This article comes to FunkNBeans from union member and political activist Allan Jamail of Galena Park, Texas. We thank Mr. Jamail for this excellent piece of Houston history.
From Mr. Jamail:
I BRING TO YOU TODAY AT THE CLOSE OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH BACK WHEN I WAS JUST 27 YEARS OLD THE TRAGEDY OF 42 YEARS AGO WHEN THE FIRST BLACK HOMECOMING QUEEN OF THE UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON WAS MURDERED. TODAY IN HER HONOR I BRING TO YOU A GLIMPSE BACK AT QUEEN LYNN’S SHORT 23 YEAR OLD LIFE. Allan Jamail – 2-28-13
Lynn Eusan became a victim of the community she was trying to make better.
She stood out in the group of young women on the field of the Astrodome that Saturday night in late November. She looked different from the other four UH homecoming queen candidates. She didn’t have fair skin and she didn’t have hair that fell down to her shoulders. Instead, her skin was darker and she wore her hair in a natural style that extended outward like a halo.
She had been told she was runner-up and had the satisfaction of knowing she had run a good race and that she had come so close to winning the crown.
Her escort knew something she didn’t. He knew the real outcome. He was privy to the vote results and didn’t want to spoil her surprise when she kept asking him who won. When the announcer at the Dome that night called her name, Lynn Eusan was stunned for a moment, then she jumped into the arms of Dwight Allen, who spun her around for several seconds while what had happened sank in.
Lynn Eusan had beaten the odds to become the first African-American homecoming queen at the University of Houston, and the first black homecoming queen at a predominantly white university in the South.
Not only had the 20-year-old San Antonio native beaten the traditional, Greek-sponsored competition that night, she was a symbol for the growing influence of racial minorities on the campus.
“This was the first time black students on the campus have banded together and really been effective against overwhelming odds,” Eusan told the Chronicle for a Dec. 1, 1968, story.
Although she was sponsored by the Afro-Americans for Black Liberation (AABL), a group she helped found, her campaign was a joint effort by blacks and other minority students at UH, her escort, who now is known as Omawale Luthuli-Allen, said in an interview about 40 years later.
Luthuli-Allen said they were not serious about being able to win homecoming queen. The amount of energy that was released and the way the international students galvanized with the black students was completely unexpected. To win homecoming queen: “This was just icing on the cake,” he said
“Most of the Greek organizations were segregated in 1968,” Eusan told the Chronicle. “So we said ‘forget it’ and formed our own Greek organizations.”
“When the homecoming queen candidates were announced, all the white Greeks met to decide on one candidate to back,” she said. “It’s typical of the things we face.”
At the time, fraternities were mocking the black homecoming queen candidate by having minstrel shows in black face. They had tried to turn it into a farce, Luthuli-Allen said.
Eusan started getting death threats, Luthuli-Allen said, but she did not let them wipe the smile off her face. She carried on as if nothing were happening.
However, other students knew about the threats and weren’t so easygoing about them. Before the halftime ceremonies, Luthuli-Allen said, “One of the black students said to me, ‘Don’t worry about anything because we’re prepared if anything goes on.’ In the Dome, he showed me a pistol that he had.”
“At this particular point I realized that this thing was real volatile. It could have gotten out of hand,” Luthuli-Allen said. “It was one of those things where a single spark could have started a prairie fire.”
A friend, Calvin Stevens, who is now a regent at the university, was involved in the counting process. “And so we know that Lynn had won,” Luthuli-Allen said, but they didn’t tell her. “We told her she was a runner-up.”
Nobody knew outside of the core of people. “We kept it very secret,” he said. “She talked to me and I said: ‘Hey, Lynn, it was an incredible fight.’ ”
While being elected homecoming queen was a personal triumph for Eusan, Luthuli-Allen said, “it was really tied up in a movement that was taking place that was trying to deal with questions of recruitment of African-American students and changing the kind of culture that had taken place at the University of Houston.” In 1968 there were only about 1,000 black students at UH, according to the Chronicle story.
“I came to the UH from a small black high school and had never been to school with whites. There were other blacks here who felt as I did, and who were facing the same problems I was. By organizing into a group, we were able to make our problems known,” Eusan told the Chronicle.
The attitude on campus was rapidly becoming one of “you do your thing, and we’ll do ours — as long as no one steps on another’s toes,” Eusan told the Chronicle. For that reason, there was little, if any, interaction between black groups and white groups.
Eusan, Luthuli-Allen and several young activists formed AABL as a black-only offshoot of the multiracial Committee on Better Race Relations. Before AABL, black and white students “would sit around and talk about things,” Eusan told the Chronicle. “But we argued more among ourselves; we needed to get to know ourselves better.”
Luthuli-Allen said the AABL rejected violence. “I had been told by the dean to be aware of policemen who were not enrolled at the university who had infiltrated our organization,” he said. They had come up with a plan, through the Houston Police Department, to supply plastic explosives to blow up the underground water and electrical conduits at UH. “They had blueprints and everything.”
“They presented this idea to us and we rejected that idea,” Luthuli-Allen said. “We were not going to carry out that level of disruption. They thought it was civil disobedience and we saw it as kind of an anarchy program.”
“We didn’t have those kinds of goals,” he said.
Luthuli-Allen said the students were mostly middle- and working-class kids. “Our parents ranged from everything from domestics to teachers to railroad workers,” he said. “Our parents had basically said to us, ‘Don’t y’all do nothing stupid. Y’all go to school, get your education, go to your classes. Don’t get involved in movements that are going to distract you or keep your eye off the prize.’ ”
In February 1969, more than 100 activists marched to the office of UH President Philip Hoffman and the AABL presented him with 10 demands that included an African-American Studies Department, more black faculty and counselors and a recruitment effort to draw more black students to UH. Luthuli-Allen did the talking, and in about 30 seconds, he delivered the demands. Hoffman’s response: He’d look into it. It was not the response the students were after.
The next month, a fracas broke out at the University Center after a rally that followed a report that Gene Locke had been attacked by three white men in a campus parking lot earlier in the day. Both Locke and Luthuli-Allen spoke at the rally. Luthuli-Allen said, “I used some language that was inflammatory in the sense that what I spoke about was what I learned in physics (about the difference) between potential energy and kinetic energy. I used an example of a brick being potential energy but it could become kinetic energy if it was launched.”
Somewhere about 30 minutes to two hours later, as Luthuli-Allen remembers, a riot broke out in the Cougar Den and some of the “police provocateurs” decided to invade the bookstore.
So, what was the purpose of attacking the bookstore? Luthuli-Allen said, “I have no idea.”
He and Locke were charged with inciting a riot. Eusan, who was a high-profile target, was charged with destruction of public property. Altogether 14 people were charged. “I know that Lynn did not even go in the bookstore at all,” Luthuli-Allen said.
The activists had been given advance notice that they were going to be arrested. They went to their lawyers, then turned themselves in.
“Marvin Zindler booked us. Marvin showed us extreme dignity. . . . And he treated us in a real first class way. What I remember at that time Marvin said ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir’ to me, and I was a college student. . . . He was a class act back then,” Luthuli-Allen recalled. “We were charged one day and the next day we went to all our classes. The university respected due process.”
The trials of Luthuli-Allen and Locke ended in hung juries. The charge against Eusan was dropped.
The core members of the AABL moved into the neighborhood, where they devoted their time to making the community a better place. And despite their extracurricular activity, they all graduated on time. Locke is a former city attorney whose name is being mentioned as a mayoral candidate. Luthuli-Allen’s day job is in social services for Harris County, and his calling at the community level is anti-violence and manhood development work.
Not quite three years after she was crowned homecoming queen & dash; on Sept. 10, 1971 — Lynn Eusan became a victim of the community she was trying to make better.
“Lynn was trying to catch a bus in hurricane weather. And she ended up being murdered — stabbed repeatedly. The assailant we’re sure was a black male that killed Lynn.”
Eusan, then 23, was found dead in the back seat of a car that collided with a police car. The driver, a 26-year-old longshoreman, claimed someone else had stabbed Eusan and he was trying to get her to a hospital. He was charged with murder and acquitted in March 1972. No one else was ever charged in the case.
“The tragedy that I see in all of this is that the black community has been in denial, has had a blind spot about the kind of corrosive sickness that exists in our own community,” Luthuli-Allen said. “And so we have been (pointing fingers) to identify white America as the source of all of the problems we have in the community. I think it is that blind spot that has led us deeper into the crisis.”
In addition to being a community activist, Eusan was a journalist and photographer, who wrote for the Voice of Hope and Forward Times. “She was well-accomplished in terms in what she was learning,” Luthuli-Allen said, “she never stopped thinking about the boats that were stuck on the bottom and how she could help those boats that were stuck on the bottom.”
“Also, it should be remembered that Lynn — even though she was black — she respected the humanity and she championed the rights of everybody.”
Luthuli-Allen said, “Those of us who were contemporaries of Lynn Eusan, we thank God and are much better people for the brief time we shared with her.
She always had a smile on her face. I never saw Lynn sad. She won the friendship of everybody that she met, regardless of race creed or color. To me, she’s a prototype of the best this country has produced.”
“Lynn Eusan was like an event, like a comet that comes every 10,000 years, just a ray coming through the universe,” Luthuli-Allen said. “She wasn’t meant to stay long.”
CLICK THIS LINK TO VISIT THE PARK NAMED IN QUEEN LYNN’S HONOR (HERE)
Compliments of Allan R. Jamail Senatorial District 6(SDEC) Texas State Democratic Executive Committeeman2012 – Rules, Communications & Resolutions Committee Assignments
51 year proud member of the AFL-CIO.