Transcript edited by Pierce Butler
This is the sixteenth in a continuing series of transcript excerpts from the collection of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida.
Dr. Alan Bean [AB] & Mrs. Nancy Bean [NB] were interviewed by Jessica Taylor [T] in 2012.
NB: We were run off from this church in Derby, Kansas. The kids were in good schools, but there was no community. We decided to move back to my hometown. We quit our jobs and moved to Tulia [Texas].
What was a Ph.D. in church history going to do in this little bitty town? He said, I’ll finish my novel and I’ll get part-time, interim pastorates. I was able to get a job teaching. Lydia headed off to college and the boys came with us. We had in mind this family reunion: quilting bees, re-introducing the kids to living in community and belonging. That kind of backfired.
The first few months, we actually got invited to the quilting bees — which my family still does — and family dinners. Then we read about this kid named Jamie Moore who received a 75-year sentence for rape. I said to Alan, is he one of my kinfolks? My mother’s mother, one of her family’s names is Moore. We were attending the Baptist church at the time. So, on Wednesday night, I said, I can’t sleep at night because I read about this boy who was 17, 18, given a 75-year sentence.
The pastor says, the victim of the rape is our pianist’s daughter, and he might be your relative, but he’s black, and a thug. I put it out as a prayer request, and, poof. I could feel all the curtains closing.
That’s when the drug bust hit. We started looking at the names in the paper to see who had been caught, because I had cousins involved in drugs. We didn’t find their names, but my dad started reading the addresses, and he said, oh, these people are all on the black part of town.
My mother says, how can this town have 46 kingpin drug dealers? This can’t be right. That’s when we started doing this investigation. We didn’t realize what we were getting into. We kind of assumed that the Civil Rights Movement had made justice, right?
It wasn’t a sociological question. These were our neighbors. We started putting out calls: the Justice Department, NAACP, ACLU, nobody cared. Finally, a local chapter of LULAC [League of United Latin American Citizens] set us up with one of the lawyers working for the defendants. The lawyer told Alan and my father that they didn’t want to get involved. That, the DA would not be above putting a hit out on our family, and certainly not above planting drugs in our vehicles.
That night, we took it home to our boys. They said, somebody’s got to do it and it’s going to be us. It changed our lives, because we were ousted from the family — not my parents, but the extended family. When we go to basketball and football games where our kids are playing, no one knows us any longer.
AB: We’re excommunicated.
NB: By now, I’m teaching in Tulia, and there’s no place for me to sit at a faculty meeting. No one speaks to me anymore in the school except the Mexicans. [Laughter] The custodians, the TAs, the cafeteria workers, they became my spies. They were invisible. They could be in a room and people would just keep talking as if they weren’t hearing, and then they would tell me what was going on.
Our phones were tapped. My brakes were cut one morning. We didn’t ever call the police because it was the police that we were afraid of. Our boys didn’t tell us at the time, they told us years later – they were being pulled over regularly.
AB: We wanted our kids to have a faith that worked for them. Because our involvement brought out the absolute worst in the local religious community — the white religious community — they got a very jaundiced view of religion.
NB: When [Lydia] graduated, I sent an invitation to the matriarch and patriarch of our family, Aunt Lucy and Uncle John. They sent it back with additional pages scrawled, disinviting us from the family, telling us that they had torn up all of our children’s pictures.
Empowering the least of these is our ministry, it’s what kept us together. The boys were hurt — not just by what happened in Tulia, but by our experiences in churches all around. Amos, our youngest, says he gets nauseated when he walks into a church — yet, he’s teaching Special Ed. So, he is empowering the least of these. Adam’s starting to have a perspective that’s not quite so negative.
T: How did you pick this path?
AB: The whole Civil Rights thing was over, but I wanted to be involved in something like that.
NB: We joined Mobilization for Survival in Louisville, an anti-nuclear organization, and we worked with Fellowship of Reconciliation. I entered Seminary, but was very unwelcome there. We went as co-pastors to the Baptist Union of Western Canada. When we got there, they made it very clear they were kidding; they just said yes to our co-pastor thing so they could get Alan.
AB: They weren’t ready, they said, to ordain Nancy. So I wouldn’t put my name in for ordination.
NB: No one ever said to me, we’re not ready to ordain you. They told Alan. I was not empowered enough to take it on. I had never been taught how to negotiate. I knew how to love.
We were so isolated, in these rural Alberta, British Columbia, churches. So, I stayed at home. I had three babies. The big action that said, we are going to build our own life, was when we moved to Tulia. Small towns are totally integrated. There’s just one school. We were moving our kids from a very segregated to a very integrated community, from a white community to a majority Hispanic community.
Mr. Freddy Brookins, one of the activists in the Tulia fight, said, you know, you’ve traded in your white card, but we never got a black card. The black community in Tulia was so fragmented that there really wasn’t a community to be invited into.
AB: We did a lot of activism in the Hispanic community. We got two young boys out of prison who had been charged in bogus circumstances. Then, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission did a Graduation Night raid on a Hispanic family.
NB: They were having a multi-generational party, barbeque in the backyard. They busted into the party and had everybody on their knees with their guns, because they were serving alcohol to minors. They had no search warrant. Also, in Texas, you’re allowed to serve your children alcohol if you are the parent. We were able to overturn that.
AB: We interviewed about 25 people, put their stories into a timeline, and then told the story through their eyes in a very graphic kind of way. Then published this in independent newspapers, in Spanish and English versions. Eventually, they sent six bureaucrats from Austin.
NB: They came to tell us the way the cow eats the cabbage. They were going to tell us why they could do whatever they want. I said, you either listen to us or we’re all walking out. They stopped their lectures and we started talking.
AB: It boiled down to a conversation in Spanish between the mother and this administrator. She said, how dare you send these big men into my backyard? Break into somebody’s house to interrupt our gathering and to spoil the graduation of our first child who’s ever graduated from high school. How dare you do this?
As a result of that meeting, they ended up firing two of the officers and they completely rewrote their search and seizure policy statewide. That really gave us …
NB: Sense of empowerment. Now, we can make a difference.
AB: We understood the power of story, getting the story together and giving people a voice. We didn’t do the talking for them, they did their own talking. They taught us the story, and we put it all together and taught it back to them.
NB: Disempowered people often don’t know how to tell a story. They have no sense of chronology. The people in Tulia wouldn’t tell you a story. They would tell you incidents from all over their life. The role that Alan had, was in listening and writing down every incident so he could get it into a chronology. By the time we had the Rosales raid, he had learned this as a strategy. We worked on Tulia five years, and that was very, very painful.
T: You’ve mentioned a lot about the Civil Rights Movement. Clergypeople were very important in shaping that. How did that shape your own philosophy?
NB: The Civil Rights Movement totally informs our faith. The new Civil Rights Movement is about immigration and incarceration and defunding of education and but it’s the same movement. It’s becoming even clearer with the disenfranchising movement.
We founded Friends of Justice and we tossed around names with Thelma Johnson, she was kind of the auntie of the black community. We said, who are we? I think Thelma said, it’s Friends of Justice. We were ready to go to Austin, so I had us made our t-shirts, Friends of Justice, and our logo was, do justice, love mercy, walk humbly, because the other scripture which propels us is Micah 6:8. He has shown the yeoman what is good and what the Lord requires of you. There’s nothing else.
AB: One of the things that’s so impressive about the Civil Rights Movement is how many young people, black and white, came streaming into this movement during the Freedom Ride. Nobody had a good word to say about them, yet, there was this thirst for experience and justice, and being part of something bigger than themselves. There’s nothing like that now. Community is so essential to the Civil Rights Movement, music and community. Because we have to sleep in each other’s homes and cook each other’s food, and the person who has a job has to cook for the person who doesn’t.
NB: I want to challenge young people: raise your children with empathy and compassion and not with privilege.
Value formation and expectation. Expectation. I expect for you to be a world changer. We always used faith language for that.
AB: High expectations, complete acceptance. Halberstam’s book, The Children, brings this home—that almost every one of those kids involved in the Civil Rights Movement had a parent, usually a mother. That drove them and had great dreams for them. If we don’t do that for our children, we won’t raise exceptional children. We’re going to raise technology-addicted, purposeless pleasure machines, who exist for entertainment.
AB: Their conversation consists of swapping popular culture references. There’s no visionary thinking.
AB: There’s got to be something beyond politics. I think it’s got to spring from a religious vision. There are claims placed upon us, moral claims. And what Martin Luther King called a beloved community. We’ve lost that vision.
A full transcript of this interview is available at http://ufdc.ufl.edu/l/AA00016739/00001.
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