African-American Oral Histories
Clip 5: Transcript
Racism And Inequality
Running Time: 7 min 32 sec
CC: How long were you at Allen?
DR: Two years, then you go to high school in ninth grade. I went to Johnston High School and that’s when I met Judy Dillam who was my art teacher and, who really, I give pretty much most of the credit to her as far as me becoming an artist and my honing in on my skills and teaching me about the different processes of art and the different--you know, I only thought about drawing and I didn’t know about people who did ceramics and you know dealt with clay and painting and crafts and type of arts. I was able to really go to a lot of different classes and learn. Then I was in the gifted and talented program, that really now they call A.P., but in our day it was gifted and talented. So, I only went to school in eleventh and twelfth grade half a day with regular classes and then I went to gifted and talented at Austin Community College (ACC). It was an area-wide [program]. They would bring all the art students from all the different high schools who were nominated by their art teachers and we would go three hours a day in art class. Yeah, three hours. We did lunch and then we did three hours of art. And so, that was my high school years.
CC: So, I know you were bused in sixth grade.
CC: But were you on the East side for the rest of the time?
DR: Umm hum, thank God. Yes. I mean, yeah. Well, when I went to the gifted and talented that was right here on Rio Grande—at ACC now, but Austin Independent School District used to have that annex building. That’s the only other time that I wasn’t in an East Austin school.
CC: So how was it different being in your home high school in the morning then going there in the afternoon?
DR: It was totally culture shock. Like I said, you don’t know that you’re poor until you go and you see people who have money and who have expendable income, who are spending money, I mean who are just buying anything they want, and you barely have enough to catch the bus home. And whatever the lunch was, you know if you were on assistance. I never ate lunch because we had lunch at that school, but I was on assistance. And I would never eat lunch because I would say I wasn’t hungry, because I didn’t want them to know that [I] was poor. All of a sudden you don’t fit in. You could be a great, incredible, talented artist and they can’t take that away from you, but you’re Black and you’re poor--that becomes a stigma. So, I never ate lunch in high school for two years.
DR: Yeah. Rich kids. I mean they came from all over--Austin High, McCallum, you know, Westlake. They all had money and we didn’t. Of course I went to a whole college and, well, you’re the only Black person. You don’t have anyone who can relate to you. You know, there were kids from Travis, but the class wasn’t very big, it was maybe twelve kids, but everyone had money. We didn’t have any money. I mean, I was there on a shoestring budget, you know. I was, well, that was the Austin Independent School District thing, so I don’t think that I was singled out, but it just, I didn’t have money to purchase the things that they did. You know, we had, you know at school you have, you could just go get anything you wanted and if you’re on a certain meal plan and you have to—it was so embarrassing. Yeah.
CC: You mentioned being exposed to things other than drawing. What sort of artistic training did you get in the program?
DR: That was great. My teacher at that time was Carol Rogers. She was a local artist and she took us on field trips. And that’s when I first went to the museums. I went to, I think it was the Harry Ransom Center, was the first one, then I went to La Guna Gloria, and, in fact, I was accepted in one of their little scholarship programs at La Guna Gloria in the summer. I had to stop taking it because I had to ride the bus. And these kids, I don’t know if you ever been to that place, but it’s in West Austin. And the bus only goes to a certain point and you have to walk down this long street and it’s like in a wooded area. Yeah, it’s grounds and they have art classes. And you know in the summer in Texas, believe it or not, it’s hot. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that. I would be walking down that street everyday to go to that class and I would come up drenched in sweat and these people, these kids, would drive past me, going and coming, and no one ever offered me a ride, to the bus station or whatever, to the bus stop. It was a long walk and I stopped going. It was this so totally different cultural thing. I would never do that. If I saw a kid and I knew they were part of this class, I would never drive and let them walk to class and I drive past them. I think that [it] was cruel. So I stopped taking that class. So, that was an avenue that I probably could have learned more as an artist, but once again my background and, I guess, my pride, got the best of me. That happens today, still. I did not benefit from that experience. So I guess I could have been further along as an artist at that time, had I-- But I had to get up so early to catch the bus and get out there and then you get to class and you’re just drenched with sweat and you got to have this whole big panting part where you try to cool off and by the time, you know, this is not worth it. It wasn’t worth it to me. It’s hot, hotter than hell at 8 or 9 o’clock. I think the class started at 9:30 or 10. The sun would be up. It would be hot. So, I don’t like La Guna Gloria to this day. It had nothing to do with them but I don’t support them. So, those were my, you know like I said, I never really went to museums, so I didn’t really-- Everything I learned, I learned from books and magazines and how to be an artist was trial and error.
“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.
Date of Interview:
February 8, April 4, 2006
Deborah Robertís home, Austin, Texas
Edirol digital recorder, Uncompressed wave file