“Education was something that I tried to run from,” said Gordon Williams, who is the Television Studio Operations Manager at Lamar University. He originally went to school to study radio, television, and film, but with teaching, he can still be creative and embed film into the work he does at Lamar. He also found that working in education “is a lot more rewarding” than his initial thought decades ago.
Growing up, Williams took a special interest in television and always watched the news, movies, sitcoms, and just “wondered how it all came to be.” This curiosity led him to Lamar University in the mid-nineties. “Being at Lamar is a dream come true. I believe creativity is one of my life’s purposes, so being able to work and be creative and create opportunities for others has always been a passion for me.”
Putting this passion to work, Williams has worked on two projects that are historical, inspiring, informative, and simply, phenomenal. These projects include The Beaumont Race Riot of 1943 and The Charlton-Pollard Neighborhood.
For The Beaumont Race Riot of 1943, the idea came from a book he received. “Twenty years ago, an actor that I worked with gave me a book about Black movie posters from the early 19 hundreds. And there was a line in the book that said race riots happened in Detroit, Los Angeles, and Beaumont, Texas in 1943. Growing up in Texas, we all took Texas history, but this was something that I had not heard of. So, I started researching, then started talking to my colleagues, and we started doing research for a documentary.”
The documentary didn’t take off like they wanted to, so they continued with research, conducted interviews, and just sat on it for several years. It was around 2012, that they decided to do something with that research, and a documentary was born. If you are not familiar with the Beaumont Race Riot of 1943, “during June of 1943, the Black community was preparing their Juneteenth celebration. Ten days later, the Ku Klux Klan had scheduled their regional convention in the area. To add to this powder keg, one rape and one alleged rape involving Black males assaulting white women occurred. One of the women was a daughter of a shipyard worker. Enraged, over two thousand shipyard workers and close to a thousand citizens ransacked homes and business in the black section of downtown Beaumont.”
For The Charlton-Pollard Neighborhood, Williams said that the Department of Communication and Media was approached by Exxon Mobil, and they wanted to give money to help students get hands-on experience working in the media. Exxon Mobil then suggested they study The Charlton-Pollard Neighborhood. So, Williams and his coworker at the time started doing research, and the stories they came across from talking to people “were amazing.”
“The “Southend” or Charlton-Pollard was established by Charles Pole Charlton, a freed slave that came to Beaumont in 1869 who established schools for Black along with Reverend Woodson Pipkin. Charlton’s son Terry, along with Titus Thomas Pollard, were principals of the black schools who combined their efforts to form Charlton-Pollard High School in 1924.”
Williams stressed that there was a lot of information left on the edit room floor for the documentary as there was not enough time to tell the entire story of the neighborhood. “It is just an introduction to hopefully get people to learn about the oldest Black neighborhood… and students had the opportunity to work on the crew to learn this history from people, and the emotion that you saw on camera was reflected in the students.” The students were able to learn valuable experience and hands on experience about life and the community. “I believe this story is universal and it brings back that sense of nostalgia that we all feel for the community that we grew up in.”
When discussing our nation today regarding history and how there have been laws put in place to try and erase or diminish Black history, Williams said, “I feel like whether you like history or not, it happened…Even if you don’t necessarily agree with the history, if you’re in a room with someone that doesn’t look like you where you can just have a discussion about history…and hear different perspectives, I think that’s valuable. That’s the power of creativity. Creativity allows you to have communication with others if you will.”
For the great work that Williams and his colleagues has done, he received a congressional commendation and was honored with special congressional recognition from the office of U.S. Representative and Texas native Brian Babin. “I am still wrapping my head and heart around it. I do know that it means exposure for these stories, which is very important, and receiving the award, during the anniversary of the race riot that occurred 80 years ago…I was speechless at times because there is alignment happening there. And I think, again, those stories need to be told, they need to be shared.”
Williams wants everyone to be encouraged and motivated by the stories he and his team created and hope it’s an opportunity for people to go out in their communities and find out about the hidden gems like The Charlton-Pollard community, and to share those stories with others.
“I hope other people are just as inspired as well, because these stories they need to be told. We hear about all the main historical figures and narratives that we’ve been hearing about over the last decades, from slavery to The Civil Rights Movement, but there are smaller stories that haven’t even been told yet, or that we don’t even know yet. So, I’m hoping that people are motivated to, to tell these stories.”