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Listen in on History: Untold stories of African American experience in Austin preserved in oral history project

Karen Riles: Interview Transcript

The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past
Dr. Martha Norkunas, Project Director

African American Texans
Oral History Project

Interviewee: Karen Riles

Interviewer: Snowden Becker

Date of Interview: February 16, 2007 and February 27, 2007

Place: Austin History Center, Austin, Texas

Recording Format: Uncompressed .wav audio file (recorded via Video iPod and Belkin Tunetalk Stereo audio receiver)

Transcriber: Snowden Becker

Questions developed by Snowden Becker, Spring 2007

Rural Life and Southern Culture; Awareness of Jim Crow Past

How did Ms. Riles teammates, and her coach, react when the Black students were asked to sit in a separate section of the restaurant? How did Ms. Riles become aware of social segregation as a young girl?

Running time: 4 min 15 sec

Not that I can remember did anybody ever call me a nigger, ever-that I can remember. But, you know, the-like I said, in the previous interview, that the school had just desegregated. And we were, you know-I was involved in sports, basketball, and we would have to visit different little towns around the area that were in our district. And I remember going to Dime Box, and it was after the game. And of course we were going to get something to eat, we were all out to get something to eat. And everybody then, we were all pals by then, the White kids and the Blacks. We were getting along because we were a team. And so we became friendly with each other. And so we were in Dime Box and we wanted to go get something to eat, and so our coach had told us, "Well, there's that restaurant down there, y'all go and get you something to eat and come back to the bus."

So, some of the White girls were walking in front of us, and they went inside of the restaurant. When we got ready to walk in the lady stopped us. She says, "No, y'all have to go over there on that side."And I remember Vanessa Butts said, "I'm not crawling up under that doorway." It was sort of like a Dutch, double Dutch door, except the bottom was open and you had to crawl beneath it to get to the other side where the colored people were supposed to eat.

Well she says, "Well, if you don't go over to that side, you're not going to be served." And so we just left. We started leaving, and then the girls left too. They said, "If you're not going to serve them, we're not going to eat here." And so-some of them did. So when we got back to the bus, Coach Hoskins was saying, "Why are you crying?" Because Vanessa at that point was crying because she had really gotten into an argument with the lady. And he says, "Why are you crying?" And she told him that the lady wouldn't allow us to eat with the other girls. We'd have to eat in the colored section. So he went to the restaurant and told the girls to come out of that restaurant right now. And he made them get back on the bus, and we left. And you know, it made us feel a little bit better. I remember sitting in the back of the bus feeling really rejected, and really just sad. I was sort of depressed after that. I mean, everybody was, everybody's mood was just very solemn, and quiet. And we just went back.

But I don't think I ever encountered the n-word. Now, getting-again, trying to get used to Southern culture-I was downtown Smithfield. We would go to town, the few times that I went to town with my mom. And I had to go to the bathroom. And my mom said, "Well, the bathroom's around the back of these stores." So I had to walk around, now-I was with one of my sisters. And the bathrooms were like this little house-like structure. And one of them said "Colored," the other one said "White Girls." One said "Colored Girls." And that's when I started to become aware, just starting to look around and trying to understand the segregated society. Starting to see the sort of, the residual effects of a segregated society, and that's the signage, the old signage that was still in some places, that had never been taken down.

And so as we would go to places like Giddings, which is also a small little town, northeast of Smithfield, where I lived, I would see the same thing. "Colored Restrooms" over a doorway in a public space. And so I started to understand what had happened prior to my becoming aware of segregation and the age of Jim Crow as it was sometimes called. (February 27, 2007)

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