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The KHOU-TV Collection - News Clips, June 21 - 23, 1966

Houston Metropolitan Research Center

Sound | 1966

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  •  Prison Farm, 06/21/66: KHOU reporter Al Bell introduces the new Harris County Prison Farm on Atascocita Road 
  •  Hepler on School Suit, 06/23/66: KHOU reporter Mark Hepler relays updates in the federal court case of Broussard v. Houston Independent School District. Onesephor and Yvonne Broussard brought a civil rights suit against HISD on behalf of African-American students. The case took place in Judge Alan B. Hannay’s courtroom. The Broussard family argued that the construction of new schools in predominately black neighborhoods perpetuated de facto segregation by preventing black and white students from integrating within schools beyond the residential perimeter. A characteristic of residential or neighborhood segregation, the creation of schools within specific neighborhoods reinforced the existing pattern of segregated schools. On July 13, Judge Hannay ruled against the plaintiffs, finding insufficient evidence that the school district acted against the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Although United States District Court Judge Ben C. Connally ordered HISD to integrate beginning in 1960, the transformation was slow and often ineffective. It took Houston decades to completely desegregate its public schools, and questions of de facto segregation remain.  
  •  Sec Wirtz, 06/25/66: Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz commends recent progress made by the country in the pursuit of equal employment opportunities for minorities. He expresses confidence that the “ugly part of discrimination” is mostly gone and that no man or woman will be refused a job based on race, creed, or national origin. Wirtz served as labor secretary under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He worked extensively with Johnson on the War on Poverty, maximizing the employment rate and creating numerous programs aimed at expanding training and education opportunities.  
  •  Sec Willard Wirtz Scraps, 06/25/66: Secretary Wirtz discusses amendments made to the Fair Labor Standards Act. As Wirtz explains, the 1966 amendments included extended coverage to public schools, nursing homes, laundries, and the construction industry. The legislation also expanded minimum wage coverage to a significant number of agricultural workers for the first time. Wirtz discusses the bill’s minimum wage increase proposal (which did go into effect, raising it to $1.00 an hour) and its possible effect on migrant strikers in the Rio Grande Valley. Organizers of the Starr County Strike, also known as the Farmworkers Melon Strike, demanded an increased minimum wage to $1.25, the right to collective bargaining, and humane working conditions. Wirtz concludes that there is no reason for farm workers to make miniscule wages, just as there is no reason for factory workers to make minuscule wages. He argues that the shameful conditions under which workers grow and harvest the public’s food makes such food unpalatable.  
  •  Hepler on School Suit, 06/23/66: Footage of school campuses visited by the court as part of Broussard v. Houston Independent School District  
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This film from KHOU-TV Channel 11 in Houston contains a series of short news segments that would have aired as highlights to news stories. Many are silent and would have been voiced over by the anchorperson during a live broadcast. The titles for each segment are the originals created by KHOU-TV. The clips on this reel all date from June 21 to 23, 1966. This series includes news segments about a civil rights lawsuit against the Houston Independent School District and responses to the Starr County Strike organized by farm workers in the Rio Grande Valley.
The digital preservation of this collection was made possible by a grant to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the Houston Public Library from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Many more films from the KHOU-TV Collection are available on the Houston Public Library Houston Area Digital Archives website.
Beginning in the spring of 1966, farm workers—employed by multimillion dollar farm corporations in the Rio Grande Valley—began protesting harsh working conditions and unfair wages. This became known as the Melon Strike or Starr County Strike. Laborers reported wages ranging from 40 to 90 cents an hour, a stark contrast to the state minimum wage of $1.25. As a result, residents in Starr County lived in extreme poverty with minimal education and poor housing conditions. 
Author and activist Eugene Nelson moved from California to Mission, Texas, in the lower Rio Grande Valley in May 1966. A leader of the Independent Workers Association, Nelson had previously worked alongside Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association with the grape pickers strikes. He came to Texas to organize and unionize farm workers. With Nelson’s help, laborers demanded $1.25 an hour and the right to collectively bargain. 
Major growers, including La Casita Farms, Griffin & Brand Trophy Farms, Starr Farms, Margo Farms, and Elmore & Stahl refused the demands, prompting more unrest and further protest. On June 1, 1966, more than 400 workers went on strike against the six major melon farms in the area. Local police forces and county officials attempted to outlaw picketing and even sprayed picketers with insecticide. 
By the end of June, strikers embarked on a 490-mile march, now referred to as La Marcha or the Minimum Wage March of 1966, from the Rio Grande Valley to the State Capitol Building in Austin. Throughout Texas, marchers met with many local government officials, church officials, and residents, who endorsed their campaign. Appropriately enough, protesters arrived at the capitol on Labor Day and had accumulated around 15,000 marchers. Although the march did not produce any concrete change, such as the labor wage, it became a hugely publicized and symbolic event that brought such inhumane treatment to the forefront of the American collective consciousness. It helped the Mexican-American population gain a voice they previously did not have, and it paved the way for future labor reform and organized farmers unions. 
After a year of strikes, picketing, and even some cases of violence, the focus of the movement shifted from organizing mass demonstrations to providing services for union members and residents. Hurricane Beulah of September 20, 1967, devastated the Rio Grande Valley, forcing the union to rebuild the economy and improve living conditions of local residents.