Editor’s Note: Caprock Chronicles are edited by Jack Becker, Librarian at Texas Tech. This week’s article is by Professor Emeritus Alwyn Barr, Texas Tech History Department. To help commemorate Black History month, Barr has written about one of the most outstanding leaders of Lubbock’s African American community, Katie Parks.
Katie Parks made significant contributions to the Lubbock African American community through her work, her volunteer efforts, and her published history, "Remember When?"
Katie was born in Hubbard, Texas, on Feb. 12, 1922. In 1939, after high school she came to Lubbock seeking employment and additional education. Segregated Texas Technological College refused to enroll her. Katie then studied at Draughon’s Business College and Southwest Real Estate College. She supported herself with short term jobs.
She married James Parks in 1949. They had one son and three daughters. Katie joined Greater St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church. Over her fifty years in the congregation she chaired the Food Voucher Committee, taught Sunday School, and visited sick members.
In 1966 she joined the Methodist Hospital staff as a unit secretary and was promoted to unit manager directing the non-nursing staff. She retired in 1983 to care for her ill husband.
Following James’ death, Katie became a volunteer for Lubbock Meals on Wheels, the American Cancer Society, and the state Department of Human Services. She served on the Juneteenth Committee, the Make a Wish Foundation, the MLK Committee, as a director for the Early Settlers Round-Up, and similar positions for the United Neighborhood Foundation, Volunteers in Service to America, and the Chatman Hill Association.
Katie resumed working to become an Outreach Specialist and Coordinator for the Storks Nest project at the School of Nursing in the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.
Her community services expanded to include the Lubbock City Arts Commission, the Community Health Center of Lubbock, and the Lubbock County Historical Commission. She died in 2008 while on the board of the Lubbock Centennial Corporation.
For her extensive service she received over 200 awards. Former U.S. Rep. George Mahon and his wife invited her to the inauguration of Texas Gov. Ann Richards. President Bill Clinton nominated Katie for the Presidential Volunteer Award. The Larry Combest Community Health and Wellness Center dedicated the Katie Parks Conference Room in 2008.
She also found time to write poetry, plays and essays. She produced her most lasting contribution by creating the book, "Remember When? A History of African Americans in Lubbock", published by Friends of the Library and Southwest Collection at Texas Tech. Of the nineteen chapters, Katie wrote nine and co-authored eight while recruiting eight co-authors.
In the opening chapter, Eric E. Strong recounted the travels of Esteban, an African slave with Spanish expeditions in Texas, and then discussed black cavalry and cowboys in West Texas.
Parks followed with three chapters on African Americans who came to the Lubbock area seeking jobs on farms or in town during the early 20th century, including eighteen black families who settled in Lubbock during the first half of the 20th century. She includes black migration from farms into Lubbock, despite white segregation of even the city cemetery.
Bishop W. D. Haynes then recounts the limitation of hiring blacks only for physical labor, which caused some to turn to bootlegging during prohibition. Because advances in education and civil rights legislation in the 1960s expanded economic opportunities, Katie explained the city and county began to hire African Americans in that period, followed by television stations, banks, businesses and the postal service.
Haynes and Parks present the development of black businesses, beginning with beauty and barber shops in the 1920s, followed by groceries, pharmacies, and cafes. The black Chamber of Entrepreneurs, the Southwest Digest newspaper, and funeral homes receive attention.
Parks and Lorainne Stiggers discuss development of churches with brief histories of early Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of God in Christ, and Seventh Day Adventist congregations.
Thelma Robinson and Parks explore the steady growth of public schools for African Americans beginning with one teacher in 1920 to desegregation during the 1960s and 1970s. Private and vocational schools also appeared. Texas Tech desegregated in 1961 without a major incident.
Roy Roberts and Parks describe the “Social Side of Life” in the 1920s at cafes, a beauty salon and record shop, and a hotel. Bob Johnson’s dance hall became the social center until disrupted by rowdies in the 1950s. Some nationally known musicians performed, while local groups appeared more often.
John Washington and Parks consider sports activities, especially a baseball team. Dunbar High School won district and state championships in basketball, football and track. Several individuals became professionals in baseball, football, and boxing.
Katie explores the medical services available from white and black doctors. President Franklin Roosevelt helped send penicillin to Lubbock to save an African American life.
Parks described efforts of the local NAACP chapter to promote desegregation and voter registration. She also presented the careers of local black attorneys and elected officials. Katie and Robbie McGrew discuss police, firemen, and the military.
Two closing chapters present African American artists and “Yesterdays Recipes”.