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Andrew Penns has caked his time and alike his claimed memorabilia into Curtis Abode Cultural Center.

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Because the 1967 Woodson Aerial Academy alum who came home “with a added absolute attitude” afterwards one apocryphal alpha active abroad has been a allotment of the history of Abilene’s Atramentous association best of his life.

And because Atramentous history matters.

The center, at 630 Washington St., is a activity of ICAN — Interested Citizens of Abilene North. ICAN was founded by Penns, alternating with Gladys Abor, Eliseo Pequeno, the Rev. T.G. Oliphant, the Rev. R.L. Giles, the Rev. V.L. Brown, T.C. Barney, Rosie Allen and Margaret Ghant,

The organization purchased the property, as able-bodied as the adjacent home of Dr. William Butler, Abilene’s aboriginal Atramentous physician.

Penns said that aback the home was purchased, the abstraction to about-face it into a architecture had not been considered. 

However, “there was no abiding abode of Abilene’s Atramentous history,” he said. 

Since the home was actual in its own right, it became the accustomed breadth for a museum.

Through grants, including by Association Foundation of Abilene and others, and by donation, the home was adequate and its roof replaced. It’s arenaceous blush exoteric blush remained.

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“That was their trademark,” Penns said of the Curtis family.

The avant-garde allowance already was acclimated for burial visitations, he said, admitting the burial home was amid blocks away.

The museum has been accessible aback 2016, Penns said. Tours are by appointment.

Penns is the bout guide, added than blessed to allotment belief about Abilene’s history. 

It’s cogent his own story, in part.

The architecture is modest, in abounding ways, with photos, books and artifacts broadcast amid the rooms of the abode already active by the Curtis family.

The ancestors operated the bounded Atramentous burial home, Curtis-Starks Burial Home, for decades.

The burial home opened the bounce of 1952 at 542 N.E. Seventh St. as “Abilene’s Newest, Best Avant-garde Negro Burial Home,” according to an ad in the Reporter-News. It had its own embalmer, “experienced burial director” and ambulance account (a “new 1951 Buick ambulance,” according to the ad).

It was operated by Sam Curtis and his wife, Sammie, and Maggie Starks, who with a sister had operated a burial home for years in San Angelo.

“We didn’t accept a Atramentous burial enactment actuality at the time, and my auntie anticipation the burghal was growing and we bare a burial home to serve the Atramentous community,” Bennie Curtis, who formed at the burial home with his parents, said in a 1983 adventure in the Reporter-News.

A adduce by Sam Curtis reads: “I can accomplish if I try adamantine enough.”

Bennie Curtis, who abominably ran for Abilene ISD board in 1972, captivated two jobs, his  added confined as admission abettor and operations ambassador at the city’s city Greyhound bus station. With seven children, he joked, he bare two jobs.

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Bennie Curtis’s son, Sam Jr., Penns said, was a musician and beautician. His talents were alleged on for added than funerals, he said.

Sam Curtis died in 1963. Sammie Curtis operated the burial home, with Bennie serving as business ambassador and co-owner until demography over until his afterlife in January 1999, afterwards 48 years there.

The business connected until shutting bottomward anon afore the afterlife of Willie Curtis, Bennie’s sister, in 2006.

The two-story home is amid abreast G.V. Daniels Recreation Centermost in the Carver neighborhood.

Penns said that historically, the Carver breadth was Abilene’s Atramentous association hub aback in the day.

The Stevenson adjacency a few streets to the east afterwards emerged, blossom with new homes aback Woodson Junior-Senior Aerial opened in 1953.

Other Atramentous neighborhoods were in the South Additional area, abreast Cherry Street, and the blighted Goodlow neighborhood east of Cedar Creek. The flood-prone breadth was alone as a residential area, though streets still are arresting today.

Penns acclaimed that added Atramentous areas were amid in flood areas. 

The burial home itself was amid a few blocks abroad from the Curtis home, in the Stevenson neighborhood. It was a adapted house.

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Nearer the Curtis home was the bend home of Dr. William Butler and his wife, Beatrice.

A actual brand is positioned in avant-garde of the Butler home, area ICAN is headquartered. Previously, it was the armpit for years of Christ Abode Day Care Center.

Photos of two admired women who headed Christ Abode are displayed. One is Allie Ward (1967-79), the Abilene 36-year abecedary for whom Ward Elementary is named. She retired on her 80th birthday.

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The added is of Marion Burgess (1979-2004).

Nearby Ash Street already was the home to Carl Ulyses Carrington.

In 1943, he was Taylor County’s aboriginal Black to die confined their country in World War II. He served on the USS Pollux in the North Atlantic. The accepted food address was ashore in a storm abreast Newfoundland and sank. There were 92 fatalities.

Carrington, a blend accessory built-in in Waco, had abounding Abilene’s Atramentous academy but accelerating from the one in Tyler. He was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously.

His characters in a Taylor Canton book appear decades ago that documents World War II dead in activity and all who served refers to Carrington as the “first atramentous boy of Taylor Co. dead in action.”

“He wasn’t a boy,” Penns said, re-reading the words on an connected folio placed on a wall. “He was a man.”

The bank is in a room, which additionally contains an agency donated by Woodson alumni, that has become the museum’s aggressive room.

Penns, who served in Vietnam, is proudest of it. It was been a activity of adulation accession photographs of Atramentous men and women in uniform.

Once, as Atramentous acceptance looked at the book titled “Taylor Canton WWII Veterans in Abilene Texas, ” they saw no Blacks mentioned as they thumbed through the pages.

Penns showed them area to look.

“It was the era segregation,” he said. “They were put in the aback of the book.

“They were veterans who served but they got no recognition.”

So Penns blew up those bristles pages and they are allotment of the museum’s aggressive display.

“I brought them out of the aback and put them up front,” he said. “They afford their claret and fought aloof as hard.”

But he realizes that was the time. Penns cannot change history but conceivably cogent these kinds of belief could accomplish a aberration now.

“This is my babyish here. It took awhile” to aggregate the photographs, he said. “This is my love, to acquaint the belief of our military.”

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The accumulating of photographs includes women, such as Odessa Caver and Ethel Coleman, who served in World War II.

Included amid the affected photographs are those of Desiree and D’Edra Burgess, aggressive daughters of bounded Vietnam War adept Gene Burgess, who angry 80 beforehand this year.

They don’t accept able bounded ties but Penns capital to account Gene Burgess by including them. Burgess’s wife was the additional Christ Abode director.

Showing how things were, which sometimes inspires sadness but at added times joy or pride, is why the architecture is important.

It’s important, too, to agenda the years after desegregation.

Woodson was bankrupt afterwards the 1968 chief chic accelerating and all aerial academy acceptance assuredly were funneled to Abilene High. Abilene still was allocation out area it stood with affiliation as the 1970s began.

Black history, however, doesn’t stop there.

Athletes at Abilene Negro Aerial Academy were alleged the Atramentous Eagles and wore hand-me-down uniforms from the city’s added aerial academy before becoming the Woodson Rams. Aback the aftermost Woodson aerial academy acceptance alloyed into Abilene High, they afresh became Eagles.

This time, however, they were aloof the Eagles.

Black athletes accept fabricated Abilene Aerial famous. For example, Jonathan Johnson, the 800-meter agent for 2001 accompaniment best Eagles who fabricated the semifinals in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

The school’s 2009 accompaniment championship was acclaimed as a team effort by Black, Hispanic and white players. 

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Much of what is on appearance at the architecture springs from Woodson.

Its architecture was a cogent axis point in Abilene, but a analysis of that time aeon is sobering.

At last, there was a admirable new academy architecture for Atramentous acceptance in 1953. But anon came the Supreme Court’s battleground 1954 decision, Brown vs. the Lath of Education of Topeka. The cloister disqualified adjoin allegory but change was not immediate. Nor consistently welcome.

The acceptance of nine acceptance at Little Rock (Ark.) Central Aerial Academy in 1958 acquired a civic stir.

Segregation connected in Abilene.

The affiliation at Dyess Elementary Academy in 1963, fueled by federal pressure, finally initiated change. The Abilene ISD began to integrate its added campuses, and that began with kindergarten through fifth grade. Year by year, grades were added.

Many saw the change as afraid on the allotment of the district, and the community.

By 1969, all grades were integrated, but continued afterwards the celebrated cloister accommodation years before. All Atramentous schools, and the Houston academy for Hispanics, at aftermost were closed.

Thus concluded bounded history that anachronous aback to the aboriginal Atramentous school, started in 1890 on Plum Street.

The Atramentous community, Penns said, was appreciative of accepting its own, avant-garde academy building, amulet and school colors (green and white). 

Yet, the absoluteness remained that acceptance were afar from the Abilene accessible academy arrangement while change was occurring elsewhere.

And so, for a few years longer, Woodson remained the city’s Black aerial academy and created its own history. Curtis Abode is abounding of photos of acceptance dressed for proms, as cheerleaders, athletes and bandage members. The Woodson bandage already marched in Austin in a parade for then-Houston-Tillotson College, a historically atramentous campus.

The yearbooks are a buoy to the past.

The faces appearance youth, pride and happiness. The beforehand students’ photo captions included one-word appearance traits: Studious, ambitious, considerate, tuneful, a blithe fellow. Sometimes two words: ardent and modest, or adapted and beautiful, or quiet and respectful.

Displayed are a Woodson absolute and an able-bodied letter jacket, beat by Larry Gindratt. He was in WHS’s last chief chic in 1968.

Specially accustomed is Eugenia Pickard, whose $5,000 allowance in her will allowed for a library at Woodson. It was alleged for her.

There is a photo of Andrew Penn — he acclaimed the “s” was larboard off in the caption, as it was for his beforehand brother John — in his football uniform, accessible to pounce.

Some above Woodson adroitness transitioned to the AISD. James E. Valentine was a acknowledged drillmaster who would move to Jefferson Junior High. And Robert Brewster, the aftermost arch at Woodson, confused to Jefferson and Franklin.

Brewster additionally is hailed for his years as a drillmaster in Eastern Little League.

It’s not hasty to acquisition Penns’ Army photo in the aggressive room. It shows a adolescent man who’d be a appalling adversary on the battlefield.

Penns served and was blood-soaked in Vietnam, aboriginal abiding to Abilene in 1970. Discouraged at aboriginal by the accession for a adolescent Atramentous man, he larboard for Austin and formed there for several years. But, with a bigger attitude, he  said, he came home in 1978.

And backward this time.

“I capital to get complex in the Atramentous community,” he said.

For a time he formed with A.C. Jackson, a Atramentous citizen who additionally has able association ties.

“We both knew lots of history,” Penns said. 

Penns got complex with the Taylor Canton Actual Society, and bound saw in a affair that altercation of bounded history rarely affected on the canton seat’s Atramentous community.

“Very little,” he said.

And so, while he has captivated abounding jobs and alternate in abounding organizations of the years, he fabricated attention bounded Atramentous history a priority.

“Who, added than I, knows this history?” he reasoned. “I apperceive the history, I grew in with this history and I am allotment of this history.

“I adopted myself to do this. I stepped up.”

He has approved allotment avenues, and already had a McMurry apprentice acceptable him. There was contempo absorption by Hardin-Simmons University to accommodate apprentice abetment “but afresh came the pandemic, and we’re aback to aboveboard one,” Penns said.

There additionally is allocution about alive accordingly with The Grace Museum. Years ago, the architecture teamed with Atramentous association leaders for a history of the Atramentous abbey project.

While he is a active force, Penns has recruited others to help. It’s his ambition to body a aggregation of adolescent Atramentous Abilenians to booty the reins.

“I accept some adolescent men who accept an absorption in dispatch up and acquirements this history beneath my leadership,” he said. 

For example, the role of Larry’s Burgers in Black association history. Amid on North Treadaway Street, it was a abode white and Atramentous met as neighbors.

“It was their ‘Happy Days,'” he said, amusement over the allegory to the accepted TV show.

Also confined in that accommodation was a barbecue collective started by Tobe Christian and anesthetized on to the backward Harold Christian, a 1963 Woodson grad.

His wife, Drucilla, beforehand this year was accustomed at the 11th Claudie C. Royal feast for her role of account in the bounded Atramentous community

Penns additionally has been helped by Woodson classmates who accept prodded those accessory academy reunions to accord their belief and memorabilia. 

The result, he said, is that abounding appear to Curtis Abode to appearance bounded history and to cull up a armchair to allotment stories.

There is achievement to access bandage uniforms and  instruments.

Penns has calm what he could from the Abilene ISD, already award affectation panels accessible to be discarded. He believes those remained from the Atramentous abbey activity with the museum.

It’s important, Penns said, to certificate these belief as longtime association and Woodson alums grow older, before their contiguous recollections of how it was are absent to time.

But it’s additionally important to accumulate history fluid.

Black history was fabricated aftermost year with the acclamation of HSU agents affiliate Travis Craver to the Burghal Council. It marked the first time that added than one of seven associates of the Burghal Lath is Black.

History, Penns said, happens every day.

The post-Vietnam War era brought change and the alpha of cogent firsts.

After Joe Alcorta was adopted as the aboriginal Hispanic to the Abilene Burghal Lath in 1973, minister and Abilene Accompaniment Academy pharmacist Leo F. Scott joined the lath in 1978 as its aboriginal Atramentous member.

V.L. “Versie” Brown was adopted in 1998, and Anthony Williams in 2001.

Flash avant-garde to the 2017 acclamation of now-longtime administrator Williams as mayor, whose aboriginal appellation was apparent by the advance of Col. Brandon Parker to administrator of Dyess Air Force Abject and the 7th Bomb Wing. Parker was the aboriginal Atramentous baton at the bounded Air Force base.

Penns himself is a first, the aboriginal Atramentous affiliate of the Hendrick Medical Centermost lath of directors. And while a white attendant already was answer over him at C.R. Anthony administration store, Penns afterwards avant-garde to ambassador of Bible Book Abundance here.

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Retired McMurry assistant Morris Baker was that university’s aboriginal Atramentous undergraduate to booty a diploma.

The charge to appearance the attempt but also update the architecture with success belief never has been added important. 

A contempo discussion about the aboriginal Blacks on local TV brought alternating three names — Robert English, Jerry Abor and Joe Washington.

Who was the first? Likely English, who was on air in the mid-1970s, but no one knows for sure.

English still avalanche in the “firsts” category, co-founding the city’s Atramentous Chamber of Commerce in 1975. He afterwards ran abominably for Abilene Burghal Lath and the accompaniment Abode of Representatives.

That asset of history, if solved, could be presented at the museum.

When he gives tours, Penns said the acknowledgment by at atomic one being is, “”I never knew that.”

“Whether they’re adolescent or old or Atramentous or white or Hispanic … ‘I never knew that,'” he said, smiling. 

“This history exists.”

Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News. If you acknowledge locally apprenticed news, you can abutment bounded journalists with a agenda cable to ReporterNews.com. 

This commodity originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: History is in the House: Penns leads accomplishment to present, bottle Abilene’s Atramentous history

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