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African-American Oral Histories

Gary Bledsoe
Clip 1: Transcript

Advice to Young People

Running Time: 6 min 42 sec

GB: If I had advice [to give] to a young person today, it would be "don't give up your conviction," and, “always have a heart.” But you also should have a head, and take care of yourself. Because, I'm one that wanted to change the world, and not really look out at some of those other basic needs, thinking well, those really aren’t important. They really are. There's something about history and experience and the need to go out there financially to get a stable foundation and things of that nature before you can do other things. So I would advise people to try to go get a stable financial foundation, not forget where you came from. And when you get that foundation, then you go out you don't forget where you came from. Don't get to be caught up in the almighty dollar and then to try to really give something back at the right point in time. Whether that means you quit a thriving law practice with some defense firm where you’re making a half million a year, and then decide, “Well I'm fifty years old. I'm going to go out there, the next fifteen years, I'm just going to help the little people, and do what I can, because I'm blessed. I'm thankful for what the Lord has provided to me in terms of having this education, having good health, having an opportunity to do things. I'm taken care of financially now, so let me try to give something back.” And say, “I'm thankful for the University for giving me a good education,” or what have you because all those things factor in.

NK: So being thankful is the core of your conviction. You said you should remember where you come from, and be thankful. Where does that idea come from?

GB: It probably comes from my mom. I mean really and truly. She probably raised me to do certain things and to believe in certain ways. And so in turn she would ask me questions, “Are you going to defend people, or are you going to put them in jail? Or are you going to do this, or are you going to do that?” She wouldn't try to volunteer an answer, but it was just different things, because I could see so many things happen that were wrong. And you would just shake your head. When I was in the sixth grade, I was walking to school and I get picked up for stealing a car. And I was young. I was, I guess I may have been ten years old at the time, because I was a year ahead. I couldn't even think about driving a car at that time. But you know, the police officer [said], “Whatch you boys doing?” and my cousin was in the class with me, he was a year older than I was. Put us in the car, took our names and did reports and all that. “We had a car stolen from those old green apartments last night.” That leaves a lasting impression with you. Because I'm walking to school, I would get there an hour or so late, two hours late. I was late, I don’t remember how late, but I was late. And couldn’t even think about driving a car at that point in time, didn't know how to turn, didn’t know how to put a key in an ignition. But I get picked up and held for no reason.

You see things like that happen throughout, and it just leaves an impression on you because it happened to my friends. It happened to family members. And at some point you say, “Look, there ought to be a better way.” And it isn’t about being political correct. It isn't about having someone ascribe to your view. There are some things that are fundamental, that go beyond me or my religion, or my background. Some things like you said are fundamental human rights. There are some things that are just fundamental, and right and justice are fundamental. We don't have the right to take another person’s life. So if a police officer does that, they’re wrong. Unless they’re trying to defend their life or the life of a third person, it’s legitimate. But you can't say just because somebody’s Black or their Brown or whatever that you can take their life. And that's essentially the current state of what we have in the State today because a minority life is just not worth the same as a White life.

I remember one time driving, not driving but I [was] on the bus, sharing a charter bus one time, going to a convention in Houston, and an old white gentleman who had headed up the probation department here, I was on the bus with him. I was opining how a jury in the Rodney King case could walk someone when it was on videotape, and how in this case in Fort Worth it was on videotape where a police officer cracks the guy’s head open, they can no bill this guy, a grand jury. He said “Well Gary,” and this was a good man, so he wasn’t talking about himself. “We talk about these higher beliefs like the rights guaranteed by the constitution, and the things that you can’t do to another person because of their rights. Most folk would say or believe that that does not apply to you, and that’s what you need to understand.” Because, how can you go to church on Sunday and say that you are a Christian person, and say that you believe in scripture and all that and sit there on the grand jury or jury, and there’s compelling evidence and just allow somebody to get away with it?

I know I lost a case in East Texas one time. But the DA’s argument there was so compelling. As always it left a lasting impression on me. Because it looked like we were going to win, and it was a real uphill battle. But the DA told the jury, he said: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, your deliberations are private, but I want you to know that your verdict is public. It’ll be etched into the folklore of this community forever. You, your children, and your children’s children have to live in this community, and don’t you forget it.” So it was true jury nullification. It was truly telling them that your neighbors are what's important. What’s right is not what’s important. What God would want is not important. That you have to live in this community, and your children--see, he knows a lot of people will say, “Well I’m courageous and so I don’t mind. I may suffer some pressures. I’m going to go ahead and do this,” and “you, your children and your children’s children.” So everybody's going to say, “Well, I mean, I couldn't do this to my grandkids.” So it’s true jury nullification. Saying, “Yeah, you can go back there and it’s private. When you come out here, your verdict is public.” And the thing is, if the verdict is unanimous and they know it’s unanimous if it’s on our side. So it took them a few days, but they finally came out in his favor.

“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”

Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.

gary bledsoe

Gary L. Bledsoe

Naoko Kato

Date of Interview:
February 24, 2004

W24th Street, Austin, Texas

Recording Format:
Digital Voice Recorder, Olympus .dss format

Naoko Kato