Black History Month: Meet Hattye Owens

By: Stephanie Palmer Email
By: Stephanie Palmer Email

During Black History Month, News 3 is looking at the legacy in the Brazos Valley. Although, the court case which determined "separate wasn't equal" occurred in 1959. Many districts were reluctant to follow suit.

Bryan ISD did not integrate its school system until 1971. Huntsville schools fully integrated in the fall of 1968. Hattye Owens is a retired teacher who taught before and after integration.

"Integration in Huntsville is said to be one of the smoothest in the Southeast, " said Owens.

She should know. Owens taught high school students Biology for 4 decades, first at the segregated Sam Houston High School.

"We have a very close student teacher relationship," said Owens. "Huntsville being a small town. We had taught their parents a lot of times."

Owens says with the integration of school in the late sixties, teachers lost a direct line of communication.

"I would just kind of say we lost our village," said Owens.

Once students and teachers all migrated to Huntsville High School, there was much work to do.

"Some the of the teachers had never taught African-American children and vice versa," said Owens. "So it was an adaptation on both groups."

Fortunately, over time racial tensions eased.

"There were many people who stepped up to the plate to accept the challenges and move on," said Owens.

Throughout her life, the Huntsville resident has always put education first.

"I was fortunate enough to be valedictorian of my class," said Owens.

As a student, she faced her own struggles dealing with the color line in the 1940's.

"Sam Houston University was right there in town, but I wasn't able to go," said Owens. "The school wasn't integrated."

So, she attended a Historically Black University, which she says provided excellent education and great comradery.

"I think Prairie View was the right choice for me," said Owens. "I made friends from all over the state."

We didn't have to travel far to find one of her former students, like our sales manager Jon Boaz. In fact, its hard to meet a Huntsville resident, who was not in one of her classes. She still keeps in contact with many of them including her birthday, a few weeks ago.

"My request was that I could get as many cards from former students, I got an excess of 450 cards," said Owens.

She says one card reminded her how far, students had come, since that first integrated class in 1968.

"He said I was the first person, of authority over him that was not White," said Owens. "But, I did it with class and elegance, whatever that means."

A humble response from a woman who's helped educate many on both sides of the color line.

The life long educator is also dedicated a number of community groups, like Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the American Heart Association, as well as arts and education in Huntsville.

Many of the pictures in this story are courtesy of Samuel Walker Houston Center in Huntsville, Texas.


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