Writing for a Change

Shannon Carter
Explanation of Project
Faculty Development Leave application—Fall 2010
Writing for a Change:
Race, Activism, and Local Politics in a Southern,
Rural University Town Following Integration (1964-1980)
A. Abstract
A rhetorical analysis of one southern, regional university’s response to state-mandated integration in
the mid 1960s and the decade immediately following its complex implementation. Using critical race
theory as the primary theoretical framework, the current study employs life history research and extensive
use of archival materials to better understand the “codes of cross-cultural conduct” (Jones-Royster 2001)
established by local writers promoting and sustaining such important changes.
Following in the tradition of life history research, the current project builds upon studies like Deborah
Brandt’s award-winning Literacy in American Lives (Cambridge UP, 2001) and Selfe and Hawisher’s
follow-up study Literate Lives in the Information Age (Erlbaum 2004), which rely on “people’s
descriptions of their own life experiences” as “these autobiographical accounts illuminat[e]” something “of
their relationships to the social structures of their times and places, especially where literacy learning is
implicated” (Brandt 11, emphasis mine). When it comes to issues of access and higher education, literacy
learning is most certainly implicated. Thus, the current study relies upon oral histories with writers who
were actively and purposefully involved with changing material conditions for African American students
entering this regional university following integration. Since regional universities define themselves as
responsive to community needs, this study relies on oral histories and other artifacts documenting activist,
institutional, curricular, and community efforts to change the material conditions for marginalized citizens
who were not also university students. Approaching “Writing for a Change” as microhistory, I work from
the premise that such a study of responses to integration in one university town offers a relevant case study
for more general historical trends on much broader scales. This is especially important because, as David
Gold explains in his study of our university’s earliest years, “in a country with such a decontextualized
educational system as the United States, national educational histories cannot be understood but in relation
to the local communities in which trends both emerge and play out” (152).
Thus, the current study contributes to the scholarly conversations in literacy studies, rhetoric, and
education by offering an in-depth portrait of this local context at this particular time--revealing shifting
notions of “community responsibility” through the race and access as these tropes played themselves out in
a newly integrated university, especially in the decades immediately following integration. In fact, it is
from the local that we can extrapolate lessons bout race relations with national and even global
B. Project Description
The current project examines writing and writers making up the complex network of documents,
agents, and agencies surrounding the decade following the racial integration of a regional university in
Texas (1964 to 1980). Part life history research, part microhistory, this project contributes to the ongoing
conversations in literacy studies by working to understand the way writing works to both interrupt and
sustain social injustices in local contexts. Though the study focuses on race relations in a one local context,
the implications extend much further than the local. As historians have argued elsewhere, “[a]ll history is
local” (Amato 191). I examine here race relations following significant, legislative intervention effectively
disrupting the status quo at a state-supported teacher’s college that had served rural white men and women
since it was established in 1889. No doubt much has changed since integration began, but a constant
comparative perspective with those early years offers profound insight regarding present politics in terms
of more contemporary arguments for inclusion like Affirmative Action and more specific equal educational
opportunity programs. As one key scholar in critical race studies laments, “. . . it may well be that the
movement of American studies in the 21st century will be remembered for a pronounced skepticism toward
the promise of inclusion” (Guiterrez-Jones 21). In fact, it is from the local that we can extrapolate lessons
about race relations with national and even global implications.
The key research questions driving this project are the following: What does it take to be an agent
of change in local contexts, and how does the creation and circulation of texts function to enable social
justice in a local contexts and over time?
The individuals, institutions, and community organizations examined here were most certainly
agents of change during the turbulent decade following integration, and their work led to a much less
inequitable and far more just environment for African Americans and other historically oppressed
minorities in our area. Even so, the change that occurred was rarely sweeping and there is no doubt that
injustices and racial inequities remain here in East Texas, just as they do everywhere else in America.
Throughout the current study, I focus on race as a trope, especially how one campus and
surrounding community went about developing what Jacqueline Jones Royster calls “codes for crosscultural conduct” that, like many such cultural codes, are never fixed nor ever completely satisfactory. In
other words, communities without direct and frequent contact with one another (as with the policies of
racial segregation and the Jim Crow laws permeating the South in the years before Civil Rights legislation)
were without productive means for communication across communities. Power dynamics and the relative
infrequency of cross-cultural communication before integration led to misunderstandings and other, much
more significant complications. Critical race theory (CRT) emerged as a response to critical legal studies, a
movement in legal thought that was, at least in its earliest iteration, a response to American domestic
politics following civil rights legislation. Beginning in the 1960s with the work of legal scholar Derek Bell,
CRT works from the premise that race is socially constructed and that this approach to race matters—
especially when it comes to establishing rights for historically marginalized groups like African Americans.
Critical race studies provides the theoretical lens through which I begin unpack “race” in this
region at this time, especially as writers work both with and against this trope in order to create more
productive codes for cross-cultural conduct and, in turn, promote social justice in ways this region had
never before experienced.
Any attempt to understand the factors enabling social change must address much more than those
who appear to be leading such changes. Even a study of Martin Luther King’s influence on the Civil Rights
movement must take into account layers upon layers of other agents, agencies, and additional factors
likewise contributing to this important series of moments in American history (see Loeb 1999). Of course
MLK’s influence was monumental; however, individuals never affect change alone.
In As If Learning Mattered, Richard Miller urges us to rethink agency. As he explains, “to think of
agency only as the ability to alter massive cultural structures, to shift the thinking of large numbers of
people, or to perform any number of similarly grand feats of conversion is to effectively remove agency
from the realm of human action” (211). Thus I find it necessary to bring together several research methods
to determine the ways in which change happened (and didn’t) during one of the most turbulent decades in
university history.
During this time, East Texas State University (ETSU) began accepting African American students
for the first time since it was established in 1889. Other “firsts” include the first African American faculty
member (Talbot) and administrator (Ivory Moore in 1972). In the City of Commerce, organizations like the
Norris Community Club were established (in 1975) to create, according to co-founder of the Club and longtime Norris Community resident Billy Reed, “a direct line of communication” between the African
American citizens of Commerce and city governance (as well as university officials). By all accounts, this
organization forged new “trade routes” (Brandt) and made even more productive use of existing ones,
forcing the City to right inequities that continued to plague the Norris Community even as late as 1975,
including a lack of paved roads and sewage and indoor plumbing.
Using critical race theory as theoretical framework, the current study employs life history research
and extensive use of archival materials (oral histories, newspaper accounts, minutes from meetings) to
understand the codes of cross-cultural conduct established by writers at this time in promoting, enabling,
and sustaining such important changes.
Following in the tradition of life history research, “Writing for a Change” builds upon studies like
Deborah Brandt’s award-winning Literacy in American Lives, which rely on “people’s descriptions of their
own life experiences” as “these autobiographical accounts illuminat[e]” something “of [their] relationships
to the social structures of their times and places, especially where literacy learning is implicated” (11,
emphasis mine).
When it comes to issues of access and higher education, literacy learning is most certainly
implicated. By the time ETSU finally integrated in 1964, every other public university in Texas had already
done so. Thus, ETSU before during and after integration provides a productive lens through which to
examine what Brandt calls “existing trade routes” for literacy acquisition and the forging of new “trade
Thus, the current study will rely upon oral histories with writers actively and purposefully
involved with changing material conditions for African American students entering ETSU following
integration. Oral histories collected during the 1970s and again in the late 2000s will make up the bulk of
my life history research, approaching “oral history as a rhetorical event” (Lucas, Radicals, Rhetoric, and
the War, 2008).
Since ETSU defines itself as a “regional university” responsive to community needs, the current
study relies on oral histories, public documents (newspaper accounts, speeches, minutes from meetings)
and other artifacts documenting activist efforts to change the material conditions for marginalized citizens
who were not also university students--especially those located in the Norris Community. Here, I am
deeply concerned with both “Town” and “Gown,” which seems especially appropriate here given that
Texas A&M-Commerce, the Norris Community, and the City of Commerce were all established at around
the same time. All three entities are intertwined and always have been, not unlike most regional universities
and their towns as manifested across the country.
Thus, the larger implications of this study respond to questions like the following: Historically,
how has higher education responded to social change? In what ways does an institution of higher education
facilitate social justice in the community it serves? In collaborations with other institutions making up that
local context?
The chapter-by-chapter outline for this manuscript follows
Chapter 1: Putting Change in Its Place
This chapter introduces the goals, justification, larger implications, primary research methods, and
theoretical framework informing the study--namely critical race theory (see especially Collins 2004 and
Delgado 2001). Through oral histories with long-time residents of rural, African-American communities
like the rural, remote East Caney (thirty miles east of Commerce) and the Norris Community (in Commerce
city limits), I begin by tracing the regional economic, political, and material transformations surrounding
ETSU in the decades during and immediately following integration. Coupled with archival research
(including content analysis of local and campus newspapers), oral histories with generational “cohorts” will
enable me to establish social trends, especially in terms of shifting technologies associated with and
enabling writing (like grants, histories, organizational documents) that get things done and sustain
established movements (see Ryder, 1965, and Lummis, 1987, for more on life history research).
Chapter 2: Race Matters
This chapter works with tropes of race and “access” as revealed in public documents, archival
materials, and other artifacts written and circulated in the region. I begin with a sustained study of race
surrounding the installation and eventual removal of a city-owned sign posted at the entry point of an
adjacent city in 1921. For the next fifty years, travelers making their way from Dallas, Texas, to Commerce
were very likely to pass a 24-foot, electrified sign that read, “Welcome to Greenville. Blackest Land.
Whitest People.” The sign wasn’t removed until 1969, five years after ETSU integrated. I then explore the
trope of race as revealed in letters, speeches, and other documents written by three university presidents
before, during, and immediately following integration. Finally, I work to understand the trope of race as
revealed in artifacts like the Commerce Journal, city planning documents, and, where available, minutes
from City Council meetings. Also important here are oral histories with campus administrators and city
officials, establishing, as accurately as possible, shifting notions of “community responsibility” and race as
it manifested itself at city and university levels. It is my hope that a close reading of these artifacts through
the theoretical framework critical race studies provides will establish a productive understanding of the
general tenor surrounding mainstream discourse of race and race relations.
Chapter 3: Documents of Change
This chapter explores the trope of race through a close reading of relevant documents, and the next
chapter continues this line of investigation through interviews covering the life histories of their authors. I
begin with a close reading of key documents interrupting a long line or social injustices. These documents
include official statements developed by student organizations like the African-American student
organization AASSET (document of “demands” presented ceremoniously to President Halliday in 1965),
an article in the student publication ETSU Special that caused a “stir” across campus by describing the
“deplorable” conditions in which Norris Community residents were required to live, and the charter for the
Norris Community Club, establishing this grassroots organization to open up a “clear line of
communication” between the African American citizenry of Commerce and city and university officials.
The first document (AASSET demands) is understood as interrupting social injustices by forcing campus
officials to hire black faculty, allowing black students to live in previously segregated housing, making
campus employment equally available to all students regardless of race, and bringing some aspect of Black
Studies to campus. Within a mere handful of years, all AASSET demands had been met. Within a decade,
the “deplorable conditions” of the Norris Community had improved significantly, largely by securing
grants to pave the roads and install sewage, proper drainage, and indoor plumbing. Recognizing the
important role played by layers upon layers of agents and conditions existing beyond and before the
creation and dissemination of these documents, I work to locate and articulate ways to account for the
success attributed to these documents.
Chapter 4: Agents of Change
Whereas Chapter 3 focused on the documents of change, especially their impact, Chapter 4 will
turn attention to the circumstances leading to and surrounding their creation. In that every document has a
writer (or team of writers) and every writer has a relevant literacy narrative, the current chapter will rely
largely on oral histories in an attempt to establish the role of the writer as an agent of change. Thus, this
chapter will draw from the life history of Ivory Moore, the first African American administrator at ETSU,
joining the university in 1972 to become Dean of the then-brand new Office of Minority Affairs. Now in
his eighties, Moore wrote his first grant as a high school student in rural Oklahoma and, arriving at ETSU
in the early 1970s, brought hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant monies to the African American
community in this region, establishing bridge programs like Upward Bound at area high schools and
academic support programs like Mach III (tutoring program), as well as public works for the Norris
Community (paved roads, indoor plumbing, sewage). I will also focus on community leaders like Opal
Pannell and Billy Reed, both of whom are long-time residents of the Norris Community who were founding
members of the Norris Community Club and have remained actively involved in it, the Commerce chapter
of NAACP, and other activist efforts ever since. Finally, I turn my attention to Harry Turner—one of the
first African American students to attend ETSU and a long-time resident and historian of the Norris
Community whose variety of self-published histories, a two-part autobiography, and regular community
publications offer great insight into race relations in Commerce over the past fifty years. The current
chapter explores tropes of access, race, responsibility, and social justice as revealed through a close reading
of these individual life histories.
Chapter 5: Listening for a Change
In her award-winning Rhetorical Listening, Krista Ratcliffe establishes new “codes for crosscultural conduct” across lines of race and gender. As she explains,
Because gender and race are words, they function as do all words--not as transparent
descriptors of thought that stipulate only dictionary definitions but rather as tropes (ie,
rhetorical figures) that suggest multiple meanings.
In the previous chapters, I hope I have established some of the layers and multiplicity of meanings
embedded in the tropological function of race as constructed and lived in this are of Texas during the
1970s. As we threw open the doors of A&M-Commerce to accept, according to Present Gee at the time,
“all races, as long as they meet the standards,” how did the campus and surrounding community make
sense of this transition? In this concluding chapter, I use the framework established to Ratcliffe to explore
the implications for this study, especially as it offers a real-world application for the “codes for crosscultural conduct” Ratcliffe establishes. Finally, I look to possible, more contemporary implications for
such codes—especially as embodied in recent efforts to “listen rhetorically” through interdisciplinary
models like the Converging Literacies Center (CLiC). I describe CLiC efforts as what Eli Goldblatt calls
“writing beyond the curriculum,” focusing on projects like collaborative attempts to place a Texas State
Historical Marker at the Norris Communities oldest congregation, Mt. Moriah Temple Baptist Church.
Established in 1896, this church has been the site of much collective efforts for social justice.
Institutional Review Board and Human Subjects
The proposed project has been (informally) reviewed by Dr. Robin Reid, Interim Director of the
Institutional Review Board at Texas A&M-Commerce and currently Director of IRB at the departmental
level. According to this preliminary review, Dr. Reid states in an email dated 11/30/09 that “the question of
whether research involving oral history comes under the direction of IRB is debatable” (email attached).
She goes on to offer policy statements from the American Historical Association and the Oral History
Association, both of which “have secured a policy statement from the federal office of Human Research
protections that excludes most oral history interviews from IRB review.” I will submit a complete
application for IRB review, however Reid suggests that standards for research involving oral histories will
likely exclude the current project from full IRB review. Please see attached file (“IRB Review”) for
additional details.
B.2. Contribution to long-range plans
Faculty Development Leave Fall 2010 would enable me to begin drafting the vast majority of what I hope
will become my second published book. My first book (The Way Literacy Lives, SUNY P 2008) was well
received, reviewed in one journal and offering the primary theoretical framework for at least two articles in
our field’s top journals. If I am awarded Faculty Development Leave, I will also submit at least two articles
from the manuscript in preparation for possible publication in national, peer-reviewed journals like College
English, College Composition and Communication, and Rhetoric Review. Given my success with
publishing work from other projects in such venues and the feedback I’ve received on this current project, I
believe this goal is attainable.
B.3. Audience
My primary audience is other researchers in writing, literacy, and composition studies, as well as
scholars in the history of rhetoric and literacy. In that this project also attempt to contribute to studies in
community-university relations, service learning, and university policies, this book has an interdisciplinary
appeal. I hope my book will be read by graduate students in courses ranging from rhetoric to composition
to education.
B4. Evidence:
The best evidence for the likelihood that FDL will yield tangible results is my publication record following
my 2006 Faculty Development Leave. The Spring 2006 Faculty Development Leave allowed me to
complete my book (The Way Literacy Lives, published by State University of New York Press in 2008) and
two articles (published in College Composition and Communication in 2009 and Journal of Basic Writing
in 2006) and to begin work on a third, which would later be published in another top journals in
composition studies (College English, in 2007). I know how to make productive use of my time, and I
know how to move projects from ideas to conference presentations to publications in peer-reviewed
C. Plan for use of faculty development leave to complete project:
My plan is to draft as much as possible before Fall 2010, coding and analyzing items listed on my working
bibliography (attached) with special attention to the oral histories with key research participants and
beginning to draw conclusions. Fall 2009, Spring 2010, and Summer 2010 I will transcribe oral histories
where none are available and then code for content analysis. In that time, I will develop a draft of the first
2-3 chapters of my book, leaving Fall 2010 to complete the final chapters, revise, and begin submitting
proposals to appropriate publishers. This will place me in an even better position than I was when I began
Faculty Development Leave Spring 2006. As you recall, that Spring 2006 FDL resulted in the publication
of my first book project, The Way Literacy Lives: Rhetorical Dexterity and the “Basic” Writer (State
University of New York Press, 2008). Given that success following my last faculty development leave and
the promise of the current project, it seems very likely that a Fall 2010 FDL will result in significant
publications as well.
Fall 2009, Spring 2010, and Summer 2010
Read and code materials for content analysis
Transcribe oral histories where none available, then code for content analysis
Submit 1-2 articles for possible publication, likely from chapter on “Putting Race in its Place” and
“Agents of Change” for journals ranging from Enculturation and Community Literacy Journal to
Rhetoric Review, College English, and College Composition and Communication.
Draft first 2-3 chapters of book manuscript
Fall 2010
Draft final chapters
Prepare manuscript for submission
Revise draft
Write proposal letters to selected presses, including SUNY P (who published my previous book),
Pittsburgh UP, Routledge, University of Minnesota P, New York University P, Teachers College
Press, Hampton Press, Utah State University Press, and Heinemann Boynton/Cook
D. List of sources (attached)
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