The interview was conducted on June 30, 2010 by Laura Blackburn at Sanders's office in the Greater East Texas Community Action Program (GETCAP) Head Start in Nacogdoches, TX.
Patrick Sanders was born in 1972 or 1973 in Lufkin, Texas to Guy J. and Robbie R. McKind Sanders. His mother and father moved to Nacogdoches soon after his birth to live among his father's family in the Burgess Hill community. Sanders attended elementary school at Nettie Marshall Elementary School, junior high at Thomas J. Rusk Middle School and high school at Nacogdoches High School where he participated in Top Teens of America and Future Farmers of America. He earned a degree in social work from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1991. Sanders is currently employed at the Greater East Texas Community Action Program (GETCAP) Head Start in Nacogdoches, Texas as the Social Services Specialist where he began work as an intern while at SFASU and continued to work after receiving his degree. Sanders has three sisters, a brother, and is married to Marsha Sanders. They have three children: Britny (age 8); Niyah (age 6); and Patrick, Jr. (age 4). Patrick is a member of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and has been active within the church since his youth. Through his school activities he was able to volunteer and contribute to the community throughout his life and continues that work as a social worker now.
[Begin Interview]BLACKBURN: My name is Laura Blackburn and today I'll be interviewing Patrick Sanders. The date is June 30, 2010 and the interview is taking place at the Greater East Texas Community Action Program Head Start in Nacogdoches, Texas and is sponsored by the African American Heritage Project [AAHP]. Would you state your age and where you were born?
SANDERS: My name is Patrick Sanders and I'm 37 years old. I was born in Lufkin, Texas but I have lived in Nacogdoches, Texas all of my life.
BLACKBURN: What community did you grow up in?
SANDERS: I grew up in what is called the Burgess Hill Community here in Nacogdoches.
BLACKBURN: What was it like growing up?
SANDERS: I grew up in a predominately Black neighborhood. I was surrounded . . . where I lived at, was surrounded by relatives. I mean, the whole community was like one big happy family, but my family we all . . . I lived with my dad's side of the family, from all of my dad's sisters, his brother, cousins. We all lived in the same neighborhood. So I was . . . been surrounded by family most of life.
BLACKBURN: Okay, from . . . since it was mostly family, what were the most important things?
SANDERS: Growing up in the Burgess Hill Community one of the most important things was family and then the second most important thing was church. Back then, everybody went to church on Sunday morning. That was like a family tradition. I mean, every Sunday you went to church. And we had what we call in the African American churches homecomings and your annual revival. And the relatives that had moved away to the big cities, they all came back home for church on that day. Whenever the homecoming was the whole family came back, it was like one big family reunion per se centered around church.
BLACKBURN: Within that, was the church community, were they the most important people in the community or were there other . . .
SANDERS: Growing up, the major leaders in the community were your ministers but then there were also some community people that were very active. Some of the people that lived in my neighborhood were Ms. Birdie Wade, she lived down the street. There was another gentleman by the name of Mr. Robert Ferguson and then across town you had Mr. Weaver and, I think, Mr. Willie Wade that were very important to the community in making sure that African Americans were aware of what was going on within our communities and what we needed to do to be a part of that.
BLACKBURN: Where did you go to school?
SANDERS: I went to school here in Nacogdoches all my life. I went to elementary school at Nettie Marshall. I went to junior high at TJR [Thomas J. Rusk Middle School] and then I went to Nacogdoches High School.
BLACKBURN: Did you have any higher education?
SANDERS: I went to SFA [Stephen F. Austin State University] and I have a bachelor's degree in social work from SFA and I received that degree in 1999.
BLACKBURN: What was your first job?
SANDERS: My first job was a dish washer and I think it was, back then, called The Hot Biscuit on North Street.
BLACKBURN: Once you got your degree, where did you go from there?
SANDERS: When I received my degree, I did my intern here at Head Start and I have been working here at Head Start ever since I did my intern. One of the things, the reason I've stayed here at Head Start, is because Head Start gives me the opportunity to do different projects and do work within my community. Being a social worker, my job is to empower people and so I figured what better place to be a social worker is, in the community that I grew up in, and being that social worker and being here in Nacogdoches I've participated with many different groups and organizations. Two things that I'm very proud of that I'm the spearhead of is the annual MLK [Martin Luther King, Jr.] day march. Organize that and put that on, I've been doing that for the last four years and then for the last three years I've also worked with putting on the annual Juneteenth celebration. The reason those two activities are so important, I believe that children that are coming up in this community need to know the history. They need to know why MLK marched. A lot of the rights that we have today is because of Martin Luther King and the marches that he did. I think that it is important that we educate our children on that and continue to pass that down. The same goes with Juneteenth. I tell people all the time we celebrate the 4th of July but really when the 4th of July was instituted Blacks were not included in that and actually Juneteenth is our 4th of July. When the slaves, when slavery ended, here in Texas, it kept going for a couple of years, and then that's where the Juneteenth came from.
[Door opens and someone pokes their head in and then leaves.]
BLACKBURN: Okay. Well, I, you mentioned your age you were pretty young when integration came around but did your parents ever speak anything about . . .
SANDERS: Yes, my parents and my aunt, I had a great-aunt, she talked to me about segregation and then working on these various projects I've heard a great deal about segregation. One of the things that comes to mind is the Washateria that is uh, the Washateria is still in existence today on West Main, I believe. I remember as a little, I think I was about six or seven, the sign, it still had, on the sign it said Whites on one side and Blacks on the other and that was still on that sign, I think, until the late seventies, '78, '79 is when they finally took that sign down. They took that wall down in the Washeteria and you could still kind of see where there was a wall separating the White side and the Black side but that sign was still there and I remember seeing that sign and so, I mean, that really brought it to light. And as far as my family is concerned my father, my father was born in Lamesa [Texas]. He was born in a cotton field in Lamesa. His parents lived here out in a community called Douglass, Texas but they went out to West Texas every year to pick cotton and the reason they did that because they couldn't get jobs here, high paying jobs here in Nacogdoches so they had to go out to West Texas and do the cotton fields to supplement their income. My family, my father's family they were farmers, and so they had to go out there every year to supplement their income and it just so happened my grandmother delivered my father while they were out picking cotton.
BLACKBURN: Do you think that, just the stories that you've heard growing up about integration and civil rights that it inspired you to go into social work?
SANDERS: In a way it did and as you can look around my office Martin Luther King has been my idol for a very long time ever since, I guess, I was about ten or eleven I've been looking at and admiring the work of Martin Luther King and realizing that the struggle that Black people had to go through and trying to pass that on to other generations. Like I said, a lot of the things that we experience now, that we're able to do now, even me going to SFA now is given in part because of what Martin Luther King did, what the march, the people did. Mr. Arthur Weaver, I heard that he took racism on by himself basically here in Nacogdoches and brought it to a head and even the integration of SFA, one of my cousins, Dr. Odis Rhodes, he was the first Black professor to teach at SFA and he's still alive and well and I talk with him all the time and have heard some of the experiences of him being the first Black teacher up there but also some of the experiences of the first Black students as well. It was a frightening time for everybody. And even with segregation here with the high schools, my mother graduated high school here in Nacogdoches in 1969 and she had a brother that was two years older, I mean two years younger than she was, and he dropped out of high school the year that they segregated because he was fearful to go to the segregated schools and I think the first couple of years a lot of the students had that fear from what I hear and from what I understand of going to the segregated schools and that's one example I do remember is that my mother told me that my uncle dropped out of high school because of segregation.
BLACKBURN: Going to school, did you notice still any separations within the community or within school?
SANDERS: When I was in school, I, a lot of the teachers that I had in high school, I mean and even in elementary especially the Black teachers, many of them had taught when schools were segregated cause, I mean, when I started elementary the schools had only been segregated for about six or seven years so many of those teachers had taught in the segregated schools. And I didn't feel the, I didn't see any racism. But when it came to discipline and different things like that there was a difference with the teachers of how they disciplined back then and how they discipline now. Back then they did not take us to the office, they just took care of it right there in the classroom and I think that came from that old school style and so that's one of the things I do remember as going to school. But when I started, I never experienced any racism in school even when I went to SFA. I've studied it but I've never actually seen it.
BLACKBURN: Okay. Were you involved in any sports when you were in school or anything?
SANDERS: No, I never, I was not an athlete [laughter] so I wasn't involved in any sports. When I was in high school I belonged to Top Teens of America, I was a Future Farmer of America and doing different things like that. But I've always been one, I was always out doing different community projects, volunteering within the community, doing different things like that. Trying to better the community and I guess I've done that since high school and that was, being in Top Teens, gave me the opportunity to do different community projects and volunteer and different things like that.
BLACKBURN: With your . . . I guess, in the different groups that you were involved in high school, was that, were they pretty much, you said they were community involved. I'm trying to think of what I'm trying to say. . . . Aside from the basic subjects, was there any separation within those or were they pretty much all inclusive?
SANDERS: Well, no. Most of the groups, you still had the . . . even like now you had the . . . in high school you had the cliques. I mean, it was segregated but it wasn't segregated. We all got along but, I mean, the Blacks mainly hung with the Blacks and the Whites hung with the Whites and the Hispanics hung with the Hispanics. I think that's changed over time but even when I was in high school, I mean, we were all friends but you still had your pockets of people that, I mean, there were certain things that we didn't do with this group or that group so you still saw that even when I was in high school.
BLACKBURN: Well, I noticed in one of the articles in the newspaper [Daily Sentinel (Nacogdoches, TX)] that you mentioned that Charlotte Stokes was a mentor of yours.
BLACKBURN: Did she or how did she help you through your . . .
SANDERS: First of all, when I . . . Ms. Stokes, I've been knowing Ms. Stokes for a very long time before I even came to work here at Head Start. I guess her son and I were in the same, we were classmates, and he and I became friends, I guess, when I was in about the seventh grade and that's when I actually met Ms. Stokes and she formed an organization called Project Turnaround. I think it was formed in, I think, '88 or '89 I believe. But what Project Turnaround did was they had an award ceremony every year for minority students that had decent grades in school. I think you had to have at least a B average or whatever and we all got certificates every year and I was one of their 1991 scholarship recipients for Project Turnaround. So it was Ms. Stokes that first invested in me in going to college and then when I got ready to do my intern, I did my intern here and started working here while she was the director and I have been here ever since. Her and I, the many projects that I worked on, that I'm working on currently, is because of her. Like I said, the MLK day march, the Juneteenth march, she's the one that really drug me into those different things. Even this year, for the first time in February we did a community-wide African American History month. We had a History Day up there at SFA and it turned out great and that was the first time that the entire community had brought, had been brought in under one roof, I think. What happens is the different church, the various churches do their little programs but we wanted to put on something for the entire community and she came to me with that idea and I said, "We can do it." And that's kind of how that got started. But, I mean, Ms. Stokes, a lot of the people that I work with now, the contacts that I have is because of her. She's introduced me to so many people and I mean, like I said, it was her that gave me the first opportunity to even work as a social worker, so . . .
BLACKBURN: So as a social worker, what are your ultimate goals?
SANDERS: As a social worker, my goal is to work myself out of a job. It doesn't happen, but that is my goal. My main purpose as a social worker is to empower people, to show people there is a different way. Poverty, many of the families that we work with here at Head Start, it's a cycle. You see the same families. And my job is to work with the different clients and try to break that cycle regardless if you're African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, whatever. My job is to try to break that cycle of poverty and give you the tools that is needed to compete in the job market and show you that regardless of your income, or regardless of where you grew up at, that you can go to college, you can make a difference in your life.
BLACKBURN: You mentioned before that you grew up in a predominately Black community surrounded by family, how do you think that helped you or hindered you in your career?
SANDERS: I think it was more of a help than a hindrance because back then you were disciplined by everybody. If I needed help with homework or whatever and my parents couldn't do it, hey I could go next door, down the street, there was always somebody willing to help. The community I grew up in, like I said, we were all one big happy family. If I needed something I could get it from a neighbor, if they needed something, they could get it from me. You had that and it was almost like a built in support system as well, so . . .
BLACKBURN: You mentioned that the whole community would pretty much come together and there are some other people that have mentioned that there is still kind a separation within town, not necessarily purposefully now, but just maybe a product.
SANDERS: Yeah, at the end, I mean, there is, if you go around, go through Nacogdoches now, there are still communities that Blacks don't live in, there are still communities that Whites don't live in and that's something that I don't think, it's going to be a long time before that changes. A lot of that though has to do with socio-economic levels. I mean you have some neighborhoods, people that are here in Nacogdoches, if you weren't born into the wealth or into the money you just can't live in those types of neighborhoods. There are not a lot of high paying jobs here in Nacogdoches and so I mean, you pretty much you get stuck and you get complacent where you are and I think that's kind of what has happened. And then for African Americans a lot of them don't think they can leave the communities and this is almost sad to say but then when you do leave your community and want to move over to a better community sometimes you catch flack from those that you left behind.
BLACKBURN: Yeah, kind of the feeling that you've just, yeah you have left them or that they think you've left them behind.
SANDERS: Yeah, it's like you've abandoned your community. And that's something I've, I moved out of where I was raised, I moved out about four years ago and that is kind of what I was faced with. A lot of people had felt that I had, and I'm still right here in Nacogdoches [laughter], but a lot of people felt well you're abandoning your neighborhood and that was not my intent but that's the way a lot of people look at it.
BLACKBURN: With that sense of community, is that . . .
SANDERS: Mm-hmm. Especially community and family. Like I said, where I lived at, it was all of my family was there. So when I moved it was like, you're not only moving, but you're leaving your family behind.
BLACKBURN: That's interesting. Who were the most important people in your life or in your community?
SANDERS: The most important people in my community by far would be my parents and then I had a great-aunt, my great-aunt [Vassie Sanders] didn't have any kids, but she was kind of almost the mother of the entire community that I grew up in. She was the baby-sitter for the community. She, I think, she probably baby-sat everybody that was growing up in the community at that time [laughter]. And one of the things that she instilled in me that you can be anything that you want to be but you've got to be willing to work and you have to be willing to work hard at it. That's one of the things that she told me many times and besides my parents, she would be the most influential person in my life. My aunt, she was, she had been a school teacher way, way back then. I think, let's see, my aunt died in '87 at the age of eighty-eight. So she had been a school teacher many years before then and she kind of told me the process of her becoming a school teacher, she didn't have to go to school all the four years like you have to do now. It was a much simpler process but from what she was telling me it was back in the thirties and forties it was just hard to find African Americans that could read or write so if you could read and write that was basically all you needed to become a teacher. I mean, you got some education but it wasn't a whole lot like you receive now.
BLACKBURN: Well with that instilled worth, work ethic, do you think that it give you an advantage growing up? Knowing that, or having it instilled that work was important and you had to strive for what you wanted.
SANDERS: Oh yeah. I do think that gave me an advantage and then also I grew up in a two parent household and I think that was an advantage because it's sad to say but many African Americans, especially males, don't grow up in a two parent family and I think when you don't grow up in that two parent family you are missing something. You look at the society now and you see many guys, they're not working, different things like that and I think it's because you didn't have, they didn't have that influence in the household. Like I said, my dad got up and went to work every day so I grew up thinking that was what you were supposed to do. But many young African American males, they don't get to see that.
BLACKBURN: Have you noticed, within your work, I mean, is that something that you try to instill also? That work ethic and just to show that there is an alternative?
SANDERS: Here working with the dads we have a support group, different support groups for the dads. We do a lot of different job trainings, different things like that and to show the dads that it's important to work, it's important to be able to take care of your kids. And also working and being able to take care of yourself and your kids it builds up your self-esteem and it raises the self-esteem of your kids just knowing that they're, you know, that they're going to be taken care of.
BLACKBURN: Do you work very much with the African American Heritage Project?
SANDERS: I have worked some. I don't work as closely as I would like to but I have worked with them on a couple of different issues. When Ms. Birdie Wade was alive she would twist your arm and make you come and do different projects with her. But since Ms. Wade died, I haven't been as active in working with them and supporting that group as I should and that's something Ms. Stokes talked to me about and getting me to be more involved with some of the different projects. The project that we did in February, they were a part of that when we did the community-wide Black History Month celebration.
BLACKBURN: The Nacogdoches Progressive Leadership Group, I noticed that you worked with them some, what kind of activities do you do?
SANDERS: The Progressive Leadership, the one thing that we did do is the annual Juneteenth celebration and we're also working to do some different, to implement some different reading programs within some of the African American churches. We also put on a health fair, African American Health and Resource Fair. We put that on every April. The purpose of that is to make African Americans aware of the resources that are available within the community but also to make them aware of the different health risks that we have. So . . .
BLACKBURN: Going back to the churches in the community, were there several within the community? Were the doing service activities also?
SANDERS: When I was growing up in the community, there's probably, in the small community I grew up in there's probably five, there were five or six churches right there in that one community. And we did vacation bible school, just different things like that. We had back then what you call bible teaching unit, you would do that on Sunday evenings. The church like I said, that was the rock in the community. That's where a lot of your different, a lot of the different activities that did take place in the community were sponsored by the churches. If the churches didn't sponsor it, it didn't happen. Even with the Juneteenth activities. That used to be something that the churches would do. The MLK day celebration, that's something that the churches would do and many of the churches have gotten away from that. But, I mean, for me growing up that was a big thing for the churches.
BLACKBURN: How did that help you growing up, do you think, as far as how you felt having that support group there?
SANDERS: From the church?
SANDERS: I'm still very active and supportive in my church. One of the things, I'm one of the youth leaders in my church. My church is in the neighborhood that I grew up in right there on Powers Street and one of the things that we still do now, we still on Wednesday nights, we do different bible studies and we do tutorials and different things like that. So the things that they were doing then, there's still some churches that are trying to do them today. And, like I said, at my church, we're still trying to, we don't just want to be a church in the community, we want to be a part of the community [emphasis is Sanders's].
BLACKBURN: Going back to integration, also, how do you think that affected the neighborhood just from you growing up and your relatives that went through it? Do you notice any, not differences necessarily, but just any progressions still, steps that need to be taken or is everything pretty much calmed down from there. In some readings that I've done, it was talking about how the South was kind of slow to integrate.
SANDERS: And it's still like that, I mean, and that's why you have the neighborhoods with the Black people, the neighborhoods with the White people, that's just, it's been slow process and it goes both ways, I think, when Whites move into the Black neighborhoods, it's kind of looked at strangely as well as when the Blacks move into the White neighborhood. With that issue I think it's a two-way street, it comes from the Whites and the Blacks even now from what I can see [emphasis is Sanders's].
BLACKBURN: When you're in your work with people from other communities, have you noticed any differences from our community or is it kind of similar like the separations and the community staying together?
SANDERS: Well, no, now some areas you go to, like I say Nacogdoches is a small town and sometimes I think we're stuck in the past [laughter]. There are many areas that I've visited that have progress from that, everybody is equal, everybody lives together. I think it will happen in Nacogdoches, it's just going to be a slow process.
BLACKBURN: Do you feel that your work will remain here? Is the community, the Nacogdoches community something that you'd want to continue to work on and work with?
SANDERS: Oh yes, I think there's a lot of different things that can be done in this community, oh yes, I will, as long as I have a job here, I will be here within this community trying to do what I can to improve the community but not just for African Americans but for all people. That's one of my goals. I put on different festivals and different things like that but I want to see the unity in Nacogdoches that you see in many other places. When we, we're the sponsor for the community-wide Cinco de Mayo celebration. I want to see Whites and Blacks come out to that Cinco de Mayo celebration so that we can understand what the Hispanics had to go through, same thing with the Juneteenth, I want to see Whites and Hispanics out there so they can understand what the Blacks had to go through. I think there are some lessons that we all can learn from each other. I think it was last year or the year before last Austin Heights Baptist Church, they had a film and little presentation that I went to and what I find out is that a lot of Caucasians especially, they grew up in that time but they really didn't have an idea about how it really affected Blacks back then and I think, I've heard some of them say that "We, that I really didn't know," I mean, if you're seven or eight and your parents are discriminating, discriminating against someone, you don't really have the full understanding of what's going on and I think that's what this community needs more programs to where everybody can have dialogue and talk about it because I mean, people age forty to fifty, they saw it but did they really understand what was going on. A lot of this, a lot of the racism and stuff, I believe it's a learned behavior, I mean you just do it because somebody else does it [laughter] so that's my thought on it.
BLACKBURN: Your parents, in particular, did they ever share any stories with you of any troubles that they had, any experiences?
SANDERS: Um, just not here in Nacogdoches particular, but, like I said, I remember when I was a little boy, we had family down in the Silsbee/Beaumont area now back in the early, late seventies, early eighties, there were still places there that we went to that were still segregated, they still had the signs up "Blacks need to go the back," and different things like that and I'm talking about late seventies, early eighties that I saw. I think, another town that we just to go through, Lumberton, I remember they were like, "We can't stop in this town and get gas" or something like this and this was when I was nine, ten years old so they'd talk about that but not so much here in Nacogdoches.
I think here in Nacogdoches, racism existed but I think the Blacks and Whites here just learned how to coexist in a sense and you had few Blacks that were pushing for the rights for everyone but for the most part I think everybody just learned how to coexist, you know we're going to stay on our side of town and you stay on yours and we'll all just get along like that and we'll meet up downtown and we'll just go back our separate ways [laughter].
BLACKBURN: More of like the go along to get along type attitude?
SANDERS: Yeah and I think that's just how Nacogdoches is and it's going to be that way for a while [laughter].
BLACKBURN: Well I'm going to change tapes right now.
BLACKBURN: So I'll go ahead and stop.