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Berl Handcox

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Clip 1: Activism
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Clip 2: Race
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Listen to this full-length oral history while you read the unedited transcript:
First Interview:
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Unedited Transcript

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Lightly Edited

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Biographical Notes
Berl Handcox was born in 1932 and grew up in Denton, Texas.  As a child he spent summers in Wichita, Kansas, where his father lived and worked.  In 1951, he enlisted in the Navy and shortly after was assigned to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Valley Forge.

Mr. Handcox attended Prairie View A & M, where he met his wife, Ruby.  In 1967, he moved to Austin and took a job at IBM in the education department.  A short time later, he was named Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinator for IBM.

Mr. Handcox and his family challenged the unwritten rule that forced African Americans to live almost exclusively in East Austin.  He became known within the Black community as president of a group called the Young Men’s Progressive Club, and this exposure inspired some of his associates to suggest that he run for a seat on the Austin City Council.  In 1971, Berl Handcox became the first African American since Reconstruction to serve on the Austin City Council.  He was re-elected in 1973, and resigned the post in 1975 in order to head the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity for the State of Texas.  Since his tenure, Place 6 on the Austin City Council has traditionally been filled by an African American.

Abstract February 23, 2004
Austin City Council; John Butler; Young Men’s Progressive Club; East Austin; Housing and Public Accommodation; Dick Nichols; Emma Long; Harry Akin; Les Gage; Denton, TX; Wichita, KS; Integration; Segregation; Mitchell Jackson; Alfred Tennyson Miller; IBM; Equal Employment Opportunity; Thomas Watson (Chairman of IBM); John F. Kennedy’s “Plan for Progress”; Recruiting for IBM; U.S. Navy; Lt. Wilford Collins; Barbara Jordan; Place 6 (the “Black Spot” on the Austin City Council); Jimmy Snell; Charles Urdy; Council Decisions:  Incidents Involving Police; Council Decisions:  East Austin Sewage Treatment Plant; Race as a Factor in Council Decisions; Activism; Walter Carrington; Dr. Ervin S. Perry; Grover Waller; Dr. Sidney White.

Abstract April 5, 2004
James Handcox (Berl’s brother); R. D. Handcox (Berl’s father); father’s occupation/greyhound racing; parent’s separation; Mitchell Jackson; Bessie Ross; Inez (Mitchell Jackson’s mother); Annie V. Jackson (Berl’s mother); mother’s occupation/domestic work; Tennyson Miller; Solomon Hill (a neighborhood in Denton, Texas); Shacktown (another neighborhood in Denton); minority-owned businesses in Denton; father’s property on East 29th Street (Wichita, Kansas); picking cotton; World War II rationing; Jackie Robinson; J. B. Smith; civil rights, earliest reflections; Willie Henry; skipping school; movies; enlistment in the Navy; Clarence Hicks; USS Valley Forge; ports of call; Ruby Handcox (Berl’s wife, first meeting); dancing – jitterbug, two-step.

“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.

Berl Handcox

Berl Handcox

Rick Taylor

Date of Interview: 
February 23, April 5,

Mr. Handcox' home, Austin, Texas

Recording Format: 
Digital audio tape (reformatted to compact disc)