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African-American Oral Histories

Akwasi Evans
Clip 4: Transcript


Running Time: 7 min 8 sec

AE: I had just, before I had left, I had taken a job for “Third Coast Magazine,” writing a story about Clarence Brandley who was on death row, in Huntsville. I went to visit Clarence on death row four times, interviewed him, took pictures of him. I went to Conroe. I did background research on that killing, and found clear evidence that Brandley did not kill that young girl. In fact, the man who had killed her, they knew, he had confessed to his girlfriend. He went to his girlfriend’s house that night, told her he killed her and he had to get outta’ town. He had left his bloody clothes at her house, and left for North Carolina. He was a janitor at Conroe High School. Clarence Brandley was the head janitor. When the cops came, Brandley was the only Black there. They said, “You raped a sixteen year old girl.” They put him on death row, they destroyed evidence, they hid evidence, they lied, and they tried to kill the man. I wrote the story for Third Coast Magazine. Four thousand word story, concise, but tight, and went off to Libya, expecting to come back. I told Lenore, I said, “When I get back, I’m going to take a thousand dollars, that Third Coast Magazine’s going to pay me, and I’m going to start my own newspaper.   

When I got back, I found out they had filed bankruptcy. They folded, and I was one of the names on the bankruptcy list so I never got paid. I came back with one nickel in my pocket, and I decided I either had to go get another job, or I could start NOKOA on faith. And I decided I’d start NOKOA on faith. So in 1987, in July, I called five friends of mine together and said, “I can’t pay you, but I’ll give you part ownership in the paper if we get it started.” They agreed, and, we kicked off NOKOA in July of 1987..

JR: You and five friends?

AE: Right. All of them fell by the wayside. One of them died, one just dropped out. Joe Washington worked with me for eleven years. He now works for the police department. Another one, [negligible], still a real close friend, she used to work for the Texas Employment Commission. They just couldn’t put into it what it needed. After, we had no money. We had no bank loans, so everything came in off of what I could sell in advertising.

And when the money wasn’t coming in, the bills couldn’t get paid, much like it is now. And so, we had a crisis, and I called a board meeting and asked them, “What do we do?” They all said, “Close the paper down.” I said, “No, we’re not gonna’ do that. I’ll go find the money somewhere. I’ll make a way. But, I can’t give you this percentage of the paper, and you, and you not put anything into it, or, not help bring anything into it.” So, I restructured it. Cut their percents from ten to five, and went out and borrowed five thousand dollars from Genevieve Vaughan, Foundation for a Compassionate Society. I was able to buy some equipment, keep it going.

Then Gen offered to let me move in to her building there on Congress Avenue, rent free. And we operated there for almost two years, rent free. I was able to get on our feet, thanks in large part to Gen. We would have stayed there, but it was too open. Too many people from other organizations had access to our office, and when I’m trying to interview somebody who tells me they’ve been discriminated against, somebody walks down the hall, so that even though it was a cushion deal, I had to get out and make it on my own.

So, we had another snag, and everything dried up, and I asked them again, “What do we do?” And they said, “Fold it up.” I said, “Why don’t you all just relinquish your shares, ‘cause you haven’t put anything into it, you didn’t make any investment, you haven’t brought anything to the table. Let me either make it live or let it die.” And they agreed. And I went back to Genevieve, and somebody else, and borrowed twenty thousand dollars, and re-structured, hired some people, and by the grace of God and some concerned people, eighteen years later we’re still publishing.

From the time I started to do the newspaper, I stopped doing poetry. I stayed in the movement, in various capacities, but my focus became on doing it through writing, as opposed to just being in the streets. Although, when things like the shooting of Jesse Lee Owens happened, I helped organize the first protest and was there and put that together and made it happen. I will support movements, I support the NAACP, but I have put forty solid years into the movement, from [19]63 till now. It’s time for me to take a break, and work on stabilizing this paper, and spending time with my family.

JR: What was your vision for NOKOA when you started it, what was your?

AE: Being a political activist, I supported the Latinos with Cispus, I supported women with TARAL and NARAL, I supported {Adept} with the movement to have access. I supported Al Gore and others with the gay and lesbian movement. I thought that we all deserve equal opportunity and justice. I had written for the Statesman for a year, I worked for the Villager for a couple years, and I began to recognize that there was no progressive weekly in town. I didn’t want another Black newspaper. I wanted something to serve the progressive movement, all cultures. And that’s what compelled me to start the paper. And I put the word out in the first issue, and I put it out consistently that this is not a Black newspaper, this is a progressive newspaper with an African American perspective. And, I found the harsh reality that it just wasn’t possible. White Austin still wouldn’t accept it. I still get categorized and marginalized as just Black. I’ve been promoting NOKOA as a progressive weekly for seventeen and a half years, and most businesses I talk to only say Black. Thus we have very little advertisement. Look at the Chronicle, look at NOKOA, and you’re talking about night and day. We’re struggling now just to keep the doors open because after 9-11, the advertising we did have fell off, was cut in half. So, it’s a struggle to keep the doors open still, but, by faith, we go on.

“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.

Akwasi Evans

Jodi Relyea

Date of Interview: 
April 23, 2004

Mr. Evan’s office at NOKOA, the Observer, Austin, Texas

Recording Format: 
MiniDisc Recorder

Jodi Relyea