Juneteenth from a local point of view: Emancipation news comes to Bee County

Uncle Jade with niece Maya and nephew Miles

Juneteenth is especially important for my friend Paulette Boales Bailey, because her great-grandfather, Peter Boales, may have been the first enslaved person in this part of South Texas to learn about emancipation from Union soldiers in 1865.

Peter’s owners had moved to Skidmore about 1863. One June day in 1865, he was sent to the store for a tool, arriving shortly after a group of Union soldiers did. After they told him he was free, Peter went home and reported that to the man he was working for, who immediately went to check out the information. When he returned, he announced to all the enslaved people that they could go—but he didn’t know who would hire them.

Boales family members have lived in or near Skidmore for over 150 years. Paulette’s father was working in Alice when her birth was imminent, but no Alice hospital would admit blacks in the 1940s, so she was born in the Beeville Hospital—which had one bed reserved for African Americans.

When Paulette was young, her family moved to Houston for her dad to attend barber school, then work as one. They lived in the Third Ward, a segregated African-American community. “We had our own world, with churches, schools, theaters, parks and stores,” Paulette remembers. “We only saw white people when we went downtown shopping.” At the prestigious Battlestein’s Department Store, blacks were allowed to shop for clothing, but not to try anything on.

When she went to Ryan Junior High, Paulette rode a city bus, where blacks had to sit in the back. At the beginning of seventh grade, the school had not received the needed textbooks from the school district, so her teacher told them about the history of segregation—the first Paulette knew about that subject. (When the books finally were delivered, they were old, previously used by students at white schools.)

Paulette enjoyed her years at Jack Yates High School, where she participated in the drum and bugle corps which accompanied their winning football team to state three times, always in competition with other black high school teams. Many years later, George Floyd graduated from that same school. “His Yates HS colors were used at his funeral,” Paulette noted.

After graduating, Paulette enrolled at Texas Southern University, but couldn’t afford a second year. She trained as a licensed vocational nurse and worked at hospitals and home health services for 20 years before completing her registered nurse’s degree from the University of Houston at Victoria.

She was determined that her four children get college educations. Daughter Dana completed her pre-law degree from the University of St. Thomas, then earned her law degree from the University of San Diego. She is now a lawyer for the state of Washington.

Daughter Javette’s Coastal Bend College associate’s degree earned her a position as an auditor for Scripps Hospital in San Diego. Son Jade, with a computer science degree from UH Victoria, now works for the Victoria sheriff’s department information technology division and is studying forensic science.

Daughter Jennifer graduated as an LVN from CBC and later completed her RN degree. She now works for Legacy Home Health. Jennifer’s two children, Maya and Miles, are Paulette’s only grandchildren. They receive lots of encouragement and support, not only from their grandmother and parents, but also from their uncle and aunts.

Maya will be a senior this fall at A.C. Jones, and Miles, an eighth grader in The Joe Barnhart Academy at Moreno Junior High.

A National Honor Society student, Maya plays in the band and volunteers at the Beeville Art Museum. Her Aunt Dana has already taken her to visit several college campuses. Maya is interested in international business.

An avid reader, Miles also plays football and basketball. He wants to be an architect.

Paulette has lived in her comfortable Adams Street home since purchasing it in 1993. When she’s out working in her yard, people stopping at the side-street stop sign occasionally ask her what she charges to do yard work! Once, when Dana was outside during a visit, a local doctor asked her to tell her employer not to park so many cars on the semi-circle driveway, blocking the view of Adams Street. Dana was outraged!

Over the nine years I have written this column, I have lost track of all the topics I have addressed. I knew I had written about Paulette’s great-uncle Pleas Boales’ stories of his father Peter, but when I saved an early draft of this column, I discovered that I had previously written about Paulette in January of 2015.

That column began:

“We thought, after Martin Luther King and the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, the worst was over,” my friend Paulette Boales Bailey told me. “We were wrong.”

She and her family are deeply concerned about the recent deaths of blacks at the hands of police officers. “We’ve got a big problem in this country,” she says. “We need to talk to each other about ways to address it.”

That column was written in response to Eric Garner’s death following a police choke-hold that had him repeating, “I can’t breathe” numerous times.

Sadly, the racism problem persists, as George Floyd’s death (and several others) so clearly illustrates. But the huge, world-wide response offers new hope for positive, desperately needed change. 

Paulette says, “It hurts me so bad that we have to suffer this way.” 

It hurts me, too.

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