Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with T.R. Solomon, April 15, 1989

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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PRESTAGE: Good afternoon Dr. Solomon. Thank you very much for letting me come back and talk with you again. I am so pleased that you did locate a letter or an exchange of letters that was very important in your career development. Especially as your research interest were interpreted by yourself and by the administration of Prairie View, when you first came.

[Pause in recording.]

PRESTAGE: Dr. Solomon I know we talked a little bit about this before, but it was in the absence of the exchange of letters between you and the person who was then the chief executive officer of the university. Uh, as I look at the proposed plan of research that you offered, it seems to me, that it's a classical research design in the best 00:01:00tradition of political science. And that it grew out of the context which you found in Texas, when you came here in 1939. I, uh, would like to just have you, uh, as we, uh, as I look at the letter to comment in any way that you want, on the context that you found. And then with your permission, maybe I ought to read your research design into the record here.

SOLOMON: When I came to Texas, I had just, uh, written a doctoral dissertation on the participation of Negroes in Detroit elections, and 00:02:00I was enthusiastic about doing a similar project in Texas. So after a month's, uh, observation in my new job at Prairie View, I wrote the principal, Banks, a letter outlining some of the things that, uh, I might undertake as a research project at Prairie View. And in that letter I outlined how I might go about it. And, uh, I think in outlining that undertaking, I, uh, frightened him, a little bit about the participation of Negroes in politics in Texas and particularly in 00:03:00the area in and around Prairie View.

PRESTAGE: All right, let me, uh, just read here, from you letter. And this is October 7, 1939. And you say to the head of this institution that, "May I call your attention to what is already obvious, and no doubt you have made the same observation. One, Houston and the hinterland which it serves are tied in with an expansion program which will yield vast profits to those who hold the reins of government in the vicinity. And those who have services and supplies to sell to the government and the population. A repetition of the boom in Detroit 00:04:00in the 1920s. Little or no attention is paid to the welfare of the population as a whole. Enclosed are newspaper clippings from the press, indicate the plight of the Negroes on one point. Two, the other observation I wish to make, comes from the faculty meetings and the symposium. The lack of appropriations by the state legislature for public education and recreational facilities for Negroes has led to the thought that the state legislature needs analyzing with a view toward remedying the situation, and providing an intelligent approach to the solution of the problem." Do you feel that this was a bit different from the kinds of, uh, discourse that other faculty members engaged in, with the head of the institution at that time?

SOLOMON: (laughs) I don't think the other faculty members engaged in 00:05:00that kind of discourse with this head of the institution during that time. (laughs)

PRESTAGE: You also indicate that, uh, you had read the Houston papers in an attempt to find out what the white people of this section are thinking about their society. I would imagine that was a little unusual as well.

SOLOMON: The white people, in this section of the country, did not have a good opinion of the Negroes in this section of the country at that time. (laughs)

PRESTAGE: I think that is the understatement of the century. In your proposed plan for research and analysis, this is the description which 00:06:00you provide in your letter. You proposed, "to construct a series of maps showing the political subdivisions of the state. That is the districts represented in the lower house of the state legislature. The districts represented in the upper house of the state legislature and the congressional districts. And in each of these districts it is proposed to ascertain the total population, total Negro population, total adult population, total Negro adult population, the number of registered voters, the number of Negro registered voters wherever such exist. And the number of votes cast for Democratic candidates 00:07:00in the primaries and the regular elections. Wherever other social and economic data can be obtained, the further characterization of the political district will be made. In addition to this, an attempt will be made to get biographical sketches of each of the representatives and his opponents. From all of these data, two features will stand out with the third follow-up step. One, the representatives themselves as individuals will appear with their backgrounds. Two, the representative districts, their character and composition will appear indicating whether or not the representative represents a large number of Negroes, and holds his seat at the discretion of a few Democratic white voters. Three, the follow-up step then is to determine on what 00:08:00committees the representatives serve, what influenced they exert and how do they vote on matters affecting Negroes." And you follow by saying, "obviously this is an ambitious undertaking." What was the reaction of the head of the institution to that? And what role did his reaction play in the future of your political science research?

SOLOMON: His reaction was a letter asking me to go slow on whatever my undertaking might be. And he said, that he had some friends, Mr. Gordon Wordly and Mr., what's that other man's name?

PRESTAGE: Carter Wesley and--

SOLOMON: Carter Wesley is the Negro, but Mr.--


PRESTAGE: Mr. Edwards.

SOLOMON: There is another man there, I can't, I think.

PRESTAGE: Professor D.B. Taylor.

SOLOMON: Professor D.B. Taylor is the white man.

PRESTAGE: Of the State Department of Education.

SOLOMON: State Department of Education. Those were his white friends in the Department of Education and he wanted me to talk with. That was his reaction. (laughs)

PRESTAGE: Did you ever get to talk with these people, or to move your research forward? Or was the, that obstacle of administrative opposition more than you could overcome in 1939?

SOLOMON: I had an opportunity to talk with these people but not in regard to this research. (laughs)

PRESTAGE: All right, this was a major turning point then, in terms of 00:10:00your ambitions as a research scholar studying Negro politics in the South in the, in 1939.

SOLOMON: It was a turning point, and it was another point, it was a turning point. I was given an opportunity, as a matter of fact I was told, and was given an opportunity to accompany Dr. Evans to a meat show down in, in, uh, one of the counties. Dr. Evans was a veterinarian. And I was told to accompany him to a meat show, down in, uh, in, uh, one of the counties. And it was Dr. Evans who was supposed to find out from me, what kind of man I was. (laughs)

PRESTAGE: Whether or not you could adjust to Texas?

SOLOMON: That's right. (laughs)

PRESTAGE: All right, all right. Uh, that, uh, that's rather interesting. 00:11:00Also, uh, you indicated, uh, that your time, in an earlier section of this interview, that the time you spent teaching was minimal out of you whole career. And that you had only the first two years that you were at Prairie View, as a classroom teacher. Do you feel that your research interest and perhaps what you were teaching played any role in getting you out of the classroom and into something else?

SOLOMON: Yes, I think I was, uh, signal as a lecturer. I was given the opportunity to accompany the president to teacher's meetings, state teacher's meeting, presidents of Texas meetings. And then I was also 00:12:00of my own volition accompanied the coach as a football assistant. And then as a result of a speech I made to the president, I was given the job as registrar. And then as registrar, I had, I revolutionized the whole office. (laughs)

PRESTAGE: So it seems that, uh, whether we are talking about in the classroom, or in the research that you wanted to do, or in your administrative capacity, you were a man destined to make some changes--


PRESTAGE: --at this institution where you spent your entire professional career.

SOLOMON: That's right, forty years.

PRESTAGE: Forty years, all right. Thank you so very much for agreeing 00:13:00to inject this particular facet of your career into this interview series, because we hadn't talked about it before. Uh, just as a final note, what would you say generally about the opportunities for black social scientists to do research on politics in the South at that particular time? Do you think it was any different, uh, in Louisiana or Alabama or Georgia? Do you think that, uh, had you been in another southern state, you would have, uh, found your research interest more receptive to, uh, the, to the powers that be?

SOLOMON: No, I don't think so. I think that the powers that be, if you are referring to the presidents, they were, they were put into a 00:14:00position to maintain this sort of a status quo. And any threat to that position would be guarded.

PRESTAGE: When do you think this situation might have changed? Since you spent forty years here, in the 1950s or by the 1960s or?

SOLOMON: I think it changed with the, with the, uh, Civil Rights Movement. That's when we had, we got bolder and bolder and bolder with the Civil Rights Movement. I think as, as you have witnessed. As- -(coughs)--you know when they used to pull the curtain on the trains- -(laughs)--when, when, when, when we used to drink from the different 00:15:00fountains. After we got rid of all that sort of thing we, the, the, the administrators at the colleges got a little bolder and bolder and bolder. And they, they, they, they would tolerate broader and broader steps on the part of the faculty people. So I think, uh, they would tolerate more and more research, and more and more activity--

PRESTAGE: Now in 1939 when you came to Texas, you came from the University of Michigan having honed the research skills that would enable you to do very sophisticated kind of research of the nature that 00:16:00you have done, had done for your dissertation, on Negroes in Detroit politics. How frustrated were you, when you came to Texas and couldn't use those skills?

SOLOMON: I wasn't frustrated; I just turned another leaf in my own work, doing something else. (laughs)

PRESTAGE: All right--(laughs)--all right, very good. Uh, certainly a testimony to your flexibility and adaptability as a human being and as an educator and scholar. Thank you.

[End of the interview.]