Bill Woodall

Bill Woodall

In the fall of 1959 Kilgore’s 3-member city commission decided – doubtless after lots of conversation (today we’d call it consensus building) at barber shops, coffee shops and cafes – it might be time for a new city charter.

To that end they held an election: Shall a commission be chosen to frame a new charter and shall fifteen men be elected to serve on that commission.

The vote to create the commission was overwhelmingly affirmative: 323 ayes, 64 nays.

The ballot included a list of candidates for that charter review commission. Elected were E. C. Elder, Foster T. Bean, B. G. Bronstad, W. R. Yazell, A. P. Noyes, John L. Hill, R. E. Kennedy, A. J. Stalcup, Kelly Dickson, John T. Crim Jr., Louis Hale, B. E. Masters, A. G. Morton Jr., Ray Duncan, J. M. Stembridge, Red Tucker, Tom Pritchard, Paul Robertson, Bob Pederson, W. M. Martin and Harry Jones. Each received somewhere between 339 votes (Ray Duncan) and 274 (A.P. Noyes). A handful of fellows received one vote each – they might have been write-ins and it’s possible they even wrote-in their own name.

I’m certain that commission did a fine job.

While notable for their familiarity – most are surnames known to Kilgoreos with even a modest interest in the city’s history – it’s also notable that every candidate for that commission (even those who collected but a single write-in vote) was a male and each was white. In fact, the ballot even asked if there should be elected a commission of fifteen MEN. It also didn’t ask if there should be an election of fifteen WHITE men – in 1959 some things didn’t have to be said aloud.

There were no women on the list and there were no African-Americans. That’s the way things were in much of 1950s America... Ozzie and Harriet were the norm, not the exception.

Until Olga Lapin was elected to the Kilgore school board, local government was all male. And until Howard Stephens and George Faber were elected to that same board, official Kilgore was all white.

Slowly, ever so slowly, we’ve evolved. Early in this millennium Janice Hancock became the first woman on the city council and a few years later, Victor Boyd became the first African-American on the council.

Civic Kilgore evolved, as well. Virginia Long was the first female president of the Chamber of Commerce – her title would now be Chairman of the Board – in 1991 and there have been several since. K Castles was the first female president of Kilgore Rotary Club early in this century, cutting a rut for those who’ve followed. (If I’ve overlooked other female or African-American firsts, I apologize. These are the firsts that come to my mind.)

It’s OK, I suppose, (if you’ve been so persuaded) to proclaim America is no longer great. But, by golly, I’d hate to see us become great again if it meant missing out on the gifts delivered by the likes of Olga, Howard, George, Janice, Victor, Virginia and K.

Bill Woodall is former publisher, with wife Jessica, of the Kilgore News Herald. He now spends his days sharpening his curmudgeoning skills and working occasionally as the city’s oldest intern.

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