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Lest #14

Back in the forties and fifties and sixties, the areas of occupation had been clearly understood. There was the ordinance on the city books making it illegal for any “white person and any Negro to have sexual intercourse with each other within the corporate limits of the city.” (The term Negro was carefully defined to “include a mulatto, or colored person or any other person of mixed blood having one-eighth or more Negro blood.”) There was the public policy of the city planning and zoning commission, which warned that the city’s “Negro” population should never be given any opportunity to “invade the white residential areas.”

There were the familiar redline laws that made it impossible for blacks to obtain mortgages or home improvement loans. There were deed restrictions preventing whites from selling their houses to blacks. There was a policy at the county medical center consigning all black patients to the basement, which meant that women giving birth were sometimes put next to patients with infectious diseases. There was the basic system of apartheid in which blacks had their own library, their own clubs, their own schools, their own stadium, their own football team, their own carefully delineated areas where they could walk freely and other places where they walked only at their own risk. They were the same laws, the same policies that applied to blacks all over Texas and all over the South.

Some of these laws and policies had given way over time, but the change was slow and excruciating. No black family lived above the tracks until 1968, and it took two painful years of searching to find someone willing to sell the first black family a home. School desegregation, imposed by a federal court over bitter protests, did not take place until 1982.

As a result of that ruling, blacks could move about more freely now in Odessa. They could go to schools in the rich part of town. They could live pretty much where they wanted—assuming they could afford it, which most of them could not. They were still concentrated below the railroad tracks, below where the whites lived. Symbolically and physically, the tracks were still a barrier and still defined an attitude.

“The most amazing thing to me is the shock on people’s faces that I’m offended by the word nigger,” said Lanita Akins. “They are truly shocked that not only am I shocked, but I have friends who are black.” Out where she worked as a secretary for a petrochemical plant, many of the blue-collar workers used the word all the time. She didn’t know how to get them to stop so she hit them back where it hurt, saying “Goddamn Jesus Christ!” with the same bitter snap in the voice. It bothered them, and they frankly didn’t know how a decent person could say a thing such as that, show such utter disrespect for the Lord. But nigger?

Bissinger, H.G. (2004-09-01). Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, And A Dream (pp. 74-75). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.

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