Geneva Sharp and Cleophus Sharp oral history interview regarding Pleasantville

Rice University

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0:00 - Introductions

0:22 - Moving to Pleasantville in 1951

2:20 - Building a Black Community

4:05 - Barriers for Black People in the 1950s

6:20 - Pleasantville: The first planned community for African Americans

9:18 - Geneva Sharp as the Civic League Newsletter Chairman

10:00 - Differences between Pleasantville and other communities

11:47 - Shared values and economic diversity in Pleasantville

12:48 - Pleasantville Garden Club

13:41 - First African Americans in powerful positions from Pleasantville

14:40 - Concerns about danger from surrounding industries

16:14 - Flooding in late 1950s from broken shipping channel dike

17:06 - Flooding: Geneva Sharp Recollections

18:17 - Flooding: Cleophus Sharp Recollections

19:36 - Flooding: First Responders

21:01 - Flooding: Media Coverage

21:50 - Flooding: Area Affected

23:39 - Flooding: Cleanup and Recovery

25:21 - Flooding: Preventative measures in the aftermath

26:02 - Pleasantville political sway

27:57 - Pleasantville flooding potential today

30:08 - Formal organizations in the Pleasantville community

33:04 - Pleasantville's Bookmobile

33:56 - Parental involvement in the community

34:33 - Pleasantville's Baseball League

36:59 - Gussie Thomas and the Great Books Club

38:19 - Mr. Sharp's involvement in politics and the Civil Rights Movement

40:56 - The Black Panthers, Operation Headstart, and the shootout on Dallas Street.

44:18 - Geneva Sharp as a Teacher

44:46 - Desegregation and Pleasantville as a microcosm

45:38 - Warehouse Fire in 1995

46:27 - Warehouse Fire: Cleophus Sharp Recollections

50:29 - Warehouse Fire: Protesting at City Hall

53:31 - Warehouse Fire: Fireman Paul Randall and emergency responders endangered by industrial secrecy

55:13 - Hurricane Harvey's effect on Pleasantville

58:25 - Problematic attitudes at TCEQ endangering people

60:14 - Changes in Pleasantville: Then and Now

63:28 - Changes: Boycotting the Grocery Store

65:30 - Changes: Shifting generations and involvement

69:17 - Changes: Grassroots efforts in politics

71:19 - Following up on information with Paul Randall and Mayor Sylvestor Turner


Oral history interview transcript of Mrs. Geneva Sharp and her son, Mr. Cleophus Sharp

Available online at by permission of the interviewees.

Collection: Geneva Sharp family Pleasantville neighborhood history collection, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University (call # MS 935)

Interviewees: Mrs. Geneva Sharp and Mr. Cleophus Sharp

Interviewer: Dr. Zoe Wool

Date: 02-12-2020

Transcribed by: SpeakWrite transcription

Edited by: Gabby Parker

Duration: 01:13:16

Description: Oral history interview with Mrs. Geneva Sharp, and her son, Mr. Cleophus Sharp, regarding their experience living in the Pleasantville neighborhood of Houston, Texas.The interview took place in the home of Mrs. Sharp. Pleasantville was developed as an African American planned community, and became known for its strong civic participation and political activism. The interview was conducted by Dr. Zoe Wool, of Rice University, as part of research related to toxic environmental events in the area, the impact on the community, and the community's actions.


Interviewer: Thank you, again so much for taking the time to do this. I mean both of you, we really, really appreciate it.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: So I thought just the first thing, could you introduce yourself and tell us your name, and how long you've lived in Pleasantville when you, when you moved here. And anything else you would, you would wanna say to introduce yourself.

Geneva Sharp: Yes, my name is Geneva Sharp. I moved to Pleasantville in 1951. In the very beginning, when I came to Pleasantville, there was nothing but prairie. Prairie, everywhere. But there was a, apartments there and we lived in those apartments.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: And from there, the other developments were become, began.

Interviewer: So you moved in 1951?

Geneva Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Okay.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: And you moved into the apartments then --

Geneva Sharp: Mm, right -- that, that, those were, the apartment were the only 1:00place that we could --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: -- yeah.

Interviewer: That's all that was here?

Geneva Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah. And when you, to talk a little bit about what Pleasantville was like when you, when you first arrived, So how, how old were you when you moved in here?

Geneva Sharp: Let's see, we moved in '51, that right?

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- so gosh, I was 20, I was 21.

Interviewer: 21. Okay.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: And who did you move with? Were you with your family or who were you with?

Geneva Sharp: My husband.

Interviewer: Okay.

Geneva Sharp: And kids.

Interviewer: Oh, how many kids did you have then?

Geneva Sharp: I had, I have four now --

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: -- but at that time, it was just how many?

Interviewer: Just one?

Cleophus Sharp: Just one.


Interviewer: Was that your sister now?

Cleophus Sharp: My brother.

Interviewer: Your brother?

Cleophus Sharp: Malcolm.

Interviewer: Okay. So --

Cleophus Sharp: ****.

Interviewer: All right. And where, where had you been living before?

Geneva Sharp: I always lived here in Houston.

Interviewer: In Houston?

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: In what neighborhood were you living in?

Geneva Sharp: In this neighborhood.

Interviewer: And be, before you moved here where were you living?

Geneva Sharp: Oh I, I came here directly from Prairieview.

Interviewer: Okay. All right. And how did you find out about Pleasantville?

Geneva Sharp: There was an organization, and I think they had been down here, and they had visited and they came back and told us about the community, because they weren't too many places that were, where homes had been built --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- so, as soon as they told us about then, we came down.

Interviewer: Okay.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: Do you remember what that organization was by any chance?

Geneva Sharp: No --

Interviewer: Okay.

Geneva Sharp: -- I really don't.

Interviewer: Yeah. And, what were you hoping to find here in Pleasantville?


Geneva Sharp: We thought, were hoping to find, co, cohesiveness that we needed and the kind of community where we could rear our kids and get everything that we really needed to build the kind of life that we needed to.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: And you felt like in Prairieview you didn't have that?

Geneva Sharp: Well I did not live there --

Interviewer: Oh okay.

Geneva Sharp: Uh huh.

Interviewer: Okay.

Geneva Sharp: So, after I graduated, after we graduated from Prairieview, we moved here.

Interviewer: Okay.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: Okay. And had your husband been, had he been, did he serve during World War II?

Geneva Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Okay. And did he, when you guys moved here, was there any GI bill stuff that he was gonna try to use to buy a house, or was that not part of the conversation. Do you remember?

Geneva Sharp: I don't remember.


Interviewer: Okay.

Cleophus Sharp: May I answer?

Geneva Sharp: Huh?

Interviewer: Yes, yes.

Cleophus Sharp: During that time, they weren't many places that were nice for black people to move --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: -- and we had Freedman's --

Interviewer: Freedman's Town.

Cleophus Sharp: -- Freedman's Town, and they moved here after leaving Prairieview University, was college then. They had, he had a, what do you call it, the last question you asked --

Interviewer: The GI bill, he had a --

Cleophus Sharp: -- a GI bill wasn't available --

Interviewer: Mm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- to a lot of black people at, at that time.

Interviewer: Okay.

Cleophus Sharp: And, 'cause I remember asking that question and, it was my understanding, I may be wrong --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: -- that, it wasn't, it was hard to get banks --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- **** mortgage companies to honor --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- that with black people --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- at that time so --

Interviewer: That was definitely true for neighborhoods that had been --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: -- redlined, right?


Cleophus Sharp: Yes, correct.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: So, right--

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: -- and do you know, I mean there was just this, the piece in, did you see the op ed in the Chronicle about the kind of history of redlining?

Cleophus Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah. And so --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: -- I think it looked like part of Pleasantville was on there?

Cleophus Sharp: It, it used to be, I don't know --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Mm --

Cleophus Sharp: -- if it still is, but it used to be.

Interviewer: It used to be, yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: So, so you guys moved in, you, so, so there was an organization that had come to Prairieview and was talking about the options of places to move?

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: And you guys decided this was gonna be a good place for you --

Geneva Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah?

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: And you had your son with you?

Geneva Sharp: All of them? No.

Interviewer: Just the oldest one?

Geneva Sharp: Uh huh.

Interviewer: Yeah. Okay. And, did you plan to, to buy a place or you were --

Geneva Sharp: Oh yes.

Interviewer: Yes.

Geneva Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: As soon as they became available --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- yes. But at that particular time --


Interviewer: There wasn't anything?

Geneva Sharp: No.

Interviewer: Yeah. And so when did you move out of the apartments?

Geneva Sharp: As soon as the home became available, I suppose how many years is that? I'm not sure how many years, but it wasn't long --

Interviewer: A few years.

Cleophus Sharp: Like 2 or 3 years.

Interviewer: 2 or 3 years?

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: Okay.

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: And do you remember anything about ever, or ever being told anything about why Pleasantville was being developed here, and I'm, you know, one of the things that's interesting is we, Pleasantville gets talked about as the first planned community for African Americans in the city --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: -- And I'm kinda curious about how that came to be.

Geneva Sharp: Well, the, I think it was, the man's name was Silverman --

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: -- he and his cousin were going to develop a, a subdivision for blacks and, and so during, he had this property, behind the ship channel, or 7:00across from the ship channel and, they, at the, in the beginning they began this community, which was very small. There were no places to live, the apartments hadn't been built. The apartments were built first and, after Mrs. Robinson who's the person who managed the apartments --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- she talked with him and they decided that they would build homes, therefore in the, after the apartments were built, there was one street, Pleasantville Drive --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- and Pleasantville Drive, in sort of a shopping center, in the beginning, on Market Street and from that, there was a, the beginning of 8:00Pleasantville --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- all right, we had, a City Club, which became the City League --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- and everybody was interested in working with it because everybody was so interested in having their own home and everything that it belonged to them, so with that, with the City League, there came, became, persons who were interested in really improving the community --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- so we first developed a, organized, a club to beautify the community and, in so doing, we were able to have the, a garden club. Everybody was interested, this is, everybody bought homes by then --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.


Geneva Sharp: -- you know. It was, but only, I think it was only about four or five streets at the time. And so all of this was not here --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- it was just the streets on the, the western side --

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: -- so that was then.

Interviewer: And so, so it was kinda built in chunks?

Geneva Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Okay. And do, do you remember if the, if the Civil Club or the Civic League had ever, like a newsletter or something like that?

Geneva Sharp: Yeah.

Interviewer: Yes?

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: Newsletter? Okay.

Geneva Sharp: And I was chairman.

Interviewer: Oh, did you keep any of those?

Geneva Sharp: I don't know where they are.

Interviewer: Oh --

Cleophus Sharp: ****.

Interviewer: -- it would be so interesting --

Cleophus Sharp: She did keep them.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: There's, they're stored somewhere, **** find them.

Interviewer: That would be, it would be great to see those, yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Oh yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: If we find them, we will make sure you get a copy.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Uh huh.

Interviewer: -- so, and did you, did you have a sense when you moved here of 10:00whether or not Pleasantville was sort of different than other neighborhoods, like different than Freedman's Town, other neighborhoods where African Americans were living in the city?

Geneva Sharp: Yeah well, yes we, had figured that it was different --

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: -- because even, we traveled to Sunny Side area --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- and those areas like that and, there was a big difference in, and, great improvements and, from there we knew that we wanted to do even more --

Interviewer: Mm hmm. So what were, yeah --

Cleophus Sharp: I was just gonna add, growing up, you don't realize there's a difference --

Interviewer: Mm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- but after I got out on my own, and I talked to people from different parts of Houston and, one thing they always said to me, which I took it for granted and everybody else that I knew from Pleasantville took it from granted that Pleasantville was special --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.


Cleophus Sharp: -- because it had a, they created an environment of caring --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- community and protection for the people who lived here. There was an ownership pride --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- that was, when you came to Pleasantville, you didn't come to Pleasantville to rent --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- you came to Pleasantville to own --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- and you took care of your property, your family, the community, the environment, you got involved, and that was something that made Pleasantville stand out that, other people from other communities --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- said that they always thought we were rich --

Interviewer: Mm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- we, we were rich in those areas that I mentioned --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: --but not necessarily in dollars --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: -- but dollars can't buy that.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: So that's what made it so special.

Interviewer: Yeah. And it seems one of the things that, this, this, this book, this survey from the 70's, talks about is that actually it was really economically mixed --

Cleophus Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: -- in Pleasantville --

Cleophus Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: -- and so you had super low income folks, super high income folks --


Cleophus Sharp: Right.

Interviewer: -- working class folks, white collar folks --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: -- a lot of doctors --

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: Oh yes.

Interviewer: -- living in the neighborhood. And I was sort of wondering about, you know whether or not there were divisions in the neighborhood or whether or not everybody, it seemed like everybody was kinda --

Geneva Sharp: Oh everybody --

Interviewer: -- part of Pleasantville --

Geneva Sharp: -- cooperated during that time --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: -- I mean everybody cooperated. It was a well closely knit group of people living and when they first organized, like I said, I think I said we had the City League and the, from there we began organizing the, the first church --

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: -- the first library, garden club. Very active --

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp : --the garden club, there were many people who participated to beautify their lawns and their homes --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.


Geneva Sharp: -- and they even had meetings where they would meet at the hotel downtown, because at that time blacks were not allowed in, but they met there and they, this is where they, were able to, to do the work they needed as a garden club --

Interviewer: Mm. Which hotel was that?

Geneva Sharp: Mm?

Interviewer: Which hotel was that, do you recall?

Cleophus Sharp: Ted Rice.

Geneva Sharp: Was it Rice? I'm not sure.

Cleophus Sharp: They met in the garage where --

Geneva Sharp: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: -- it's in that book.

Geneva Sharp: Yeah.

Interviewer: Oh it's in, yeah --

Geneva Sharp: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah.

Interviewer: Okay.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: Okay, great.

Cleophus Sharp: They had a lot of first of people came out of Pleasantville, when it came to integration --

Interviewer: Mm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- Like, um, Justin Robinson... Jr. I believe --

Geneva Sharp: Jr.

Cleophus Sharp: -- it was.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: He was the first city council, black city councilman --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.


Cleophus Sharp: -- in Pleasantville, Ernest McGowen was from the east side, who they were first two, my father, which is, that's his picture right over here, right?

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah. He was one of the leaders with my mother and he was one of the first black warrant officers for the City of Houston.

Interviewer: Mm.

Cleophus Sharp: He was one of two. And so there was a lot of first in there, fireman, different things, it's listed in that history book --

Interviewer: In here --

Geneva Sharp: Mm.

Interviewer: -- that's great, yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: That's some, when I mentioned when we were talking before about updating the Wikipedia Page --

Cleophus Sharp: Okay.

Interviewer: -- that's all stuff we can put on the Wikipedia page.

Cleophus Sharp: Okay, yes.

Interviewer: --for Pleasantville. So, so were all of this kind of community activity and, and kind of ownership and --

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: -- You know efforts to, to beautify the neighborhood, were there concerns in the beginning about the industrial stuff that was around you guys, about the brewery or about the traffic on the ship channel or any of that?


Geneva Sharp: Well there were concerns about not to the extent that we did not want to live there.

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: You know, it had, hadn't gotten that bad, you know --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: -- and maybe over the years, there's been an increase in the, the problems that we had, there had been some but most of them had been corrected.

Interviewer: Yeah, so, did people, did people talk about it or was it, I mean, you know, Mr. Cleophus as you were saying, it's not like there were a lot of options for, you know, black home ownership in the city at the time so, did people just sort of think all right, this is, this is where it is and we can't really do anything about it or --

Geneva Sharp: No, they never --

Interviewer: No?

Cleophus Sharp: No --

Geneva Sharp: -- got, no ****, we must do some, something about it, and if you knew my husband, you know that.

Cleophus Sharp: Oh yeah.

Geneva Sharp: No, he was a, really ****, oh he worked so hard with the community 16:00and there was never anything that we did not attempt to improve.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: Nothing.

Interviewer: And so was there, so one of the, the events that we were interested in for this project, is something that Bridget Murray had first mentioned to me which was --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: -- the flooding of this dredged material out into the neighborhood which she was thinking was about 1953 or '54 --

Geneva Sharp: Mm.

Interviewer: -- or something like that?

Cleophus Sharp: '55 --

Geneva Sharp: --'57.

Interviewer: '55 --

Cleophus Sharp: -- or '57.

Interviewer: -- '55 or '57?

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah.

Interviewer: Yeah. So do you, do you remember that --

Geneva Sharp: Oh yeah.

Interviewer: -- do you, yeah, so could you talk to us a little bit about, about what happened and, just your recollection of what that was, that event was like?

Geneva Sharp: Gosh, that must have happened in what, the, the ship channel, I think almost, something broke the --


Cleophus Sharp: The dike.

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: Huh?

Cleophus Sharp: The dike--

Geneva Sharp: The dike?

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: Whatever that was and it flooded the community, so all of the streets up until the one street here I believe, we had been so fortunate, each time there has been a big problem with flooding, or the, rain or whatever, we have been lucky on this street --

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: -- you know, we had not been bothered, but anyway, there were people who had to, to, to move out of their homes and walk through their streets, there were fish, if the kids were, flying around with, and all of these things were things that they thought perhaps that they weren't gonna be able to correct. But, I just keep going back to my husband, he was in there, in the very 18:00beginning, and he organized a group that they cleared up all the, basically got the city to cooperate with them in getting all of this done.

Cleophus Sharp: It was major --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- event for Pleasantville as my mother was speaking about it, I was about 4 or 5 years old and I went with my father, because he went out into that area where the sludge was coming out of the dam, and it was very frightening for me, as I remember, as 4 or 5 years old, looked out the car and all you see is sludge, and dirt, water and you didn't know what else was in it. It was brown, it was a dark brown, and I had never seen, it came up to the car door. It wasn't just down low, it was all the way up, but just slightly above 19:00the car door and looking out the window seeing that and he actually went back and forth in it to get people out their homes who didn't have cars. 'cause they was trapped --

Interviewer: Mm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- there was a lot of people trapped back there and it was a while before, if I remember correctly, it was awhile before the fire department came in and started helping transport people out of that --

Interviewer: And do you remember, like did it happen in the day, in the night time, like --

Cleophus Sharp: It happened in the day --

Geneva Sharp: Mm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- but this was in the evening when we were still bringing people out --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: So do you remember, either of you do you remember when you first became aware that this had happened? Like did someone call you or did you see it or --

Geneva Sharp: I don't remember --

Cleophus Sharp: I think somebody called, my father was extremely active --

Geneva Sharp: Mm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- in the community --

Geneva Sharp: He was.

Cleophus Sharp: -- and so people would call him when things happened and, when I found out where he was going I asked could I go, but I think someone called him.


Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: But I don't remember --

Geneva Sharp: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: -- exactly.

Geneva Sharp: ****.

Interviewer: Yeah, and did you, did you see, did you go and see it also or, or did you stay home?

Geneva Sharp: Well, as I said, this street, now it came, I think it came, I think Tillman was the street that it came up to, came up to Tillman and when he came back he told me about, because he went through all of that, mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: We lost that car by the way.

Interviewer: Yeah, probably for the best, I mean --

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah.

Interviewer: -- after driving through that.

Cleophus Sharp: It did not drive well after that at all.

Geneva Sharp: Mm.

Interviewer: And so, so your, your dad, your husband was involved in trying to get this taken care of to make sure it didn't happen again --

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.


Interviewer: -- Were there, was there media coverage, did this get written up in the newspaper or was it, you know --

Cleophus Sharp: At that age I couldn't tell you --

Geneva Sharp: Uh --

Cleophus Sharp: -- I didn't read the paper very much.

Geneva Sharp: Not sure, but I'm sure it was.

Interviewer: Mm.

Geneva Sharp: Yeah. We, we, because we, there was a lot of media attention, even to the things that were happening out here.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: Yeah. What newspapers did you read then? What newspapers were there then?

Geneva Sharp: What is that now?

Interviewer: What newspapers were there then that you, that you would read?

Geneva Sharp: Uh --

Interviewer: Do you remember?

Geneva Sharp: -- the Houston Chronicle, that was --

Cleophus Sharp: Chronicle and the Post.

Interviewer: And the Post?

Geneva Sharp: Yeah, the Houston Post.

Cleophus Sharp: And then you had the Forward Times.

Interviewer: The Forward Times.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: The Forward Times was a local black paper.

Interviewer: And so, do you remember, or have a sense of how many homes there 22:00were that were flooded by this?

Geneva Sharp: Mm, I have no idea.

Cleophus Sharp: I would say probably two thirds of Pleasantville --

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: -- which it was about 3,000, no it wasn't that many then, probably about 2,000 to 2,500 homes at that time, and I would say at least, 1,200, 1,500 of them --

Interviewer: Oh my God --

Cleophus Sharp: -- I'm just doing an estimate based on --

Interviewer: Sure, yeah --

Cleophus Sharp: -- where we are now.

Interviewer: And so were there other folks from the community who, who went with your dad to try --

Geneva Sharp: Oh yes.

Interviewer: - and get this. Do you remember who some of those folks were who were involved?

Geneva Sharp: Mm, I see them but I can't remember their names.

Interviewer: That's all right.

Cleophus Sharp: Mr. DW Thomas involved because he lived over there, right? Mr. Randall.


Geneva Sharp: Randall?

Cleophus Sharp: It wasn't Randall. What's... Debra Adam's father name?

Geneva Sharp: Debra Adams?

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah, her father. I mean, Davis because his brother who lived on Guinevere, did he come?

Geneva Sharp: Mm, the Pearsons.

Cleophus Sharp: The Pearsons.

Geneva Sharp: That was several of them.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: They really, they really cooperate. You talking about people cooperating, they did.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: Everything that happened in Pleasantville at that particular time, these people cooperated to improve it and get what needed to be done.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm, they really did cooperate.


Interviewer: And so what do you guys remember about what the clean up was like and who was involved in the clean up and how long it took?

Cleophus Sharp: Me, nothing.

Interviewer: "Yeah, I don't know."

Cleophus Sharp: At that age --

Interviewer: "I was back on the playground," yeah.

Geneva Sharp: And no one said that Houston did a lot of the clean up but I don't remember it.

Interviewer: Yeah. Were there, were there big trucks that came through to do the clean up? Did community members kinda go in and, bail things out or --

Geneva Sharp: I don't remember that.

Interviewer: You don't remember, yeah.

Geneva Sharp: But I'm sure there were.

Cleophus Sharp: The point that I remember was, because you couldn't get to your homes if you lived back there.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: We were blessed over here that we didn't have that issue. But if you lived back there, you couldn't get to your home. You would have a hard time walking to get to your home. So the city had to and the port I guess for the Houston, they had to clean up that part. That's the only way I can think of that 25:00it would happen and then after that it was up to each individual. Just like when you have a flood, it's up to you to clean up your property.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: Right.

Cleophus Sharp: The city not coming in your house.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: And your property. They not gonna do that.

Interviewer: Yeah, and there wasn't, I don't think FEMA existed then, right?

Cleophus Sharp: No, it didn't.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. Hmm. And do you remember anything when they were trying to make sure this didn't happen again, the, some of the things they were trying to do or what measures were taken or --

Geneva Sharp: They were working very diligently to get things so that that wouldn't happen again but I'm not sure. You, do you remember?

Cleophus Sharp: Let me ask you this. Are you talking about the city and the Port of Houston or are you talking about the residents of the community. That makes a difference on how we answer.

Interviewer: Right. I guess both, both, yeah.


Cleophus Sharp: The community, they were very, as she said, they were very involved collectively. So they would go to city hall and address the mayor and the city council to get some changes made. Pleasantville was, you'll find when you read the history, was very politically active --

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: - extremely. Probably had the highest voting block precinct in the nation.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: It was around a low of, at that time, 60's, a low of 92 percent and a high as much as 98 percent consistently, not one year, but consistently. So we had a lot of political influence and they, my father and others, used 27:00that. Plus we had a couple city councilmen that were instrumental in working with us and we would instrumentally in getting them elected.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: State senators, state representative, U.S. congressman, they came through Pleasantville. So they utilized that connection and have been using it ever since. As far as the port and city, I know they did something but I don't recall it being anything substantial other than they put another gravesite on the other side of 16th and then they put another one right back near the church to alleviate some of that being too much on that one end. But now we're surrounded. So I don't know if that was really a good thing or not and the city 28:00started off, I think 2/12, they were supposed to improve the drainage in the entire community and they started it, but they didn't finish the whole thing and now all the water is drawn, not all, a lot of the water that's draining from downtown ****, north end, and east end is all going towards the mainland is right, goes right down along the ship channel. That's the main sewage drain that goes all the way down 16th to the ship channel. So where is the water collecting now? Pleasantville. So now the whole neighborhood floods when you have a major disaster, rain disaster. The entire neighborhood. The only streets that didn't flood this last time we had that big rain, was this street and the one behind it and only the 8600 Block. All the rest of the neighborhood was underwater.

Interviewer: If we showed you guys a map, do you think that you could point out 29:00where the, where these, the dredge sites were?

Cleophus Sharp: Sure.

Interviewer: Yeah? Okay. That would be good for us.

Cleophus Sharp: Is it too warm for y'all?

Interviewer: I'm okay.

Cleophus Sharp: I just asked was it too warm. They said they good.

Interviewer: So, let's see, had you guys been aware of the, the danger posed by the ship channel and by this dredge site before this happened or was it not something that people were really aware of?

Geneva Sharp: What do you think --

Cleophus Sharp: I don't think so. We weren't made aware by then.

Interviewer: Right.

Cleophus Sharp: We just knew that it was there but we weren't aware that was a possibility that the, it would break and we would have that sludge coming over.


Geneva Sharp: Yeah, that's true.

Interviewer: Yeah. Mr. Cleophis, you were talking a little bit about how organized the, the community was and how involved people were. Could you, could you talk a little bit about, any of the, were there formal organizations in addition to the, the civically formal organizations that were here or was it more informal?

Geneva Sharp: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: You wanna start?

Geneva Sharp: The organizations that... let's see there was the garden club, the religious groups, there was Baptist, Methodist and, what was the other one now?


Cleophus Sharp: I forgot what they call 'em, but let me say charismatic or something like that.

Geneva Sharp: Well that, there were two Baptists, one Methodist, one Methodist. I think those were the two religious groups and, as I say, well I think I mentioned the flower, garden club.

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: All right. You had your civic league, the voter's league, it began as a civic league, but, we had to bring in a voter's league because it was a difference between the two and, mentioned the school and, okay.


Interviewer: And is it the Pleasantville Elementary?

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: Yeah, Pleasantville Elementary and after about 2 years you had the, the--

Cleophus Sharp: ****.

Geneva Sharp: - junior high school, high school, then the Pleasantville library. All of these became parts of the community and everybody cooperated in getting these, in getting these things started. Many people spent many hours. It could not be done without --

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: - that time being spent, and they did. There was so many people who cooperated and, we were so proud of 'em, everything that was done was community cooperation.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: So I don't think, you think of anything else?

Cleophus Sharp: Mm, a couple that I can elaborate on what you said. Like with 33:00the, the library, it didn't start as a library. I remember we were encouraged to go to the book mobile.

Geneva Sharp: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: They had a mobile bookmobile and we were encouraged in, in our school. So you had a collaborative effort of the, not only the community, but also the teachers out here and they encouraged us in school to check out books from the mobile library. Our parents did the same thing and they even had sponsored contests for us to do that and because we had so much involvement in, with the book mobile, it was how we got to justify the need for a library in this community. Even before then, you, you will see the collective effort in 34:00that they had a boy scouts, or girl scouts, what's the other one before that, cub scouts. So the men and women of the community were very actively involved with the children in the community. Not just their child, the community. You didn't want your parents to know you got in trouble with another parent. You didn't, that was a no-no. So because of that we had that type of relationship and that was sports with baseball was a big thing. That's one of the ways we got, when we got that park, the, up there. It wasn't soccer, it was baseball and baseball was so big in the area until we formed teams, the men worked with us in 35:00the neighborhood, to ensure that we had a large baseball league in Pleasantville. You had about 8 or 10 teams and that's a lot. Even today that's a lot and then that was so because we had schools from, I mean schools, we had communities from other communities coming over to wanting to play in our league and then we had another park that was created on the other side and it had a league of its own. So it was huge and as a result of that we were able to show that there was enough activity and participation by the community to get the community center. Not the one you see now because the one where the outdoor gym is, that was a small building attached there, a very small building. So we were able to get that and outdoor gym and as a result the participation over the 36:00years, we developed, we didn't realize how much we were being mentored by the adults in this community because as a result of that, we formed our own participation at the gym in developing our basketball skills. And from that, many of the guys from Pleasantville went on and starred in every high school in the city and some of 'em even went professionally and, as a result of that. But that all became, all came about because of the mentorship we had in Pleasantville. Some of 'em did the same thing in baseball. Again, it was the involvement of our parents in our lives growing up that made the difference, made a huge difference for all of us.

Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Geneva Sharp: And the book mobile is, should, include the fact that there were 37:00several ladies that came together and we met several, almost, almost every week we met, you know, and, we discussed the books, the great books and there was some ladies who even went so far as to have book parties in their homes. Had book reviews in the church and all of this was to get the kids interested in reading books. This was until we were able to get the library. All of this was done and one lady that did it so much for this group passed just a few years ago and I spoke at her funeral. But she was the one who really did a lot to get all 38:00of this library work done and we cannot forget her.

Cleophus Sharp: What's her name?

Geneva Sharp: We cannot forget her.

Cleophus Sharp: What was the name?

Geneva Sharp: Ms. Gussie Thomas.

Cleophus Sharp: Oh yeah, Ms. Gussie Thomas.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah.

Interviewer: It's amazing. Were folks in the neighborhood also, in the early years, involved in the civil rights movement also or was it mostly focused on kind of Pleasantville and Houston kind of community development?

Geneva Sharp: Yes, yes, they were involved. Yes, they went wrong.

Cleophus Sharp: We, from what I recall in, in just elaborate, elaborating a little bit more. Definitely were involved. We were involved in a different manner. Again, my father was very well connected in that he helped a lot of 39:00politicians. He organized this community to, I mean just clarify that. He was one of several that organized this community to get behind the election of several politicians that had, were more favorable to helping Pleasantville, to get elected and all levels, from national down to local level. As a result of that, when the civil rights movement, movement came about they were very actively involved behind the scenes. He didn't get up front to talk, it was always behind the scenes because you didn't want, if you weren't among the powerful elite, you didn't wanna become a target unnecessarily. You didn't have to do that when you have people that were elected. They already a target. So 40:00that utilized that process and, over the period of time I remember speaking to my father about it later as, when I became an adult, this city didn't explode like Detroit and Los Angeles and Chicago and some of those. I don't know if they did that in New York. I think to some degree that happened. But this city didn't do that because the people who were elected along with the people who helped get them elected, my father was Justin Robinson, and you had a Minister Lawson --

Geneva Sharp: Lawson.

Cleophus Sharp: That wasn't his first name.

Geneva Sharp: William.

Cleophus Sharp: William Lawson, Bill, William Bill Lawson. They were very involved in keeping a lid on this. We did have an incident and that almost 41:00tipped us over. But we had a member, a resident from Pleasantville that he got caught up in the negative issues that were going on. He was a member of the people's party No. 2 and he was the head of it, which is an offspring from the Black Panthers. Well the Black Panthers, in just from what I know about them, they were not a racist group. They were a group that started Operation Headstart. Feeding, well you from New York, you should know about this and tell what I'm telling you the truth in now. They started feeding children and they also said, we're gonna rid our communities of drugs. Well you step on a lot of toes when you start, and prostitution, they were gonna rid of prostitution and drugs. So they went down on Dallas Street and they had their rifles and they 42:00stopped cars and they stopped people coming in that they knew that was some drugs or prostitution had gone on and the business people reported them and the police department came in and challenged them, and they challenged the police department. So it was a standoff for weeks and when it finally exploded, they were in Saint John's Baptist Church on Dowling Street, that's where their headquarters and right across from Wolf's Jewelry or something like that and they had a shootout and the police just annihilated that whole church and everybody in it and consequently the guy I was telling you about, his name was Ralph Hamilton, he died. Everybody that was in there with him died. But it 43:00wasn't about racist activity. It was about we gonna stop certain things that are happening in our community and as a result of it, they went about it in a way which they couldn't win. You couldn't win. When you start taking up rifles, you just not gonna win. But that's what happened. But after that, from Bill Lawson and my father and Justin Robinson and Ernest Emma, Ermasen, Ernest McGowan, they was city council and two of 'em and several others. They got together to keep organized how they were gonna keep the lid on this and they did it through the churches.

Interviewer: Mm hmm, and do you remember what year that was, the, that shootout, the standoff?

Cleophus Sharp: That was probably '67, yeah, '67, maybe '68.

Interviewer: Hmm.


Cleophus Sharp: Yeah.

Interviewer: I'd never heard that story before. That's --

Cleophus Sharp: A lot people don't know about it.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: A lot of people don't know about it. See Ralph Hamilton was only a year or two older than me. So I knew him personally.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: And did you teach him?

Geneva Sharp: No, I didn't teach him.

Cleophus Sharp: She was a teacher. She was in --

Interviewer: Did you teach at the school?

Geneva Sharp: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: At --

Interviewer: Oh great. How long did you, when did you stop teaching there?

Geneva Sharp: Oh I taught for 31 years.

Interviewer: Oh okay. Did you know Claudia Myes? She started teaching there in the 80s.

Geneva Sharp: Oh no.

Interviewer: No? You were done by then?

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: Okay. She's the, the, the mother of a friend of mine taught there for 25 years or so. So, that's so interesting. Just the, the kind of, as you were saying, the sort of backstage involvement in these --

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: - You know, public events and it seems, in keeping with the history 45:00of how desegregation happened in the city and this kind of quiet --

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: - way, it was very different than what was happening in other cities. But then it's interesting to think about how that, that ethic of, of kind of taking responsibility, for making the world the way you want it to be. That was something that was happening here in Pleasantville --

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm, right.

Interviewer: - in a kind of microcosm --

Cleophus Sharp: Sure.

Interviewer: - yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: So, a couple of other questions, How are you guys doing? How are you --

Cleophus Sharp: I'm fine.

Geneva Sharp: Doing good.

Interviewer: Doing okay? Keep going? Okay. So a few other questions. The, these two other events that we're focusing on related to toxicity and pollution in the neighborhood, and I don't know if you guys have any thoughts that you might want to offer about those. So one of them is the warehouse fire in 1995.

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: And that's something that, it's a little bit easier for us to get 46:00information about because there's lots of, you know, there was media coverage and there's even some stuff online about it and you know, it's easier. But, if you have any recollections or thoughts about that fire, including things that the community was doing at the time to respond.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah I do. But I'm gonna let you go first.

Geneva Sharp: No you --

Cleophus Sharp: I happened to be here at that time and I think it was on a Saturday and, that morning we heard this explosion. So my, I looked out the window and I said, because it happened on the next street, about hmm, 200 yards from this house, maybe 300 at the most and you could see barrels exploding up in the air about 100 to 150 feet and it was behind the, the houses on the next 47:00street behind us and down a little bit. And so I told my parents about it and my father and I both walked out there to see what was goin' on and there was a fire in the warehouse. You go to the end of the block and down about three houses. Behind that house was a warehouse where you had, explosion where the barrels of chemicals, whatever they was storing in, was shooting up in the air and I looked at that and it was a big cloud of smoke and everything and there was a railroad tanker cars, there was several of 'em that were between the fire at the warehouse and the houses. It was like you go behind our house, we would, say we had a shed, we don't. But we had a shed, then you had the railroad track. On the other side of that railroad track was the warehouse where the things were 48:00exploding. That's how close it was to the house that was over there. That shed, which was aluminum, what do you call that--

Interviewer: Tin.

Cleophus Sharp: No it was a, aluminum siding. It had melted. You could see it warping. It was, the fire was that intense. So when I came back I called the, I can't think of the name of the rail line, Union Pacific, I don't know which one it is. But I called them and said that their tanker cars were in between the fire in the warehouse and the community and they said, yeah, we know. We got calls on it and I said, well did you know that your, on your tanker cars, some of 'em say highly flammable and the others say explosive and they parked between the fire and the community and the barrels in that warehouse were exploding 150 feet and they said, no, we didn't know that and they said, give us a second and 49:00we'll call you back. They never called me back, but those trains moved within 2 minutes because they were remote controlled. And that's how bad it was. And then the police came around on the PA system about an hour or two later and they were frantic.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: And when police are frantic, you in trouble. You are in serious trouble. The police were on their bullhorns in their car. They didn't even get out the car, they just drove slowly through the neighborhood and say everybody evacuate now.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: Get out now, evacuate the community, you must leave. And I thought about why would they do that. Well, we have gas and electric in this entire community, and if that explosion hit the gas line you had a chain effect going all the way through the entire neighborhood, and nobody woulda survived. 50:00And so they evacuated the entire community in a matter of about 2 hours.

Interviewer: So where did you go?

Cleophus Sharp: You go to friends, you go have a day out and hope that your home is still intact when you get back and --

Geneva Sharp: And hotels.

Cleophus Sharp: Hotels, yeah. And then, as a result of that, we protested at City Hall. Again, we used our political clout. I think Bob Lanier was mayor.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: And we went up there. There was a guy here in Pleasantville that was a chemist, and we were speaking. We wanted to speak on the subject about it, and not taking away from what was on the agenda already, but we were given the opportunity to speak, and there were several of us signed up to speak and it was 51:00approved. But they ran out of time, so Bob Lanier said well, we wanna cut short on people from Pleasantville speaking, so they only had I think one or two people. They said, somebody cut the time down to like 2 minutes instead of 3 or 4, and they gave a, a recognition, for a, I can't remember if it was, it was, some children had some type of, celebration of something. Not taking away from it, it was a good thing, I'm not saying that, but you had an emergency that occurred and you don't wanna hear from them, so some of the people got a little irate. And this guy, he was a chemist out here and he, and he, when he had a chance to speak they said well, you have 2 minutes or somethin', and he said I 52:00appreciate the time that you've given to us to express our concerns over the issue, but it seems to me that your priorities are out of order in that you will give more time, you gave like 15 minutes recognizing, this event for, that the children had, but you have an emergency that coulda killed us and you telling us we only have 2 minutes. He said I think your priorities need to be rearranged, and Bob Lanier, Mayor Bob Lanier said we did not intend to insult anyone and he said, excuse, we just didn't, weren't thinking, so we gonna extend the time, and we were able to speak on that topic. So that was, Pleasantville has been very active in, for many, a number of years, dealing with different issues that have occurred.


Interviewer: Do you remember the, the warehouse fire too?

Geneva Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Yes, I remember, uh huh. But I don't think I have too much to say about that warehouse fire because, memory is not as good.

Interviewer: That's okay.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: I do wanna add one thing. His name is Randall, he was a fireman, and I can't think of his first -- Paul Randall, okay? Paul Randall was a fireman during that time. I didn't know it. He told me at one of the meetings here recently last year that he was one of the responders that were sent to, they came from all over, but he was one of those and he said, 'cause I mentioned that we're not, we needed, and this was the fight that's still going on today, that 54:00we don't know what's stored in warehouses around us, we don't have an idea.

Geneva Sharp: Mm mm.

Cleophus Sharp: The city doesn't know. Uh, they file lawsuits to block anybody knowing saying that's their proprietary information and therefore it can't be released, so the emergency responders are going in blind and they get, Paul said one of them got really sick, and it was like he was out for at least a year. Another one died from that warehouse fire that happened right there.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: And that's just that one. We don't know about ITC and one in Crosby and other side of towns that's been going on. So that's an issue that the city, the county, the state, at the state level, they gonna have to address.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.


Interviewer: Yeah. So the, another thing that, well, we could talk about Harvey, but we could probably talk about Harvey all day, so --

Geneva Sharp: About what?

Interviewer: About Hurricane Harvey.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah.

Interviewer: So I don't know if there's any particular, thing related to toxicity and Harvey that you would wanna share? But --

Cleophus Sharp: I don't know of any.

Interviewer: No?

Geneva Sharp: Mm mm.

Interviewer: Okay.

Cleophus Sharp: Just the rain. Oh, I, I take that back.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: It's not, it doesn't come to the forefront and you have to think about it, but because there was so much water. So you got the San Jacinto River, you have, you go further down you got the Brazos River and then there's an, new, 56:00new, I can't think of the other one, Saint Bernard River coming down and there was another one. But anyway, you got all these rivers, you have the lakes, and then you got all this bayou that has to transport all this water, and what they don't tell you 'cause I don't think they know is what's in the water because it's flooding everything on its way to the ship channel out to the gulf where the gulf -- when God created the gulf he put enough salt in its water to pretty much over a period of time to purify the water, and he created certain animals that absorb that in their body and they die, okay. But we don't have that. The vegetation and plants can't purify all the stuff, chemicals that's in that water, so when it's all coming and sitting like we did in Harvey and sit for 57:00days, if you have a vegetable garden what are you eating? You never know. Children been playing in that water. What type of bacteria, what type of fungus, mold, whatever is in that water. I had a friend who, and he shoulda know better, he was older than me. He stayed in a house in Memorial. His friend that owned the house left and told him he could stay there. He stayed in the house, he wouldn't leave.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: He stayed upstairs and there's water all downstairs.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: And he developed a respiratory problem after staying in there 2 weeks with all that water and, and he just stayed upstairs, wouldn't go nowhere. And I don't know if he's recovered from it yet, but I know he had a respiratory problem for years after that occurred. So there's a lotta toxicity that goes on 58:00from a hurricane like Harvey because with all the chemicals that are in this area, uh, even the foam that they use to put out the fires, that stuff is bad.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: So what are we, what are the, what is the after effects from all of that, breathing and being in it. So that's an issue. That is a concern. That's one of the things we were, Bridget and I and Grace and some of the others are working on, to get TCEQ to, and the state legislature to look at because there was one guy for TCEQ just said, he's supposed to have been a scientist, "it's good for 'em to breathe that, it develops their lung capacity."

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: So when you have attitudes like that I don't know, I don't know.

Interviewer: Right. Just makes you stronger.

Cleophus Sharp: Yes. That's what he said.


Interviewer: Right. You know that foam thing?

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: There's, there was this big kinda expose thing about that foam because there are alternatives to that foam.

Cleophus Sharp: Okay.

Interviewer: And there's kind of a, monopoly on the production of the foam that gets used.

Cleophus Sharp: Yes.

Interviewer: And so the companies that have, the smaller companies that have these other kinds of foam --

Cleophus Sharp: Oh, they're not gonna get it out there.

Interviewer: They, and they're trying and they're trying, they're trying, and different fire departments have, and within the military this is also a thing, right?

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: So the military uses this foam that has these, they call them forever chemicals.

Cleophus Sharp: Right.

Interviewer: Right? And there are alternatives, but the military standards are it's like it has to put out like a, like a jet fuel fire in 3 seconds or something like that, right, so super hot and it has to happen super quickly. And the one without the forever chemicals was something like, you know, 2 minutes and 59 seconds, or no, 3 minutes and 59 seconds, and they were like no, we're 60:00not gonna adopt this.

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: So yeah, it's a racket.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah, it is.

Interviewer: It's a racket. All right, so yeah, I guess the last thing I was interested in hearing about were just what you think the biggest changes are that have happened in Pleasantville over the, the many decades that you have lived here.

Geneva Sharp: The biggest changes? The biggest changes. Let's see. Gosh. Well, from the very beginning, changes from the very beginning would be so many things have been added in the community. As I said, we started out with almost ain't nothin', all right, and we developed a, first we developed the churches, the 61:00civic groups, boy scouts, girl scouts, garden clubs and, the civic league, what'd we say, the schools, the library. All these things were done and everybody cooperated. It was just, it was wonderful. Everybody cooperated, and each time anything was done so many people participated, and they all worked together to get, get this done. And I keep coming back to, really I guess because I was a teacher. The Great Books group that we had, and you may be 62:00surprised, that there was as many people as there were that were members of the Great Books and so many young people who participated. All these things came about because of the cooperation of the members of the community. Everything was done because they believed that they could do better for themselves. Everyone worked together. They would get off their work, of the jobs, and they would come together to improve things. They improved the, the, the churches. They came together, they made this work. They came together for the schools, the churches, the community, clubs, activities and all of this, and it could not be, could not 63:00have been done without the cooperation of everyone, and most of the time nowadays I don't think you get this kind of cooperation. Everybody. Some people would get off from work and they would come together to get things done. I don't think we mentioned the grocery store that was built in Pleasantville, but we didn't want it, so we told 'em we didn't want it, but they built it anyway. So we boycotted it and they finally, they closed that store.

Interviewer: How come you didn't want the grocery store?

Geneva Sharp: Uh huh, yes, they closed it.

Cleophus Sharp: She said, she said why didn't you want the grocery store?

Geneva Sharp: Oh. Oh, because there was too much traffic right in the middle of the community, and most of the people it was close to their homes and they did 64:00not want this traffic, so they came together and they met day and night, they boycotted it. People would get off of work and boycott this store, and at first they said that they would not leave because they felt they had a right to it. They even went to city council to get us to move. They said we can't make you do, make them do that, that they live there, so we just kept boycotting and boycotting day and night. People would get off from work and go there and boycott, and so eventually they were losing business so they left, and that particular building became a church. Yeah, and that's what is there now, a church, a Baptist church.


Interviewer: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: They weren't on Pleasantville Drive over there?

Geneva Sharp: No, Ms. King's church.

Cleophus Sharp: Oh yeah, down there. Oh, that was in the middle of the neighbor -- you know where Holland Middle School is?

Interviewer: I don't know.

Cleophus Sharp: That's the middle school that's right in the middle, behind the park.

Interviewer: Oh yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: Okay. Well, that's on the other side, so it was right in the middle of the community, and that's why they had a issue with it because there's the traffic.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: The, the biggest change that I noticed, since, especially since I moved away was that you didn't have the commitment from the, the parents. Remember I told you about all the involvement? And we didn't realize that we were being mentored, we really were, in how to get things done and how to have a community that looked after itself. Well, a lotta the parents were getting 66:00older, so it was their children and a lot of them moved away, but they had children and some of them, like the same thing that is happening all around the country, some of 'em got on drugs, some of 'em lost jobs, some got busy and their parents had to take care of their children. And you don't have the same energy, to do that and you don't always have the same resources, so that became an impact. And what I saw when my parents were actively involved in helping develop the community, they did not only just deal with Pleasantville, they dealt with the surrounding communities as well 'cause you had Ben Reyes, he was 67:00a city councilman. He was very instrumental in working with them. Like I said, Bill Lawson, Justin Robinson joined the city council here, Ernest McGowan city council, you had US Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Mickey Leland, Sylvester Turner was their state representative, Ron Wilson was a state representative. I mean, I can name many of 'em. John Whitmeyer is a state senator today, and in fact he was, several of them that are still living were at my father's funeral speaking because they had that type of relationship with him. So you had all that involvement, and today, like I remember Pleasantville. I come back because when I got to thinking about it is all of us have moved away so you don't have anybody in our age group or younger except for a few people that are willing to 68:00fight for what's best for the community, so essentially you're just leaving, leaving it to die.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: That's, basically, because you can't expect people my mother's age to continue this type of fight, it's just not gonna happen. And so that's the biggest difference. Yeah, you have the new community center, the park and all that, but that was the results from what our parents did. That's not even the results from what my generation did, that's from our parents. And then you have all this it seems like the businesses in the area know there's a decline, so their encroachment is increasin'. And so we talk about Pleasantville, but this is not just Pleasantville's story. This is the story of every community in the nation that as it gets older that's what's happening. So you might say "this 69:00is not my fight." Yeah it is.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: You look at your own community and if it's not happening now I'll give you 20 years --

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: -- at the most and I guarantee it's gonna happen there. So if you have a model that is successful, you can take that model and use it back in your own community. Just to end that is they're not going to say this, and it'll be hard to prove 'cause I'm gonna make a nationwide statement that I can't prove, but I know it didn't happen before. Pleasantville was instrumental in starting the Grass Roots concept. I can't prove it, but it didn't happen before they did it in Pleasantville going door to door, and I know because I walked door to door as a, as a, as a teenager helping my father and the others, and 70:00there are several of us that were my age group we did that. When it came to things that happened in Pleasantville, voting, all that, we walked every house in this community, so that was a Grass Root effort. You're not gonna see that today.

Geneva Sharp: Mm mm.

Cleophus Sharp: Now, I know several politicians say they, they are doing that now, but it started back in the '60s here in Pleasantville. Again, I can't prove it, but I don't know of anybody else speaking saying they did it before then.

Interviewer: Yeah. I mean, it's interesting now the, the door knocking and the block walking and stuff that happens now. It's not, it's also not usually within the neighborhood --

Cleophus Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: -- the same way --

Cleophus Sharp: Right.

Interviewer: -- that it sounds like this was, so.

Cleophus Sharp: Right.

Interviewer: Yeah. Okay, well, is there anything else that you guys would wanna 71:00say, things, other things you think we should've asked or things you wanna mention?

Geneva Sharp: I don't think so. I think we just about covered everything really.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah. I just think if you wanted more of a follow up, there, Paul Randall, his father was instrumental working with the community as well. He was close friends with my, my father and mother and his mother. But he was a fireman, and I think he still lives in Pleasantville now in his parents' house. He may or may not, but Paul Randall would be someone that I would, you wanna talk about the fire that happened in '90, what was it, '95?

Interviewer: '95.

Cleophus Sharp: Yeah.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: He would be, if he can, if he's still a fireman he may not be 72:00able to talk freely, but he can point you in the right direction. And then, there are people if you wanna get a background of what was going on politically I would talk to Mayor Sylvester Turner about Pleasantville, his relationship with my father and Justin Robinson Jr. and Ernest McGowan and others, Harold Dutton, John Whitmeyer, **** Thompson.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: They named the library after ****, what was her name, Wilmena Delco.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Cleophus Sharp: Uh, Sheila Jackson Lee.

Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Cleophus Sharp: Okay, yeah, there are a number of people who from a political aspect can tell you the influence that Pleasantville has had, and not just Pleasantville but this city.


Geneva Sharp: Mm hmm.

Interviewer: That's great. I think that's all, all the questions I planned to ask you guys.

Cleophus Sharp: Okay.

Geneva Sharp: Okay.

Interviewer: Thank you so much.


Job Number: 20187-002

Date: 07/05/2020

Billed Words: 11356