My life story wouldn’t exist without the sacrifices of individuals who have served, or are now serving, our country to keep us safe and free. To those dear souls, and others whom I will name below, I dedicate the following account of my life.
It begins with my 18 year-old dad (Ed Eubanks) leaving rural Georgia and boarding a train bound for East Texas. There he met my 16 year-old mom (Lillie); proposed; and soon after, began married life in Midland. After years of long hours and hard work, they began a business (Eubanks Auto Parts), at which my dad continued to work (and own) until age 70. Sadly, my mom, a heavy smoker, passed away too soon at age 73; my dad at age 96.
In 1941, along with their new business, my parents brought forth a child (me). Since I can’t imagine MY parents ever having sex, I must have been immaculately conceived (after 17 years of marriage). Poor them (my parents had no more children and were stuck with me).
Although my parents never completed school, they valued education. Every day, my dad rose before dawn to read his well-worn Bible, his finger sliding over each line. My parents’ example and encouragement led me to study hard; go to college; and later earn a Ph.D. Thankfully, both lived to see me become a university professor and author (for McGraw-Hill).
On a lark back in 1995, I agreed to teach conversational English to Spanish-speaking young people who worked at my neighborhood Luby’s. It was their idea, and their manager unenthusiastically gave his permission. I began by picking up a car full of young people each week during their lunch break, and we gathered around my kitchen table. Over the years, many hard-working young people from around the world have come to my home for classes. They have allowed me to teach them, mentor them, and love them. Their life stories continue to amaze me. I serve as witness that, with or without current documentation, these individuals have much to give our country as they work, go to school, and enrich their and other people’s lives.
During our 30 years together, my husband, Orin Winn, and I have been fortunate to travel to many parts of the world. Going all over Mexico, Central America, Europe, and Asia has taught us even more about the geography and culture of the individuals taught and mentored in our home. During our travels, I have set up impromptu/informal English classes on tree stumps, riverboats, and other unlikely settings in many foreign locations, including along the Yangtze River in China.
When my husband and I first met, we had problems with our own conversational English. As an electrical and software engineer, Orin had been transferred to Austin from the coast of Maine, where he’d lived off and on since childhood. With his Maine accent and my Texas drawl, the first months of our courtship were spent asking, What did you say? Fortunately, we overcame that and later married. I am lucky to join him each summer and fall at his family home in Maine, and will do so again right after the MHS reunion. Unfortunately, Orin will miss our reunion. Instead, he will be on his way to Maine to prepare for a big Fourth of July picnic and celebration he holds each year to honor the memory of his parents, brother, and other relatives.
Even though he’s not a.native Texan, Orin is a treasure. He is interesting, kind, and accepting. For example, when we decided to marry, he respected my wish to keep my birth name. (After a sad but non-rancorous divorce years earlier, I determined that I would never change my name again, even in the unlikely event that Jesus Christ came down to propose.) Orin wasn’t crazy about changing his name either, so we have remained Orin Winn and Eddye Eubanks for 30 years.
Awhile before I met Orin, I had several experiences that renewed a personal interest in civil rights. One was during the summer of 1970 while I was serving as a visiting professor at Duke and North Carolina State Universities. While there, the local newspaper published an article about Claiborne Ellis, North Carolina’s Exalted Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. I called him and requested an interview, explaining that I wanted my students back home in Texas to hear his point of view. He agreed, and we met in Duke’s Student Union one midnight at the end of his shift as a campus plumber. Suspicious of my motives, Mr. Ellis was accompanied by a bodyguard (with gun in belt). Mr. Ellis opened a tattered briefcase; and gave me some Klan stationary, a red satin Ladie’s (sic) Auxiliary badge, and a copy of the Klan newsletter ( The Fiery Cross ). There also was a gun in the briefcase. Fearful of guns, I forgot to tum over the cassette in my recorder, getting only 30 minutes of the hour-long interview.
Years later, I learned that Mr. Ellis became an integral part of a 1971 community-wide discussion about violence in Durham during the beginning of school desegregation there. Along with a black community activist (Ann Atwater), he agreed to co-chair 10 days of 12-hour talks. Earlier, the two had been such bitter foes that she pulled a knife on him at a City Council meeting, and he brought a machine gun to their first community discussion session. However, near the end of the marathon talks, Ellis and Atwater realized that they shared the same dreams for their children and the community. On their last night, he tore up his KKK card in front of the crowd; renounced his membership; and said, If schools are going to be better by me tearing up this card, I shall do so. (Afterwards, his fellow Klansmen threatened his life and never talked to him again.) Mr. Ellis died of natural causes in 2005, at age 78.
Atwater and Ellis continued to work together, and became lifelong friends. They were interviewed on the David Frost Show and also were the subject of a book, Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South. Later, a documentary, An Unlikely Friendship, was made about them. In an interview before he died, Ellis said, When I joined the Klan, I thought every black person in the country was evil and dirty. We are taught these things as children, and when we get older, we sometimes carry those thoughts with us and never get rid of them.
Through the years, I have come to meet many other individuals who have helped me clarify my own values while hying to understand and accept theirs. I’m grateful for the education I’ve received, both in and outside the classroom–but I still have a long ways to go.
Now that I’ve shared some of my life story and the people whom I’ve met, I look forward to hearing more about YOUR lives and the people you have inspired and who have inspired you. Reading your autobiographies has humbled me. I admire your courage, determination, and accomplishments. It will be an honor to renew friendships and share hugs and memories with you.