The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000 Page: 257
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American experience in twentieth-century Texas.
On the surface the two videos, The Strange Demise of Jim Crow and Coming
Through Hard Times, seem to share a lot. Both are one-hour documentaries
designed primarily for television broadcast. Both rely largely on the methods of
oral history, both focus on the black experience (although both also incorporate
whites), and both depict the confrontation between African Americans and the
"injustices" imposed on them by white society. However, except for these com-
mon elements, the two videos are very different.
The Strange Demise of fim Crow is a far easier video for a historian to come to
terms with. Its creator, Thomas Cole, is an academic scholar who bases his work
on careful historical research. The resulting video, familiar in both content and
style, is easy for historians to analyze. It presents a narrative specifically rooted in
time and place, it has a theme and makes an argument, and it clearly identifies
the sources that it uses.
Cole uses his video to reveal the all-but-forgotten story of the sit-in movement
in Houston. He uses oral interviews with the key participants in the movement
and supplements this with photographs, newspaper accounts, and other docu-
mentary evidence to uncover a detailed history of a four-year struggle to end seg-
regation of lunch counters, hotels, movie theaters, and restaurants in Houston.
These events occurred against the setting of the national civil rights struggle, but
separate from it, in a city and state that, supposedly, did not participate actively
in the civil rights revolution. Cole carefully documents the origin and the signifi-
cance of the Houston sit-ins. Eldrewey Stearns and a handful of his classmates at
Texas Southern University, excited by the sit-ins in North Carolina and chided
into action by YMCA director Quentin Mease, sat in at the lunch counter of the
Weingarten's supermarket near the T.S.U. campus on March 4, 196o. What
began as a grassroots, unplanned action quickly involved Houston's black and
white leadership, including both supporters and opponents of desegregation.
Key to Houston's desegregation was the decision of the city's white leadership, at
crucial moments in the struggle, to give in to black demands, but to impose a
complete press blackout so that the end of segregation would not be reported
locally. The result avoided the feared white backlash, but also deprived civil
rights activists of press coverage and removed the struggle from public memory.
Coming Through Hard Times is a very different type of video. Its subject is less
defined and more impressionistic. Its creator, Patsy Cravens, is a photographer,
not a historian. Her video is rooted in space, not time. It is based on the memo-
ries of elderly residents of rural Colorado County, in south central Texas. While
both blacks and whites provide the memories on which this work is based, the
focus is on the black experience. Slavery, and its legacies of poverty and separa-
tion, from both family and land ownership, is one theme of the video.
Cravens's video is compelling. Its images are visually beautiful and its stories
are heartrending. It disappoints, however, as history. The video has no sense of
historical development. The stories and the memories upon which they are
based float free in time. Only the 1935 lynching is anchored to a date. The
memories of slavery are in reality the memories of tales told by grandparents
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000, periodical, 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/m1/293/: accessed March 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.