October 10, 2017

Lone Star Book Blog Tours : Equal Opportunity Hero by Phil Price

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY HERO T.J. Patterson's Service to West Texas

  Genre: Biography / African American Leaders Publisher: Texas Tech University Press on Twitter  ┃ on Facebook
Date of Publication: November 20, 2017
Number of Pages: 277

On April 7, 1984, T. J. Patterson became the first African American elected to the Lubbock City Council, winning handily over his four opponents. It was a position he would go on to hold for more than twenty years, and his natural leadership would lead him to state and national recognition.
Patterson grew up during a time of American social unrest, protest, and upheaval, and he recounts memorable instances of segregation and integration in West Texas. As a two-year-old, he survived polio when African Americans were excluded from "whites only" hospitals. When he attempted to enroll at Texas Tech after graduating from all-black Bishop College, he was not allowed even to enter the administration building--the president would speak with him only outside, and then only to say Patterson could not be enrolled. Two years later, his aunt would become the first African American to attend Texas Tech.
Patterson spent his whole adult life as a grassroots activist, and as a city councilman he understood how important it was to work in solid partnership with representatives from the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods of the city. Over the years, Patterson took every opportunity to join African American and Hispanic forces, but with a few exceptions, the traditional geographic divide of the minority population limited his efforts--and yet Patterson never gave up. His brave public marches to homes of known drug dealers brought attention to their undesirable activities. Patterson also supported city investment in Lubbock history and culture, plus new development activity, from annexation to paved roads to water mains to fire stations. During his long career he truly was an equal-opportunity hero for all of Lubbock's citizens.


“Roads Less Traveled By”
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Equal Opportunity Hero
by Phil Price

On April 7, 1984, T. J. Patterson became the first African American elected to the Lubbock City Council, winning handily over his four opponents in the first regular election that established single-member districts for the city and ended the at-large Lubbock election system adopted in 1917.1 The change to selecting city representatives finally came after eight long years of court battles, starting on April 1, 1976, when A. Gene Gaines--the first black lawyer to practice in Lubbock--filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the black and Hispanic citizens of the city. Representing plaintiff-appellants Reverend Roy Jones, Gonzalo Garza, Antonio Reyes, and intervener Rose Wilson in the lawsuit, Gaines asserted that the system of electing council representatives and the mayor by ballots cast citywide “denies certain classes of people due process” and was therefore unconstitutional.

The suit was filed in the courtroom of US District Judge Halbert O. Woodward, and the trial took place over twelve days, starting on December 11, 1978. At the time approximately 7 percent of the city population was black and 17 percent was Hispanic, with both minority groups concentrated in the east and northeast parts of the city.2 The plaintiffs’ argument was that these minority constituencies had no real access to the political system under an electoral structure that did not acknowledge the geographical isolation of Lubbock minority citizens; the at-large system diluted the voting strength of minority neighborhoods with significant repercussions in municipal maintenance, development, law enforcement, and job opportunities. Decades later, in a 2014 Avalanche-Journal retrospective on the change to single-member districts, the current District 1 city councilman, Victor Hernandez, discussed the concentration of representation under the old citywide election system, observing that “if one outlined a quarter on a map of Lubbock, they’d see that every single member lived within that radius.”3 The at-large system had a long history of breeding powerful political cliques in Lubbock, and this class-action suit sought to expand the local leadership pool and provide opportunities for minority representation.

On June 8, 1979, Woodward rendered a judgment in favor of the at-large system. Led by Texas Tech law professor Daniel H. Benson, a team of lawyers including William L. Garrett, Mark C. Hall, Albert Perez, Tomas Garza, and Lane Arthur moved quickly to appeal that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. They won their challenge, sending the case back to Woodward for reconsideration, with a strong statement from the court of appeals that “the at-large system abridges and dilutes minorities’ opportunities to elect members of their own choice.” A second trial in Woodward’s courtroom took place on January 10–13, 1983. On March 4, 1983, Woodward rendered his decision in favor of the single-member election system and proceeded to divide the city into six councilmember districts, with the mayoral race remaining a citywide election.

The editors of the Avalanche-Journal and many other powerful voices were adamantly against the ruling and pushed for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court in defense of the at-large system. As a last stand, on February 16, 1984, the defendants, made up of the sitting city council, sought a stay from the Fifth Circuit. Shortly thereafter, however, the council seemed to recognize the inevitability of the ruling and voted to accept the new single-member system before the court of appeals had rendered a decision on the stay. Under the leadership of the newly elected mayor, Alan Henry, who had taken on the responsibility of the office in a 1983 special election after the tragic death of Mayor Bill McAlister, the presiding council relented in its efforts, and all but Councilman Bud Adderton participated in the April 7, 1984, election through the new district boundaries. Mayor Henry extended an olive branch with his formal announcement of the acceptance of single-member districts, proclaiming that now “minority citizens will not just be supplicants and petitioners but office holders.”4

Thomas James Patterson was a natural choice to be that trailblazing office holder for the newly constituted single-member District 2. Through his community newspaper, the Southwest Digest, Patterson and his partner, Eddie Richardson, had championed the cause of single-member districts at every stage of the court challenge.5 Patterson and Richardson were experienced journalists and community activists, proudly producing their black-owned and black-operated weekly newspaper to inform and inspire the African American citizens of Lubbock, who lived almost exclusively on the far eastern border of the city in neighborhoods that had been defined by a long and isolating history of forced segregation. These traditional black neighborhoods, clustered together in what is known as the Eastside or East Lubbock, were combined to form single-member city council District 2, and T. J. Patterson was given the chance to expand his already familiar Eastside voice to reach a far broader audience.

Phil Price has been friends with T. J. Patterson for more than twenty years. Now retired, Price was President and CEO of a marketing and design agency. Over the years he has served the Lubbock Independent School District, the Lubbock Better Business Bureau, the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, and other city agencies. He lives in Lubbock USA, with his wife, Victoria.


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