EDITORIAL — A village where all might profit

Published 12:11 am Saturday, August 10, 2019

Thurman Bill Bartie remembers well the West Port Arthur where he grew up as a place of caring and good neighbors, a “village” where young people were guided under the watch of good neighbors and family.

Port Arthur’s new mayor, who grew up in homes on Fifth Street and Seventh Street, related those memories this week to Port Arthur Rotary Club members, some of whom remember West Port Arthur in the same way. They, too, were familiar with Abraham Lincoln High School and the Bumblebees and the Rev. Ransom Howard and A.Z. McElroy and other people who made West Port Arthur a good place. That’s a proud heritage.

West Port Arthur had its challenges, too, in the segregated and then the slowly evolving Port Arthur of the 1950s and beyond, when Bartie was born and reared, into the present. Poverty, housing and environmental challenges abound, but the area holds its own proud heritage that started around places like Israel Chapel AME and other historic institutions.

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We heard similar stories in 2018, when the 40th reunion of the Lincoln Class of ’78 met. There, in the familiar pews of Israel Chapel, alums thanked their teachers not only for drilling them on grammar and math, but also for serving as role models. Their teachers were men and women of insistent integrity who set high benchmarks for their students’ scholastic achievements.

Audrey Ervin Jones, class valedictorian, remembered then that Ronald Spooner set high standards for science, and that Henry May’s lessons on gerunds remained with her four decades later. There were many other caring, dedicated teachers, too. Plenty of ’78 graduates returned for the program; so did teachers, who remember West Port Arthur with a strong sense of community and solidarity.

Bartie in his recollections doesn’t downplay our city’s history of racial division. He said plainly Thursday that in birth he was delivered by a midwife, a common occurrence in West Port Arthur, circa 1954, because there were limited accommodations for African Americans at the hospital. He recalled having to go to the back door of white people’s homes and he remembers segregated days at Pleasure Island.

While segregation provided bitter memories for black people in this city, that era hurt white residents as well, separating them from knowing and appreciating all of their fellow citizens. It’s never too late to change.

Bartie as mayor seems to appreciate and emphasize that lesson. He said he was angry as a younger man but put the pains of the past behind him, hopeful of a Port Arthur that’s more unified in its good intentions for everybody. On Thursday, he talked about economic opportunities for those who are willing to prepare themselves. There’s lots to consider there, for people who keep their minds on the future.