Footer: Astrodome played major role in Houston’s integration

From Alyson Footer at on May 28, 2014:

The Rev. Bill Lawson is now in his 80s, sharp as a tack, and can look back on a rich, meaningful career with enough highlights to fill dozens of pages on a resume.

It began a half-century ago when he founded the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church with no more than 40 or 50 members, and he has watched it grow to more than 5,000 congregants.

Lawson was in the thick of Houston’s efforts to integrate in a way that had no margin for error, one that had to be implemented perfectly, to the letter, with the cooperation of dozens of city leaders, all of whom had the same vision: desegregate, quietly and effectively, and reap the benefits for generations to come.

This story has a baseball tie — a big one. The Astrodome wasn’t just the Eighth Wonder of the World. It was a driving force as to why the city needed to be integrated sooner rather than later. More on that in a bit.

The premise for what was dubbed “Blackout in Houston” by Time magazine was simple. Over the course of one day, every square foot of Houston would desegregate, all at once. “Whites Only” signs would come down. Department stores would welcome African-American customers without hassle. Hotels would no longer be sectioned off for whites and blacks. Houston would integrate in a manner untapped by any other city — especially those in the South — without a smidgeon of riots or protests.

It would be swift, and peaceful. And it worked.

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Originally published: May 28, 2014. Last Updated: May 28, 2014.