Houston, Texas: November-December, 1974
It was 8 a.m., the hour that on any other day classes began. The sky was covered with dark clouds, and kids on their way up the long cement walk to the school’s main entrance hunched their shoulders against the morning chill and walked quickly. Some had arrived in their own cars; others had just slid off the front-seat of a car driven by a father in a business suit or a mother whose coat was buttoned up to the neck over her nightgown; a few students had walked; and still others, all of them black, had ridden in one of the yellow school buses parked in a row in front of the school.
The building itself, grimly outlined against the dark sky, seemed aloof to these comings and goings. It is an immense, bulky rectangle, three stories high, built from smooth tight-brown stone. Each story has its row of severe, darkly framed windows. On the right front, a map of Texas two stories high is carved into the wall.
As I walked toward the row of metal doors at the main entrance—doors so dented and bent that most no longer latch properly—I could hear that inside the commotion had already started. Heavy, insistent drumbeats pulsed through the stone walls, followed immediately by the excited voices of hundreds of adolescents chanting in unison. The words of the chants were distorted but the energy was infectious. I walked faster.
Inside, the normally dark halls were bright in contrast to the overcast morning. Kids stood in small groups talking, shouting, poking, or shoving one another. Some were already eating chips from cellophane bags or drinking cans of Coke from the machine at the left end of the hall. Wads of paper and empty cans were beginning to collect at the edges of the floor underneath the rows of metal lockers. A steady stream of kids walking in casual groups of twos and threes threaded down the halls past kids shoving books into their lockers and past the standing groups of talkers and pokers. They were going to the auditorium, where the chanters and drum beaters I’d heard outside were loudly working their way to frenzy.
I climbed a nearby set of stairs, walked down the hall, and entered the auditorium from the second floor. This put me on the mezzanine where I could look down on the action and also observe anything happening in the balcony. Several teachers had also come to watch from the mezzanine; many of them, like many students, wore headbands of red construction paper. Lamar athletic teams are nicknamed the Redskins.
The auditorium was dark except for a strobe light trained on the stage, where six girls danced in a line. They wore short white sleeveless dresses and black tights. The band was seated directly in front of the stage. The brass section blared and the drums pounded in rhythm with a tom-tom beat while the girls on stage twirled and kicked beneath the constant flashes of the strobe. In the audience everyone clapped double-time and swayed back and forth in their seats. Then the lights went up, the band stopped, the girls were gone, and out of the wings came eight cheerleaders, four boys and four girls. The boys wore red and white checked shirts and light blue corduroy pants; the girls, white blouses and blue and white shorts with a matching bib. They were clapping, bouncing on the balls of their feet, charged with excitement. One of them came to a microphone at the front of the stage and announced a skit.
Kids in various school clubs had decorated the auditorium for the rally. Streamers of red and blue crepe paper heavy with the weight of red and blue balloons had been tied to