief that through education the fortunes of the community could be improved. It led them to become teachers and to make sure their children were well educated.

This is a fascinating story for me as it's very different from my family history. From my understanding, the grandparents of my wife’s grandparents were freed slaves. And at least one of them had been alive when some of Cath's parent's generation were born. For me this always clashes with my European notion that slavery was a sad, but distant part of history. For people I have met to have known someone who had actually been a slave makes me realise how much closer it had been. Plus there are so many people in the US who lived through the segregation era, which really was the son of slavery. The echoes of slavery and segregation still reverberate through America.

Some of these purpose-built schools still exist but are no longer blacks-only, of course, and now part of the regular US education system.

Six Flags Over Texas
Unfortunately our bus was too big to get down the street to see the house of the grandparents, so we headed back to Dallas to get another part of Dallas history. One that's a bit better known.

Book repository
On November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald in conjunction with the CIA, Cuban exiles, the Mafia, Aliens from Roswell and Oliver Stone leant out of a book repository window and shot John F Kennedy from a grassy knoll. At least that’s my understanding of it all.

I shouldn't joke, really. It seems like a long time ago to me, but it still looms large in many people's lives. To me it is a remote historical event, usually brought up to make a conspiracy joke. But in Texas, for people a little older than me, it was and is very real. One of Cath's uncles was actually on the way to see the cavalcade when he people heading the other way told him of the shooting.

In the run up to the Obama election, several people pessimistically hinted at the fact that he might well be shot. I hadn't even thought of it (it's a rarely used political option in Europe), but these were people who grew up at a time when high-profile figures of change WERE shot.

*Rogers Cowboys*
To bring the mood back up we went to see a more upbeat side of Dallas life – its sporting life. Apparently Dallas is very well known for sports. The Dallas Cowboys, The Dallas Stetsons, and The Dallas Lonestar Gunmen are all well respected for their performance in the various derivative sports America is famous for. We saw a few of Dallas’ stadia including the local horseracing track and the Dallas Cowboy stadium where they play American football, which is a cross between rugby and American Gladiator.

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