Segments in this Video

August, 1959 - Houston Civil Rights Movement is Born (02:52)


Two white Houston police officers pull over Eldrewey Stearns, a black law student and veteran. Noting that he is carrying a photograph of a white female college friend in his wallet, police arrest him for no driver's license. This is the story of what happened next.

Houston's Jim Crow Tradition (01:54)

Despite Supreme Court rulings, Houston's black citizens were customarily, and by law, denied access to white schools, restaurants, movie theaters and hotels. We hear first-hand accounts, by attorney George Washington Jr. and others, of indignities suffered by black Americans.

Eldrewey Stearns Fights Back (02:15)

In 1959, a quarter of Houston's one million citizens are black. TSU law student Eldrewey Stearns formally complains about his illegal treatment at the hands of police. Louie Welch presses for an investigation and Stearns is interviewed by Dan Rather. Stearns is fired from his job.

Houston's Sit-In Movement (02:16)

Quenton Mease hires Stearns as youth director at the YMCA. Mease became Stearns civil rights mentor, and encouraged Stearns to take up protest projects, like the sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro. Stearns acted immediately.

Supermarket Sit-In Planned at TSU Student Union (02:10)

TSU professor William Lawson met with students and others, who requested instruction on non-violent protests for their supermarket sit-in. Lawson discouraged the students, fearful they would risk their futures.

March 4, 1960: Weingarten's Lunch Counter Sit-In (01:38)

TSU students occupy stools at a Houston lunch counter, after making sure police and the press are on hand. Whites leave the restaurant and staff close it down, uncertain what to do. More students join as publicity spreads.

March 5, 1960: Mading's Drug Store Lunch Counter Sit-In (01:01)

Student protester Curtis Graves gives an accounting of the sit in: TSU students fill all the stools as staff "froze." Students are fearful as a "carload of toughs" pulls up and enters the store. Police presence deters the white men from harassing the students.

March 7, 1960: Violence Erupts in Houston (01:12)

Then TSU President Dr. Sam Nabrit let students know he wouldn't interfere with their protests, despite having to answer to white politicians. Felton Turner is abducted by white men, hanged from a tree and branded with the letters "KKK." Turner survived, but his torturers were never identified.

Louie Welch's Vertical Integration Plan (02:13)

Weingarten's implements City Councilman Louie Welch's plan to solve the sit-in problem, by removing the seats from lunch counter stools, but white shoppers stay away. A meeting between Houston Mayor Lewis Cutrer and students is fruitless.

March 25, 1960: Black Students Served at Weingarten's (01:46)

Student protestors picket while the Argentinian ambassador visits Houston. Students are served in the cafeteria; whites abandon their food. Eldrewey Stearns and journalist Garvin Berry remember. Soon the store operator again refuses to serve blacks. Louie Welch explains that to avoid violence it was necessary to let things unfold slowly.

Houston Mayor Lewis Cutrer Threatens to Arrest Student Protesters (01:23)

TSU students sit in at Walgreen's in downtown Houston. Carl Shuptrine, Houston Police Chief responded that he would not lock up students. Cutrer convenes a secret "bi-racial committee" with the goal of censuring and jailing the students.

No Help From Dr. King (01:07)

Fully expecting that he will either send help, or come himself, Houston's TSU students call on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for help. King says he will "tell God about it."

April 25, 1960: Jaworski Defeated (02:01)

Leon Jaworski calls for a vote to either desegregate the city of Houston, or jail student protesters. The bi-racial committee is mysteriously dissolved. Unbeknownst to the students, support had come through the efforts of local black and white businessmen.

TSU Students Enlist Community Support (01:51)

Student's call for a Mother's Day shopping boycott, raising the stakes for Houston's power structure. Next, they target Foley's and 3 other Houston department stores.

Community Leaders Negotiate to Integrate Houston (02:15)

This segment details the behind-the-scenes efforts of Houston's black and white business leaders, including key players, Bob Dundas, Hobart Taylor and John T. Jones, in negotiating a quiet desegregation of Houston lunch counters.

Houston Plans News Blackout (02:06)

Bob Dundas leverages Foley's Department Store advertising dollars to convince newspapers, radio and television stations to ignore lunch counter desegregation. KPRC-TV Station manager Jack Harris agrees, fearing a race riot.

Desegregation Plan (00:23)

See the notes from Bob Dundas' diary entree, scripting the entire plan for desegregating lunch counters. A few blacks are selected for implementation; their white counterparts--store employees-- are prepared for the event, including what to do in case of violence.

August 25, 1960: News Blackout (01:54)

Houston's lunch counters and other businesses quietly begin serving black patrons. As planned, the media says nothing. The Houston media is accused of covering up the story which the protest movement says took away its ability to gather support.

February 25, 1961: Union Station Coffee Shop Arrests (03:37)

NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall tells attorney George Washington Jr. about the federal law protecting the right to eat in a train station regardless of race, Student protestors attempt this and are arrested amid abundant publicity. Curtis Graves and others remember.

Students Convicted for Unlawful Assembly (02:01)

A staged trip--meant to keep student protesters protected under the Interstate Commerce Act when they attempt to dine at Untion Station coffee shop--fails. Student protester Holly Hogrobrooks remembers. The Supreme Court reverses the conviction.

April 1, 1962: How Houston Got the Astrodome (03:28)

Learn how Houston's black business leaders persuaded Roy Hofheinz to promise that the Astrodome would be integrated from the start. John T. Jones spearheaded the effort to get Houston hotels to immediately follow suit.

October, 1962 (02:09)

Students stood-in for access to white sections of Houston movie theaters to no avail; they are not even arrested. TSU President Sam Nabrit lets the students know that they will be arrested if they block the exits. We see scenes of police violence in Birmingham, Alabama.

May 23, 1963: Houston Theaters Desegregated (03:30)

Learn how the efforts of Hobart Taylor, John T. Jones and others result in the desegregation of Houston's movie theaters. Students had been prepared to interrupt the ticker tape parade scheduled to celebrate the return of NASA astronaut Gordon Cooper.

The Quiet Desegregation of Houston's Restaurants (03:26)

Behind the scenes, black and white business leaders orchestrated restaurant desegregation, leaving student protesters deprived of the publicity for their cause. White businessmen stand by their approach. Arthur Gaines and his wife recount being the first black customers at Houston's Pier 21.

Considering Houston's Quiet Desegregation - Dedication (04:29)

Houston received little national attention during the Civil Rights Era. This summary discusses and honors the students, black leaders and white leaders whose efforts resulted in non-violent resolution. Closing comments are offered by key players.

Credits: The Strange Demise of Jim Crow (01:01)

Credits: The Strange Demise of Jim Crow

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The Strange Demise of Jim Crow

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Not all the civil rights victories of the ’60s were won at the cost of vicious beatings and mass arrests played out in front of television cameras. This documentary shows how many Southern cities were desegregated in a quieter fashion, with behind-the-scenes negotiations, secret deals, and controversial news blackouts. When Houston students launched boycotts of local stores, a group of black business leaders opened private discussions with the powerful Downtown Business Alliance. Realizing that integration was inevitable, the Alliance convinced its members to welcome African-Americans by promising to keep the change out of the news, while the media was threatened with pulled advertising if it didn’t cooperate. (56 minutes)

Length: 57 minutes

Item#: BVL49764

Copyright date: ©1998

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“A remarkable, riveting, and thought-provoking documentary. A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at secret meetings, unexpected alliances, and the suppression of the news.”  Houston Chronicle               


“Sheds light on integration and a rare news black-out.”  Los Angeles Times

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