Milam County Historical Commission - Milam County, TX
Statue of Ben Milam at Milam County, TX Courthouse
Old Junior High School Building, Rockdale, TX
Milam County Courthouse - Cameron, TX
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Milam County Historical Commission
Milam County, Texas
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goes to Jay Ermis
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Temple Daily Telegram
                   Rockdale Man Among First Blacks To Attend Texas A&M
                            by Jay Ermis - Telegram Staff Writer
                            Temple Daily Telegram - May 18, 2014

ROCKDALE — Lon L. Williams, code enforcement officer for the city of Rockdale since 2004, was among the first black students to graduate from Texas A&M University in 1969.

He called the stay on campus “pretty tough” compared with his being the first black to start working at some businesses.

Williams is regarded as one of the prominent black Rockdale residents of the 1960s by Milam County historian Susie Sansom-Piper in a story on the Milam County Historical Commission website.

Williams, 67, who had a distinguished career in the banking business, graduated from Aycock High School in 1964 at age 17, and went on to be among the first group of black students to graduate from Texas A&M University in 1969 when it was still an all-male school. He was also among the first students who didn’t have to be in the Corps of Cadets.

The group recently celebrated 50 years of inclusion.

“It was pretty tough,” Williams said of A&M in the late 1960s. “There weren’t many of us, so we sort of like banded together. You weren’t welcomed, but they had to have us there and they had to put up with us.

“We just had to do our work. We were smart enough to get in there and quite a few of us stayed. Some didn’t make it, but a lot of them stayed. It was tough on campus, dorm rooms and stuff like that. We had to room together. You didn’t have blacks and whites mixed in.

“I stayed my first semester with a guy from the Dominican Republic. It was pretty tough on campus. It was the first year they didn’t have to be in the Corps. It was different.”

Williams was born in a Cameron hospital in 1946, but grew up in Rockdale. He attended the Rosenthal School for blacks in the first and second grades and then went to Aycock Elementary School when a new building was constructed at the same time a new Rockdale High School was built. Aycock was part of the Rockdale school district.

He was a member of the award-winning Aycock High School marching band that participated in Prairie View Interscholastic League events.

He graduated from Aycock High in 1964 — 10 years after the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision ruled segregated schools were unconstitutional.

“I am for the Brown v. Board of Education ruling,” Williams said. “It carried a lot of weight.

It was definitely positive from that standpoint. The application of it could have been better at the local level.

“Segregation was always in place and then the Rockdale school district decided in 1964 to go ahead with integration. I was in one of the last classes to graduate from Aycock."

Starting in 1965, they integrated Aycock students to Rockdale High School and left the elementary grades at Aycock.

“There wasn’t anything to do but comply with desegregation. Rockdale was so small … I can’t remember schools around here having any problems.”

He said full integration came for Rockdale in 1967, which meant the end of the neighborhood school and the loss of most of the Aycock teachers, with two being transferred to the high school.

Piper wrote that “Milano and Thorndale quietly integrated before 1966 and Davilla students were transferred to Bartlett, which was only eight miles away.”

At the time, Williams said, blacks and whites didn’t mix. “You stayed in your place. Everything was segregated,” he said. “You didn’t mix. It was hard changing for both. I never thought we would have a black president or interracial marriages. It’s just all over. It will take time to mesh.”

After graduating from Texas A&M, he was hired by a fellow Aggie to work in Austin in the State Finance Department, then to American National Bank in Beaumont when bank mergers were first starting. He was the first black to work in both places. Two years later, he went to Texas Commerce Bank in Houston and then worked for 30 years at JP Morgan-Chase in Houston as technology manager-vice president before retiring to Rockdale in 2002.

“There were a lot of people who took a chance on me, too,” Williams said, “being the first because they had to put up with stuff. I was working for the state, we were working in our own little area. We were starting a computer depart- ment for the processing of those loans.

“It was pretty much work day in and day out. There wasn’t a lot of regular reaction with the people around there, except for people in my department. It wasn’t that bad, but it was one of those things where people had to accept you. I was lucky enough to have people who supported me. It was just something we had to deal with.”

He is currently on the Central Texas Workforce Solutions board in Killeen.

“I’ve been around,” Williams said. “It seems like it was just yesterday, too. Time goes by when you’re having fun, staying busy. I can’t sit still.”