Paying it forward and clarifying local history is key, organizers of the upcoming Legacy of East Cleburne Community Dialogue Series said.
“The black population of Cleburne was once 17 percent,” said Rev. Johnie Dollarhide, vice president of the East Cleburne Ministerial Alliance. “According to 2017 data that number is 3.8 percent now. That’s why this series is so important. With a dwindling population, we’ve got to preserve and put out the legacy and contributions that black residents made to the city of Cleburne.
“Our other main purpose is to show the East Cleburne is not a separate country or a city by itself but rather that it’s a part of Cleburne. Those who excelled excelled not only for East Cleburne but for all of Cleburne.”
The series, seven presentations in all, runs from Oct. 10 through April 2.
The programs, which are free and open to the public, will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Booker T. Washington Recreation Center, 100 Mansfield Road.
Repurposed from a former gymnasium, the recreation center is part of the former Booker T. Washington High School, which served as Cleburne’s segregated school for black students until 1965.
Topics to be discussed include education, religion, military, entertainment, work, athletics and day-to-day life.
Cleburne Councilman John Warren, who also serves as president of the East Cleburne Ministerial Alliance, developed the program along with Dollarhide.
Warren said he and Dollarhide were already working on a similar idea when Cleburne Recreation Manager Katie Easdon approached him.
“We have an exhibit of items from the old high school in our lobby,” Easdon said. “Which is good. But in starting a conversation with [Warren] we realized that a lot of people don’t know the history of East Cleburne and its people.”
Warren said he hopes to see residents from all corners of Cleburne at the presentations and to debunk still lingering myths about East Cleburne.
“I’ve lived here all my life and there has always existed the social construct of East Cleburne is across the tracks, don’t go over there,” Warren said. “For example, one of my first terms on city council in 2000 a young man who used to go to council meetings all the time told me, ‘Mr. Warren, let me tell you what the problem is in East Cleburne.’
“My question to him was, ‘Have you ever been to East Cleburne?’ Well, no he hadn’t so I’m thinking how does he know what the problems or situations are in that part of town?
“For some reason, and we know the reason, people have always thought there is something wrong with that particular part of town.”
Such perceptions aside, numerous notable residents haled from East Cleburne, Dollarhide and Warren said.
“Luther Prince earned his doctorate from [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and went on to become vice president and part-owner of Honeywell,” Warren said.
Others include noted jazz musician Frank Jackson and Dr. James Cash, a Booker T. Washington graduate who became the first black player on Texas Christian University’s basketball team and went on to become a Harvard University professor.
“Charlie Wycoff lived at 502 E. Robbin St., a half a block from where I lived,” Warren said.
1st Sgt. Wycoff served in the 92nd Buffalo 371st Infantry 2 having joined in 1928.
Wycoff was top marksman in his regiment and won top honors in the annual bugling contest versus competitors from all branches of service. He fought in Italy during World War II and later in Korea. Gen. John J. Pershing requested that Wycoff play “Taps” at his funeral.
East Cleburne once served as home to numerous black and white-owned businesses, Dollarhide said.
Each of the presentations will be videotaped and added to the Layland Museum’s archives, Layland Manager Stephanie Montero said.
“John Warren was kind enough to give a presentation on the Eagles baseball team at Carver Park during Black History Month a few years ago,” Montero said. “So I’m excited about this new series of programs because I think they’re going to include a lot of information and history many in Cleburne probably don’t know about.”
Dollarhide and Warren said they hope the programs “foster a more collective understanding of East Cleburne,” help dissolve the area’s “across-the-tracks” designation but more importantly inspire continued dialogue.
“Our desired takeaway for all who attend will be the ability to see that the term East Cleburne is a social construct and, by digging deeper into their own family histories, people will see how, in past times, both blacks and whites have successfully lived together in the area of town known today as East Cleburne,” Dollarhide said.