Central Texas College and Texas A&M University-Central Texas hosted an evening dedicated to highlighting the accomplishments of African American role models from Bell County on Thursday.
The event, “African-American Contributions to Local History,” moderated by Texas A&M University-Central Texas Chief Diversity Officer Sanfrena Britt offered a glimpse into what it was like living in Texas during the Jim Crow era and highlighted the successes of locals who broke barriers for African Americans in Central Texas.
Held at the Texas A&M-Central Texas’ Warrior Hall, about 50 people attended, and more joined virtually to listen to life stories from Horace Grace, founder of CTC’s Center for African American Studies & Research; Michele Carter, Central Texas College Deputy Chancellor of Finance and Administration and Chief Diversity Officer; Sandie Johnson, founder and CEO of It’s All About You Talent Services and president of the A&M-Central Texas Black Student Union; Jaliea Jones, psalmist and musical minister; and Jerry Jones, A&M-Central Texas dean — College of Arts and Sciences.
Carter described her experience taking a job at the reception desk of Central Texas College for $5.49 an hour years ago.
“I paid for a suit I really couldn’t afford because I felt like I have one shot,” Carter said. “That’s where my journey at Central Texas College began.”
During the pursuit of her doctorate degree, while studying education leadership, Carter said she approached CTC Chancellor Jim Yeonopolus about bringing a focus on diversity to Central Texas College.
Yeonopolus appointed Carter as the college’s first Chief Diversity Officer soon after. Carter said her goal is to promote student success for the college’s diverse population.
“Just being a resource, being a listening ear, examining policies to ensure equity across the board,” Carter said. “I don’t have a staff, I don’t have a budget, but I make myself available.”
Musician Jaliea Jones sang a tear-jerking rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” between speakers.
Horace Grace shared his first memorable experience with racism growing up in Timpson, Texas — a place he described as a one-stoplight town.
When he was 12 years old, he said, he walked up to a water fountain to get a glass of water, and out of nowhere a white man knocked the glass of water out of his hand.
In another instance, Grace described the racism he experienced during a brief stay in Montgomery, Alabama, on his way to Texas.
“i could ignore these (stories), but I want young people to understand what we all had to do to make it,” he said.
On a lighter note, Grace shared one of his fond memories of his friend Roscoe Harrison — the first African American news anchor in Central Texas.
Grace said he was invited to the Governor’s Mansion in Austin by then-Gov. Ann Richards. Grace was appointed by Richards to serve on the Brazos River Authority, after serving under former Gov. Mark White overseeing $10 billion of assets on the state’s Credit Union Commission for years.
Rather than go alone, Grace said he took Roscoe Harrison to accompany him to the Governor’s Mansion, and upon walking up — he expected to greet the governor first, but something else happened instead.
“When she looked up and saw Roscoe, she kind of ignored me,” Grace said with a laugh. “She said, ‘Hello, Roscoe, come over here and let me give you a kiss.’ I understood then that Roscoe was known all over the state of Texas. He got a kiss that day that I didn’t get from the governor.”
Grace served as a lieutenant in the Vietnam War, an experience that impacted him deeply.
“The Vietnam War haunts me to death, still,” he said. “My voice breaks because I’m sad about the war. — For 365 days you’re there, you don’t know if you’re going to run over a mine, or somebody’s going to shoot you. If you can do that for 365 days and still be healthy, you are blessed.”
Grace medically retired from the Army and later became a successful entrepreneur with a lawn maintenance company he ran for 25 years.
He said he was one of the few board members on the Brazos River Authority who opposed the pipeline from Stillhouse Hollow Lake to Georgetown Lake — taking precious water from Bell County.
The evening concluded with the Black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”