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Helen Wagner: Oral history interview




Video 1/7 | Link to the Playlist  [ http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL881CAB1E00690971 ]


Recorded on 09/18/2009, interview conducted by Dr. James Conrad. Full video interview 1.03 hour. Video production made by CLiC (Converging Literacies Center), a part of Texas A&M University-Commerce. 



Oral History Interview: Helen Wagner


Converging Literacies Center (CLiC)


Cooper, Texas, careers in 1940s, domestic worker, north Cooper, Red Loaf house, Black neighborhood, bicycle, Saturday night entertaining, Booker T. Washington School, Black history, young labor in crop picking, school year, sport, social activity, shopping center, movie theater, café, Sunday school, church, Civil Rights Movement, college life, Midwestern State University, Texas Southern University        


Helen Wagner was born in Cooper, Texas in 1938 to parents who worked as seasonal and domestic workers. Her father worked in the oil mill and barbered in the off-season.  Her mother worked as a domestic maid. She lived on the north side of Cooper that was called the Red Loaf houses because they were painted red. The African Americans lived behind the white neighborhood which was located in front of the main street of the town. Most parents bought bicycles for their kids on credit which was paid off after picking cotton. Booker T. Washington School ran from 1st to 10th grades. After that, students had to go to Gibbon High School in Paris 22 miles away. The school allowed students to go with their families to pick crops a few weeks into the first semester of classes, but they had to catch up the lessons themselves. The school year was from September-May, but she usually started school in October because of her seasonal job. Books used in the school were handed down from others and Black history was also taught. Girls played basketball and softball, while boys played football.

The Cooper downtown square was the center of commerce and social life. People entertained themselves by going to the movie theater which was opened different hours for blacks than white audiences. Black audiences were admitted at 10:00 pm. on Fridays and 3:00 pm. on Sundays; the remaining days opened for whites.  People usually went to the cafés before going to the movie. Attending church was her main activity every Sunday and throughout the year. Different churches set up conventions and vocational bible study programs interchangeably.  Black and White Baptist churches invited each other for musical performances. The Civil Rights Movement began in the 1940s-1950s when politicians granted Blacks the right to vote in 1956.

She left Cooper for Wichita Falls after graduating high school in 1956 with her parents who worked for the airbase. They supported her educational opportunities by her father working a second job to earn money for her tuition. She attended Midwestern State University and transferred to Texas Southern University in Houston but didn’t finish her degree. She worked for the army base in Denver where she settled and raised a family for 30 years while her parents retired in Wichita Falls and moved back to Cooper


Creator Affiliation

Texas A&M University-Commerce


CLiC, Gee Library




Video, 1.02 hr.






Creative Commons License- Attribution (see http://creativecommons.org/)




For more information 

Digital Collections, James G. Gee Library.


CLiC (Converging Literacies Center) 

National Conversation on Writing 





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