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Documenting Riverside: production interviews from This Is Our Home, It Is Not for Sale

Digitization, Houston History Archives

This Is Our Home, It Is Not for Sale (This Is Our Home) is the title of Jon Schwartz’s 1987 documentary film that chronicles Houston’s Riverside neighborhood. While it is the story of a specific neighborhood in Houston, the themes of segregation, integration, white flight and disparity of city services are common elements in the history of many large American cities. This Is Our Home, which boasts an impressive 3 hour and 20 minute run time, includes interviews with some of Houston’s most famous and influential residents. The University of Houston Library Special Collections is home to the This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale Film Collection, which includes Schwartz’s original production documents, photographs, and production films, including B-roll footage and early edits of the documentary.

The original production used a dual reel system of motion picture and a separate fullcoat magnetic soundtrack that requires syncing to achieve a digitized video product. These films were at particular risk of loss due to the use of fullcoat magnetic soundtrack in production, making it susceptible to extreme vinegar syndrome. The films, used in the editing process, also featured numerous splices and missing portions which were utilized in edits of the documentary. In 2017, The University of Houston Libraries was awarded a Texas Libraries and Archives Commission TexTreasures grant to digitize 112 filmed interviews, and make them available via our AudioVisual Repository. These raw interviews provide insights both into the former and current residents opinions of the neighborhood that had undergone a drastic transition, they are primary documents of individuals struggling to discuss the complexities of race relations and emotional attachments to “home.”

The Story of Riverside

In the 1920s, members of Houston’s wealthy Jewish community were blocked from home ownership in Houston’s elite River Oaks neighborhood by anti-Semitic deed restrictions. In response to these restrictions, the community helped to establish the affluent Riverside neighborhood, located to the west of University of Houston’s central campus. The neighborhood, inhabited by Jewish and non-Jewish residents, became the center of Jewish culture in Houston and was home to many influential Houston families. In 1952, Jack Caesar, a wealthy cattle rancher, moved to Riverside by instructing his white secretary to buy a home and transfer the deed over to Caesar, defying deed restrictions that blocked black individuals from purchasing homes in the area. His arrival on Wichita Street was first met with a buyout offer from neighbors who had pooled their money. Caesar refused the offer, and a dynamite bomb was detonated on the porch of the Caesar family’s home. Unharmed and undeterred, the family remained in Riverside. With landmark Supreme Court cases including District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co. Inc. (1953) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954) finding segregating policies unlawful, more affluent black families bought homes in the neighborhood.

John and Drucie Chase standing in front of their Riverside home, designed by John Chase. From the This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale Film Collection.

In response to the influx of black residents and spurred on by unscrupulous real estate agents instigating anxieties about falling home values, many white residents sold their homes and moved to other areas of the city.  Residents who hoped to maintain the neighborhood as an integrated community began a yard sign campaign that proclaimed “This Is Our Home, It Is Not for Sale.” While this movement gained national attention, it was not enough to slow the departure of white homeowners. Riverside continued to be shaped by forces including the departure of area businesses, the growth of UH and TSU campuses, construction of Highway 288, and the decision to locate a county psychiatric hospital in the neighborhood. In the late 1980s, white homebuyers attracted by Riverside’s beautiful homes, central location, and reasonable prices, began moving back into the area.

Through interviews with former and current residents of Riverside, This Is Our Home examines how anti-Semitism, racism, real estate agent-driven blockbusting, profiteering, white flight, and urban development projects created and continue to shape what was once one of the Houston’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Now Online

Jack Caesar, photographed with personal firearm following the bombing of his home (This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale Film Collection).

Jack Caesar, photographed with personal firearm following the bombing of his home (This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale Film Collection).

It is our hope that these materials will serve as a valuable resource, in complement to Schwartz’s documentary, and aid in scholarship around Houston. These primary source materials that trace the waves of segregation and desegregation dynamics in a large southern city and reveal the tensions related to population growth and demographic shifts. Not only do they document a segment of Houston history, but they also provide a profile of urban development with implications beyond the city and the region. Likewise, architectural historians, urban planners, historical geographers, and public administrators figure among the populations who may benefit from access to the complete, raw interviews.

All digitized raw interviews are available through the UHL Audiovisual Repository, and we have curated an online exhibition featuring an interactive map of the neighborhood highlighting interviews with Riverside’s residents. The full documentary can be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room or purchased at http://thisisourhomeitisnotforsale.com/.

Unboxing Archives

Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection, Hispanic Collections, Instruction, LGBT History Research Collection
Letter from Agnese Carter Nelms to Jesse H. Jones, February 10, 1947, Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas Records.

“The editors of your paper are Catholic, and have refused… to give this campaign radio time and press notices… We do not ask the Catholics to accept our program–we merely ask them to ‘live and let live.'” Letter from Agnese Carter Nelms to Jesse H. Jones, February 10, 1947, Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas Records.

A new collaboration between the University of Houston Special Collections, the Department of History, and the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies provided students with a unique opportunity to discover archival collections neatly aligned with their own areas of research interest.

Students from Dr. Zarnow’s Issues in Feminist Research class worked with librarians from our Special Collections to mine a variety of archival artifacts in collections from Carey C. Shuart Women’s Research Collection, the LGBT History Research Collection, and the Arté Publico Press Recovery Project to create an interactive timeline of primary sources discovered in their research. From materials tucked into archival folders, possibly overlooked by previous researchers, students uncovered items revealing the evolution of women’s social issues and concerns in the Houston and Gulf Coast region and the themes that connect these years of seemingly disparate work from a chain of individuals and organizations over decades.

Among the items highlighted from their research are correspondence from the 1940s, political flyers from the 1970s, and artists’ creations from the 1980s.  In the Planned Parenthood of Houston & Southeast Texas Records, a 1947 letter from Agnese Carter Nelms to Jesse H. Jones, owner of the Houston Chronicle among other things, hints at the early conflicts between Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Church.  A flier from the Houston Area NOW and Other Feminist Activities Collection recalls the gains won by César Chávez and the United Farm Workers but reminds us that, even now, there’s still blood in that wine. Meanwhile, photographs, posters, and other works of art from the Houston Gorilla Girls Records demonstrate how activism for gender equality in the world of art played out against the backdrop of 1980s Houston. Students worked to curate and describe these items and more, creating an interactive timeline (seen above) to provide users with visual and historical context while browsing their findings.

photograph from the Houston Gorilla Girls Records

Photograph from the Houston Gorilla Girls Records.

If you are a faculty member, or student, interested in how the primary source materials housed in UH Special Collections can complement your teaching, learning, and research, see our website with more information on scheduling classes and utilizing our resources to learn more.

UH Libraries Special Collections Acquires Ben DeSoto Papers

Performing & Visual Arts

The University of Houston Libraries Special Collections is proud to announce its acquisition of the Ben DeSoto Papers. Ben DeSoto is a Houston native with a photography career spanning over three decades, and his collection documents Houston’s art, history, and culture.

The Ben DeSoto Papers document the Houston art scene and capture the images of hundreds of Houston’s visual artists. DeSoto’s collection also contains photos of hundreds of musicians and performances at many now-defunct Houston venues, including Mary Jane’s, The Axiom, and The Island. The latter venue is the subject of DeSoto’s documentary Night at the Island, which is currently in production. DeSoto describes The Island as

. . . the first venue in Houston where Punk Rock music was heard . . . From 1978 to 1982, the place was a home away from home for many and part of underground scene. Butthole Surfers, Black Flag, Big Boys, The Dicks shared the stage with locals Mydolls, Judys, AK 47, The Hates, and many others.

DeSoto’s collection contains images from these and many other musicians along with photographs of the Houston street skaters Urban Animals, many of which were exhibited at the Glassel and the Houston Center for Photography in the late 1980’s, and the Menil in 1998.  Additionally, the collection contains personal and family documents.

Judy Pruitt at 18 years old, under the Pierce Elevated, Christmas week 1988.

Judy Pruitt at 18 years old, under the Pierce Elevated, Christmas week 1988. Photo courtesy of Ben Desoto.

Perhaps most importantly, the Ben DeSoto Papers document DeSoto’s life’s work the Understanding Poverty Project in which he allows us into the daily lives of Houston’s homeless and poor. DeSoto explains that a chance encounter with Judy Pruitt in 1988 led to a decades-long collaboration in “sharing to the public an understanding of underlying causes of chronic homelessness.” Desoto also documented Ben White’s life for over thirty years. Like Pruitt, White battled the cycles of homelessness, drug addiction, and poverty. What is unique to this project is that DeSoto documents the experiences and struggles of Pruitt, White, and their families—over such an extended period of time. Currently, DeSoto is working on Quiet Storms of Reform–what he calls a “poverty solutions documentary film.”

DeSoto received numerous awards during his long career at the Houston Post, including the

  • Fuji Fine Arts Award for Contributions to Society (1987)
  • National Headliners, Outstanding Feature Photography (1989)
  • Inter American Press Association, First in Photography (1990)
  • Texas Correction Association Award for Media Excellence for “Documenting the Lives of Children and Families at Risk” (1991)
Ben White was born April 27, 1957, and grew up in Houston’s Fourth Ward (Freedman’s Town), Fifth Ward, and Sunny Side, all working-poor black neighborhoods.

Ben White was born April 27, 1957, and grew up in Houston’s Fourth Ward (Freedman’s Town), Fifth Ward, and Sunny Side, all working-poor black neighborhoods. Photo courtesy of Ben Desoto.

In 2000 Desoto was awarded for his work with the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, Inc.

However, it is the recognition he has received for his more creative work, after his newspaper career, that he most values. A selection of his later awards follows:

  • Houston Press, Best Art Exhibit and Best Photographer in Houston award from the for his exhibition His Understanding Poverty at City Hall (2009)
  • Houston Arts Alliance grant for The Significance of Making Art
  • “100 Creative People in Houston,” Houston Press (2011)
  • UNESCO Bioethics Global Arts Competition for his project My Mother’s Dying, which to date has exhibited in Hong Kong, Houston, New York City, Mexico City, and Rome (2013)
  • Top Ten Photographers listings: Houston Press, Free Press Houston, Green Mountain Express (2014)

In 2009, the office of Mayor Bill White commissioned City Workers of a Working City, Houston, Texas, which was installed on the third floor of City Hall. The Significance of Making Art was included in the 2009 No Zoning Show at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston and at the Artery (2010).

During his internship at the Houston Post the summer of 1980, Desoto particularly enjoyed his assignment taking photographs at The Island, Houston’s first punk rock venue.

During his internship at the Houston Post the summer of 1980, Desoto particularly enjoyed his assignment taking photographs at The Island, Houston’s first punk rock venue. Photo courtesy of Ben Desoto.

DeSoto’s collection at UH Special Collections totals approximately 44 linear feet, and most materials date from the 1980s through 2016. Five linear feet of the collection came to UH Special Collections organized by Patricia Hernandez of Studio One through the CALL project. Included in this portion are photographs and negatives documenting Houston artists and art events as well as photographs of bands and musicians, primarily at Houston venues. While most of Desoto’s later work has been donated to UH Special Collections, his journalistic work for the Houston Post, as well as a majority of hip hop and materials related to Houston’s Fifth Ward neighborhood, have been donated to the African American Library at the Gregory School.

The collection is currently being processed and a finding aid is not yet available publicly. However, arrangements to use materials in the collection can be made by contacting Performing and Visual Arts curator Mary Manning at mmmanning@uh.edu.

Fifty Years On – The Game of the Century

In the News, University Archives

College basketball used to be a small game. A niche sport, once it was played on small courts, in small gymnasiums, in front of small crowds. Just over fifty years ago however, on January 20, 1968 in the Astrodome, the University of Houston (and the University of California, Los Angeles) forever altered the scale of the game in what has become known as the Game of the Century.

program from the Game of the Century (Athletics Department Records)

Regardless of the particulars, it was destined to be a historic match-up. While any given season might feature similar, high-profile, games between highly ranked teams, the 1968 regular season game between UCLA and Houston had a number of compelling story lines that intrigued even the casual sports fan. There was the blue blood, #1 team in the nation (the UCLA Bruins), riding a 47 game winning streak that spanned two and a half years and boasting three of the last four national championships under the tutelage of the legendary “Wizard of Westwood,” John Wooden.  Their most recent in 1967 included a 73-58 defeat of the University of Houston Cougars in the Final Four. Anchored by the immeasurable talent of Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), the UCLA Bruins were a legitimate dynasty, ultimately claiming every national championship between 1967 and 1973. In the other corner, the up-and-coming “underdog” program, ranked #2 in the nation and riding their own winning streak (undefeated since their loss to UCLA the previous season), the University of Houston Cougars were coached by Guy V. Lewis, led on the court by the likes of Elvin Hayes, Ken Spain, and Don Chaney, and eager to prove just how good they were after last year’s setback.

Given all of these particulars, how could the game be any bigger? Mix in a grand stage of national television coverage (a first for college basketball) and the surreal setting of the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The court for the contest was shipped in from Los Angeles, ironically enough, and assembled in the Astrodome on top of what should have been second base. It must have looked like a postage stamp to most of the 52,693 fans (a world-wide attendance record for any basketball game) packed into the dark corners of the Dome. Even more watched at home as this “small” game was played against a grand, cavernous backdrop.

 

TVS Television Network promoted the game and sold broadcasting rights to over 100 television stations across the country. Previously, there had only been efforts to televise games locally and in 1961 a “national” broadcast of the Ohio State / University of Cincinnati game in the NCAA finals was televised in just two cities–Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio. The pros in the National Basketball Association had only begun the broadcast experiment in the 1950s and were still torn on whether or not they wanted to televise the league’s “good games,” for fear of losing ticket revenue at the turnstile. What was happening now in 1968 was not just novel, it was radical. And, it was successful in more ways than one. Houston defeated UCLA 71-69, ended the Bruins winning streak, and solidified their place in college basketball lore.

In Houston Cougars in the 1960s: Death Threats, the Veer Offense, and the Game of the Century by Robert Jacobus, Houston’s Elvin Hayes reflected back on the legacy of the game saying, “It just created euphoria and an atmosphere for college basketball that wasn’t there previously. I think that game kicked the door down, opened the windows, and knocked the roof off the house. What we have today in March Madness is what I think the game in 1968 opened.”

KUHT’s Progressive Programming Now Available Online

Department News, Digitization, Exhibits, KUHT Collection, University Archives

Almanac hosts Betty Ann Bowser and J. D. Houston.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services generously funds a “grants to state program,” which uses a population-based formula to distribute funds to State Library Administrative Agencies across the country. In Texas, these funds are distributed via several different types of competitive grants, including TexTreasures, which is designed to help libraries make their special collections more accessible for the people of Texas and beyond.

University of Houston Special Collections is pleased to announce the online publication of over 500 recently digitized videos from the KUHT Collection. These videos, accessible via the newly unveiled UHL AV Repository, were digitized with funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ TexTreasures grant, administered by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Included in the project are several significant series and documentaries produced by KUHT between 1971 – 2000. One series, Almanac, tackled some of the major political and social issues facing Houston in the 1990s, including complex questions of race, gender, and economic inequality. Episodes such as those that cover the Harris County Grand Jury decision not to indict a Houston Police Department officer in the shooting of Byron Gillum and a discussion of the ban on homosexuals serving in the military exemplify the program’s willingness to pursue tough issues.  Notable figures, such as Mayor Sylvester Turner, made several appearances on the program early in his political career, and even President Jimmy Carter appears alongside Dominique de Menil to discuss the Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize.

All materials digitized were previously inaccessible due to their obsolete video formats, such as this U-matic video.

Another significant series, The Capitol Report, features interviews with Texas legislators discussing issues that remain of great importance today. Representation, prison reform, and education are just a few of the topics that are covered, and many guests will be familiar to those who follow Texas politics today.

Several noteworthy documentaries and feature programs were also digitized under the TexTreasures grant, such as Houston in the Age of AIDs (1985) and Wetlands (1991).

In addition to full episodes available on the AV Repository, an online exhibit created by graduate student Carolann Madden contextualizes the many series featured online: http://exhibits.lib.uh.edu/exhibits/show/kuht-textreasures, and includes contemporary documents from the KUHT Collection.

The KUHT series The Writer in Society featured guests such as Maya Angelou. https://av.lib.uh.edu/media_objects/gt54kn02m

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