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By Pat Thompson
In 1957, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus activated his National Guard to block nine black students from entering Little Rock High School. President Eisenhower responded by ordering the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, then federalized the 10,000 Arkansas National Guardsmen. The 101st took positions at the school entrance the next day, September 5, as the nine students successfully entered school.
At that time, racial integration was farthest from the minds of El Paso students. Old news.
The El Paso School Board abolished segregation June 21, 1955, making the El Paso district “the first in Texas to vote unconditionally in favor of carrying out desegregation,” the El Paso Times reported.
Sixty-five years later, there is little discussion about that historic event.
Curt Jimerson, an Austin High School sophomore in 1955, remembers early days of integration and some of the challenges the first Black students faced in integrating El Paso schools.
“Not all the Black kids were given the opportunity right away,” Curt recently remembered from his home in Danville, California. “There were Black students who continued to attend Douglass (the 1st-12th grade Black school at 101 Eucalyptus St.) whether they wanted to or not. I didn’t understand or totally agree with some of the ways they divided classes for the Black students at Austin. I was in a Spanish class with all the Mexican-American kids. It seemed to me the white kids had their own Spanish class.”
Another challenge came when Austin sports teams traveled to other West Texas towns. Curt was an All-District basketball player at Austin in 1958 and his younger brother, John, an All-District wide receiver for the football team in 1959.
John’s Austin teammates were going to boycott a 1959 game in Big Spring after most motels refused to give the team rooms because John was Black, according to teammate Pete Paredes. The late Bluford Sanders, starting offensive guard, recalled several years ago how the team “ended up in a real dump, four players to a room.” Bluford roomed with John and two other teammates. The previous occupant had given birth to a baby in the room the night before the game, said Sanders, who passed away of ALS in 2011.
Austin was so pumped up that Friday night that Big Spring never stood a chance in a 35-0 blowout victory for the Golden Panthers. The late Phil Boswell took the first play 60 yards to set up a touchdown and Paredes also dashed 65 yards for a TD.
Curt remembers basketball Coach Paul Stueckler coming to his home on Estrella Street near Five Points before a game at Midland and advising his father that lodging had been arranged for Curt to stay at the home of the superintendent of the Black school district.
“I was stunned when my father told Coach that ‘if Curt can’t stay with the team, he can’t play,’ ’’ Curt recalled. “Our trainer went to Midland two days before the game and located a motel that would allow me to stay with the team.”
(Stueckler, who died in 2017, became one of the winningest coaches in Texas high school basketball history with more than 700 victories and one state championship with Midland Lee High School.)
Curt played basketball at Wyoming and John baseball at UTEP (then Texas Western). Both served in the Army and became FBI special agents.
Curt, a Vietnam veteran, spent 32 years with the FBI and John almost 10 before taking high profile director of security positions for Xerox in South America, Timeplex in New Jersey and then the New York Transit Authority, which named its building after John. He died in 2006 at age 64 of a massive heart attack.
In 2021, 60th-year class reunions will be celebrated across El Paso. Maybe someone will mention those historic events of El Paso’s initial integration 65 years ago.
My classmates from the Austin High School Class of 1960 will pay tribute to Curt and the three other Black students who walked the halls with us and integrated El Paso schools in 1955: John, Marthel Green, Carolyn Moore and Georglynn Chandler. Our 60th reunion was postponed because of the pandemic, but we have rescheduled that milestone anniversary and that tribute for Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2021 in El Paso.
Pat Thompson is retired in Minnesota. He was an award-winning sports writer with The El Paso Times, Associated Press and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Cover photo: Curt Jimerson was among the Black students who integrated Austin High School.