Shortly after I arrived in Odessa, from Boston, MA, I started trying to understand the social fabric of the society in the town where I had accepted a job as a Sociology professor at the University of Texas and was going to bring up my two little children. My academic research until then included global divisions of labor issues, with a concentration on inequalities, especially relating to racial, class and gender disparities, the development of shantytowns and of the informal economy. Thus, I began looking and soon discovered that there was very little information in the library about the “minority” communities in the area. The term minority is used here in the sociological sense of people who do not hold the economic and political power, since the Latinx or Hispanic population numerically exceeded the Anglo population. I also soon discovered that what I had read in the book “Friday Night Lights” (Buzz Bissinger, 1990) a published account on race relations in Odessa was not far from the truth. Indeed, as noted in the book, there was a physical separation of communities by race. Latinx (typically referred to as Hispanic in West Texas) families predominantly inhabited the West Side, while the railroad tracks marked the boundaries to the South side of town, the Black community. Shortly after that, I attended the funeral of one of the most respected doctors in the South Side, and indeed the entire community, Dr. Stewart. He single-handedly with the unmatched assistance of his wife Mrs. Emma Jo Stewart, during the period of segregation served for about 40 years as the sole doctor of the entire Black and Latinx community. Many noteworthy events were forever gone with the loss of Dr. Stewart, like many more people before him. evidently, there were few written accounts documenting significant developments of social progress affecting the growth of Odessa’s African-American, Latinx and indigenous communities. Details of noteworthy events may be forever lost with the passing of members by not documenting their experiences. I, at that point, felt the urgency of critically examining the history of the early development of the communities through the mouths of the people who really could tell it best, its members.
In order to capture a sense of what life was like for individuals migrating to Odessa from other parts of Texas, a sociology project was undertaken to collect oral histories from long time Odessa residents of the African-American community and subsequently the Latinx and Indigenous communities. Oral histories provide an opportunity for interviewees to tell about life from their own perspective or worldview (Baum, 1987).
The project was established, and students who were interested and committed were trained as assistants. Thus, often the interviews were conducted by two assistants at the same time, but more often than not, I also participated, to fulfill my fascination with the intriguing stories told. The participants we interviewed shared “birthmarks” of ascribed race and ethnicity. For example, they all were born from African American families who were already established in Texas. They and their families came to Odessa with the expectation of finding work. However, their histories reveal dimensions of development, which include the influence of background, particular people and events, uniqueness and commonalties, to experiences of minority status. These interviews were not meant to be biographies, but instead a glimpse of their values, some noteworthy life experiences/decisions and their future perspectives.
More information about the regional economic development can be found in my article (2014). “Historical Growth of the African American Community in Odessa/Midland, Texas” National Forum of Multicultural Issues Journal. 11(1):1-18
The following interviews with elders of the Black community show the complexity and multiple dimensions of individual and social development of the community.
Mr. Winfred U. Richmond: 1927 – 2017
Mr. Richmond was born in Axtell, Texas.
He attended the following colleges: Prairie View A&M, Colorado State University, San Francisco State and Texas Southern.
He was valued Assistant principle and mentor at Blackshear Jr. High and later a principle at Ector High School (1982-87).
Mr. Richmond believed in helping others and he and his wife set the example for others to follow for many years. He was a good Christian, a patient educator, and an honest man with a great heart and mind, and he left behind a legacy of community cooperation.
Mrs. Arlene M. Campbell: 1915-2010
Longtime educator and civic leader of Odessa, Texas, formerly of Austin.
“We did not come on the same ship but we are on the same boat”
“want to know about Black History? I am it!!!!”
“There is nothing you really can’t do”
“if you don’t work you don’t eat”
She was a member of several Boards including the Gertrude Bruce
Mrs. Emma Penny: 1911 – 2008
She was a longtime resident of Odessa, Texas, moving to the city in 1935 from east Texas with her husband, the late E.P. Penny. Following a brief illness in 2001, she moved to live with her son James in Ruston.
The E.P. and Emma Home is recognized as a landmark by the Heritage of Odessa Foundation for opening their home to African-American travelers during a period of segregation. Mrs. Penny was a long-time member of Parks Memorial Church of God in Christ, where she served as church mother and district missionary until her retirement in 1997.
She is recognized as a Minority Trailblazer by The Castanettes Social Civic and Arts Club of Odessa.
Joanna Hadjicostandi, Ph.D.
Born in Alexandria Egypt of Greek parents, Dr. Joanna Hadjicostandi, is an Associate
Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas Permian Basin (UTPB) in Odessa, TX,
USA. She has earned her BA in Sociology at Greenwich University, London, England,
and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology at Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts.
Her multifaceted research interests in International Development and Migration, Gender,
Race, Ethnicity, Social Class and Drug Use and Abuse has been published in many
prestigious journals and presented in numerous national and international conferences.
Her working knowledge of Arabic, Greek, English, Italian and French, and progressive
learning of Spanish has helped her through her extensive travels and research. Her
research in progress includes oral histories of the Black community in Odessa/Midland
and the influx of refugees in Europe and especially Greece.
Dr. Hadjicostandi was the recipient of several awards including, the UTPB President’s
Outstanding Service Award, the UT System Chancellor's Council Outstanding Teacher
Award, the UTPB President’s Award for Student Success and the UTPB La Mancha
Research Award. She is also involved in professional, student and community
organizations locally, nationally and internationally.