Friday, November 22, 2013

Breakfast at the Elite Café—November, 1963 . . . by Joe E. Trull

(NOTE: The author is Joe E. Trull, member of the T. B. Maston Foundation Board of Trustees and former editor of Christian Ethics Today journal. Dr. Trull was recently honored with the 2013 T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award, and his brother, Don, will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on December 10, 2013.)

The year was 1963. The 175th year of our nation’s life. President John F. Kennedy was completing his first term in office.

Abroad our country was engaged in a “cold war” with the communist-bloc countries, including Cuba just ninety miles away. Thousands of American soldiers were massed along the 39th parallel that divided North and South Korea, guarding an uneasy truce. The United States was escalating its involvement in the war in Vietnam with 25,000 advisors.

At home, other battles were waging, many focusing upon basic civil rights for African-Americans. Racial segregation in the public schools was still common, as well as other forms of separation in public places—especially hotels and motels, restaurants, transportation, bathrooms, and even water fountains! Black Americans found voting very difficult in many parts of the country. In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in that segregated city. Tensions between the races were escalating.

I was living on the field of my student pastorate in southwestern Oklahoma. The year was a unique one for our family, as my brother Don was setting records as an All-American quarterback for the Baylor Bears. He led the nation in passing and total yardage, and was runner-up behind Roger Staubach for the Heisman Trophy.

I listened to every game with pride. One Saturday in November was designated R.A. day, a special afternoon at Baylor stadium when all the young boys in Baptist churches, along with their sponsors, could attend the game at discount prices and root for the Bears.

At FBC, Roosevelt (a farming community), we had about ten young boys in our R.A. group. Our basketball and baseball team won almost every game, mainly due to two of our group who happened to be black (not a problem in our small rural community).

On Friday afternoon we left for Waco, riding in a “wheat-harvest” bus one of the men used for his work crews. Inside were enough bunk beds for us all, and the seats were OK.

When we stopped for gas in Jacksboro, we heard the first report: “The President has been shot in Dallas.” When his death was announced over the networks, I called Don. He was uncertain if the game Saturday would be cancelled but, since we were not too far away, he urged us to come ahead with our ten R.A. boys.

That evening, as we prepared to bed-down in our harvest bus, Don came by to tell us the game was cancelled. “Tomorrow, after we meet for breakfast at the Elite Café, I will take all of you for a tour of the campus, including visiting the bear pits where our mascots live.” The trip would not be a total loss, and the boys were enjoying the adventure.

Don called the manager of the café, whom he knew well, and told him of his brother’s visit and the group of R.A. boys and sponsors who were coming to eat. “Sure, Don,” he said, “Bring them by and we will be sure they get a real Texas breakfast they won’t forget.” I knew we would be treated royally, for in the fall of 1963 my brother was the town hero, leading the Baylor football team (along with several other star players) to nationwide prominence.

As our group walked in the door, we were greeted and led to tables prepared for us. I noticed the waitress seemed startled—a bit nervous about our group. She disappeared, and soon the manager came out. As Don introduced us and the host welcomed us, I noticed his eyes kept moving across our group. He then walked back toward the waitress and mumbled, “Let’s serve Don’s group.” I began to sense something was wrong.

As we departed after the breakfast, the manager came up to me and said, “Your boys were the best-behaved group of young people we have ever had. But preacher, I need to tell you something else. All these years we have had a policy of not serving colored people. Your colored boys are the first ones we have ever served in this café.”

He continued, “Don is not only our hero, but a good friend. I promised to serve his brother’s group, and we did. And yesterday our President was assassinated.” The manager paused, then looked me in the eye and said, “I guess it’s time we changed that policy.”

As I walked toward the bus, I thanked God for several things—that the boys had followed our instructions to be at their best in the café, that we had decided to come on to Waco even knowing the game might be cancelled, and the sequence of events that led us to eat breakfast that somber November day in the Elite Café.

The café is still there, near old 35 on the Circle that winds to I.H. 35 today. It has been refurbished, updated, and the menu is more in keeping with its name. I recently had dinner there with my grandson (a Baylor student now). I never pass the place without thinking of that day.

The events of 1963 and the following years led to civil rights legislation and many social changes—the American dream of “justice and equality for all” was renewed. History books record seminal events in those years—Rosa Parks' refusal to sit at the back of the bus; a civil-rights march across a bridge in Selma; the rally in Washington, D.C., highlighted by Martin Luther King’s sermon, “I Have A Dream,” and many more.

But for me it began at breakfast in the Elite Café.