Junior High brought an opportunity to study Spanish and thanks to the wonderful teaching and guidance of Mrs. Dorothy Flint, Eugene took to the second language like a fish to water. Being fluent in Spanish would serve him wonderfully well in his career opening up a whole other bag of employment avenues for him. He also took advantage of the Drama class offered to assume roles in plays and advance to the Colored spelling bee finals and read practically every book in the Junior High library before graduating from ninth grade at the top of his class in time for the onset of integration in the Fort Worth public schools.
Though there still remained segregated High Schools in the system, Eugene and a little more than a handful of other Black students got on a bus and traveled across town to integrate Paschal High and all the challenges that involved. Despite those challenges Eugene brought his well-prepared work ethic to bear and found out being white didn’t make a person smarter or in any way better than himself and became a leader in academics and extracurricular activities. Then one day the drama teacher pulled him out of his Biology class and asked if he’d take a look/read at the play they were about to do and consider playing one of the parts. The play was You Can’t Take it With You, and they needed someone to play the role of the maid’s boyfriend Donald because they only had one Black female in the Drama class. He read the play and found the role of Donald offensive. This was 1967/68 and Black was becoming beautiful and Eugene took the script back to the lady and said thank you but no. The older White drama teacher then said words to him that changed his life when she leaned over and said to him, “Do you want me to put one of these white boys up there in Blackface?”
He knew she’d done that before because that was all she had had to work with and he was certain she would continue in that offensive tradition and he also knew he didn’t want to see that. Long story short he agreed to do the part and she had his schedule changed to enroll him in her drama class. It was in that class he found kindred spirits in many ways unlike the rest of the white student body of the school and went on to perform in other plays with the “Vagabond Players” as the theatrical troupe from the class was called before graduation and never again in a role he found offensive or derogatory to his being a Black man-child. This teacher even stepped outside her established comfort zone and put him in roles that were written for whites such as the physics professor in the group’s production of Goodbye My Fancy” before he graduated.
Another milestone in his High School career was when he was persuaded by one of the white cheerleaders at the school and their sponsor, who was his homeroom teacher, to run for a position on the squad. He had good grades and an outgoing personality and was well liked but in tenth grade Eugene stood 5’2” and was waiting on a growth spurt so he could try out for basketball but he was also over a year behind his classmates in age since he started first grade at five and knowing his mother was not a tall woman he really suspected he might be destined genetically to end up on the short side physically, so he put his name on the ballot and as fate and history would have it, he won one of the positions. Its pretty certain many of the White students voted for him for a variety of reasons and never thinking he might really stand a chance, but he won and on the morning of his first pep rally his junior year the front page of the city paper had a photo of him and the other seven cheerleaders (4 females and 4 males) with the headline that read, NEGRO HISTORY MADE. A proud moment for sure but it brought with it concerns as well. His father worried about him jumping around out there on the football field and throwing the White girls around doing stunts with his hands all over them that it might raise the ire of someone in the stands.
This was still Texas. Also from his Black friends that he grew up with, he had to face the questions about his loyalty to his race and about his sexuality since they had never even heard of male cheerleaders before. And those Black students ill feelings about what he was doing hurt more than any repercussions that came from the white folks, but Eugene remembered what he’d been lovingly taught by all his Black teachers in elementary and junior high school that he’d have to do three hundred percent and that he was as deserving of all the American dream had to offer as anyone walking the planet. He pressed on through the handful of Black students with their calls of “Uncle Tom” and “punk” and ultimately garnered an enviable level of respect from all concerned.
ARCHIVIST and HISTORIAN
Dale Shields is a professor of theatre, director, and actor (Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and Regional).
The 2017 winner of The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award®, 2017 and 2015 Tony® award nominee for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award, and the winner of the 2017 AUDELCO/"VIV" Special Achievement Award. On the web, he is the archivist and historian of Iforcolor.org and Black Theatre/African American Voices [Facebook] (theatre, music, and art). He has taught classes and workshops at Susquehanna University, Denison University, Randolph-Macon College, Macalester College, The College of Wooster, Ohio University, Wayne State University, The University of Akron and the Joseph Papp Public Theatre (NYSF).
B.F.A. and M.F.A. degree from Ohio University.
Your donation helps us to continue providing you with this
valuable historical information!