Civil Rites

I had no intention of becoming an activist when I enrolled at Texas Tech in the sixties. But I had no choice.

As a freshman at Texas Tech University in 1963 and 1964, I had an afternoon job in the Student Union print shop, mimeographing various newsletters and bulletins and printing posters for authorized student events. That fall I was assigned to copy a songbook for the school’s Inter-Fraternity Council. Among the songs were several ditties with lyrics like:

Oh, you can shoot them to the moon,
But we’ll never pledge a coon.
You can put them on a bus,
But they’ll never ride with us.
Oh, there will never be a nigger
In Sigma Phi Naught.

I can’t remember the specific fraternity, but I recoiled at what I was supposed to print. I considered myself a good American and a good Democrat. It seemed that if I printed the songbook, that would make me “a good German” instead.

I told the secretaries at the office that I refused to produce the book. They passed me on to a male figure, maybe the dean, who lectured me about an employee’s duty to carry out tasks. I worried that I would lose my job, but I was adamant. After a few days, I learned that he wasn’t going to fire me.

In the meantime, I did worse. I printed out a few copies and sent them to the Lubbock NAACP. I may have also printed some lyrics in the newsletter of the Young Democrats, which I believe I edited. In any case, the NAACP complained and an item got into the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal—and promptly every fraternity on campus knew my name.

A few days later some of the Greeks encircled me in the dining room of our dorm. They started singing a song about Billy Graham and how he was a “nigger lover.” I threw one of the S.O.B.’s onto a table and rushed out. They did not pursue.

I lived in a second-floor corner room, with big windows on both sides. By the spring, frats and sometimes “cowboys,” or ag students, would gather late at night and toss empty beer bottles up. The panes of glass came crashing in as shards. One night my tormentors broke into the room,

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