Family Wisdom for Nicole Johnson, Last of the Statesman Presses, Meaning of the Austin Music Census and more

Nicole Johnson's family. She's at Prairie View A&M now.
Nicole Johnson’s family. She’s at Prairie View A&M now.

SCHOOL: Pearls of wisdom from Nicole Johnson’s family and friends. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “Cousin Sue Sion passes along the thought: “The human mind is like an umbrella — it functions best when open!” Great-aunt Allee James Mitchell is no less allegorical: “If you pour your purse into your head, no one can ever take it away from you.” Great-great-grandmother Carolyn Stevenson James, who earned her teacher’s certificate from what is now Prairie View A&M University in 1917, left behind this simple guide: “Love and respect people from all walks of life.”

MUSIC: Census sparks talks of strengthening Austin’s music industry. Taken from Marty Toohey story in the Statesman: “Austin has plenty of parking garages that stand empty in the evening. And it has plenty of music acts looking for a place to play. As she thought about the difficulties facing Austin’s music scene, Michele Haussmann wondered whether those garages could moonlight as venues. “Could it work? I don’t know,” said Haussmann, a development consultant whose clients include the music industry. “But it’s important that we come up with new ideas. If Apple comes here because Austin is cool, and then our music industry disappears, it will be more difficult to attract the next Apple.”

MEDIA: Ink in the blood: Statesman presses wind down. Writer Nancy Flores collaborated with our multi-media team to produce immersive reports and the following video about the phasing out of our presses. “For 144 years, printing operations have been at the heart of the Austin American-Statesman. The company recently outsourced the printing of the daily newspaper, ending the jobs of 103 employees and signaling the eventual stoppage of its presses.”

LCRA Graphic Artist Art Anderson, Crypto-Jews in Texas, How Pressley, Casar Pay for Election Challenge

Art Anderson's 1942 map of LCRA service area.
Art Anderson’s 1942 map of LCRA service area.

HISTORY + ARTS: Graphic artist Art Anderson helped shape the images of Central Texas. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “Art Anderson didn’t dream up office towers or lay out neighborhoods. He didn’t build highways or landscape greenbelts. He didn’t create defining landmarks, such as the Capitol or the University of Texas Tower. Yet subtly — and over the course of several decades — the Austin graphic artist shaped how Central Texans see their hills and lakes, highways and byways, small businesses and powerful agencies. An adventurous man who raced motorcycles, boxed in the Golden Gloves, and served as a Seabee during World War II, Anderson was a protegee of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who taught him civics at San Jacinto High School in Houston. Trained informally as a civil engineer by his father, Anderson worked for the Lower Colorado River Authority from 1939 to 1978. There, he served as design engineer, draftsman, mapmaker, artist, photographer, publications producer, surveyor and parks director.”

HISTORY + FAITH: Rabbis, academics say more Latinos are discovering their Crypto-Jewish roots. Taken from Samantha Bagden‘s story in the Statesman. “Fifteen years ago, John Garcia converted to Judaism. Or rather, returned. For 49 years, Garcia lived publicly as a Catholic, all the while knowing he had Jewish ancestry. His ancestors had settled down outside of Monterrey, Mexico, where they were forced to repress their religion and convert.  “It was a well-kept family secret that we had Jewish roots,” Garcia said. Even though his mother and sister were devout Catholics, Garcia’s father told him when he was a teenager that they were Sephardic Jews — Jews hailing from Spain. Garcia’s brother traced their family genealogy on their father’s side and confirmed that they descended from Jews belonging to a congregation that was dismantled around 1596.”

LAW + POLITICS: Reports show how Pressley, Casar are paying for election challenge. Taken from Lilly Rockwell‘s story in the Statesman: “Former City Council candidate Laura Pressley has amassed over $72,000 over the last six months — roughly double that of her opponent — to pay legal bills for a lawsuit she filed accusing the county’s elections supervisor of mishandling the election. Pressley is engaged in a legal battle to contest the results of the December runoff in North Austin’s District 4, which Council Member Greg Casar won by 1,291 votes. Under city code, she and Casar are allowed to continue fundraising, with no financial limits, to pay legal bills. Wednesday marked the first time Casar and Pressley have had to reveal, through campaign finance reports submitted to the city, who is helping them pay for their legal teams.”

Four stories: Murder, suicide and an Austin black juror, the case of the missing parrot, art film guru Michael Barker, and three radical Austin ministers

Virgil Oliver was the first African-American in the South to serve on a jury of a capital trial of a black man accused of killing a white one.
Virgil Oliver was the first African-American in the South to serve on a jury of a capital trial of a black man accused of killing a white one.

LAW 1: Image of pioneering juror leads to shocking stories about murder, suicide: Taken from my story in the Statesman: “The stiff 1953 image, taken in Austin, comes with a flabbergasting caption: “Virgil Oliver — first Negro in the South to serve on a jury.” Could that possibly be true? Did Austin play such a dramatic role in the struggle for civil rights? Well, yes and no. The backstory for this striking photograph, shot by Neal Douglass and housed at the Austin History Center, leads in completely unexpected directions. To find answers, we turned to ProQuest’s searchable database of Austin newspaper stories and display advertisements dating from the 1870s to the 1970s. Anyone with an Austin Public Library card ( can use this nimble online tool for free.”

LAW 2: Finding Oliver, Case of a missing parrot. Taken from Eric Dexheimer‘s story in the Statesman: “Joe Cotten knows his story’s details can be distracting. “I start to tell people that my parrot was stolen,” he said. “And they’re, like, ‘Wait, you have a parrot?’ “Besides, the questions tend to stray from the whole point: how a seemingly straight-forward case of bird abduction ended with the Tyler police charging Joe himself with two crimes; the dramatic three-day trial ending with a made-for-TV speech by the jury foreman; allegations of police misconduct; hints of a jury payoff; and, finally, a sweeping lawsuit against the City of Tyler.”

MOVIES: The guru of art films, Michael Barker, and his Texas ties. Taken from Charles Ealy‘s story in the Statesman: “It’s probably safe to say that most Austin moviegoers don’t know about Michael Barker. But nearly every top actor and director knows the University of Texas graduate — and the best want to work with him. Along with Tom Bernard, he’s co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, the distributor of some of the world’s most critically acclaimed movies, and he’s a regular on the festival circuit, looking for new acquisitions and making deals. His taste in movies has led to seven best-picture Oscar nominations, with such releases as “Whiplash,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Capote,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Howards End,” “Amour” and “An Education.””

FAITH: Lonely struggles of three radical Austin ministers. Taken from Eileen Flynn‘s story in the Statesman: “On the Sunday after the Supreme Court’s historic gay marriage decision, their churches exploded in rainbow motifs and declarations of love. There was no denying the joy felt by the Revs. Larry Bethune, Sid Hall and Jim Rigby, longtime champions of LGBT equality in Austin. Over the past three decades, the three pastors served as outspoken allies to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They were liberal even by Austin standards. They risked their careers by ordaining openly gay deacons and elders and conducting same-sex weddings. They broke the rules early and often.”

Stephen and Jill Wilkinson target Heritage district, Joe Gross rates summer flicks, Pam LeBlanc talks peaches and grapes, and seeing Art Anderson’s Texas

Stephen and Jill Wilkinson are trying to save the eclectic feel of the Heritage district.
Stephen and Jill Wilkinson are trying to save the eclectic feel of the Heritage district.

CITY + STYLE: Aldridge Place couple helps to save eclectic feel of Heritage district. Taken from my Statesman story: “The first house that the Wilkinsons saved sat across the street from their Aldridge Place home. “It was sort of unpleasant,” says Stephen Wilkinson, a retired lawyer and banker. “The house was about to turn into all bedrooms. They wanted to put as many people in it as possible. Experts looked and said: It’s a disaster. Historic people didn’t see it that way. We ended up buying and renovating it. It’s a nice house now.” ubsequently, more alert to preservation issues, he and his wife, artist Julia “Jill” Wilkinson, turned their attention to the neighborhood across Guadalupe Street from Aldridge Place. The Heritage district, which lies between West 29th and West 38th streets, with North Lamar Boulevard as its western boundary, is an extremely eclectic enclave. Unlike Aldridge Place, developed in the early 20th century, Heritage has grown piecemeal since the 1840s.”

Earns-Disney-Movies.JPEG-03MOVIES + BUSINESS: Looking at summer’s high grossing movies. Taken from a Statesman story by Joe Gross. “We are, as far as the summer movies go, about thalfway through the season. Some movies have triumphed (hello, “Jurassic World”); some have flopped (“Entourage,” we long to forget you). It’s too early to tell how a few movies are going to fare. For example, the well-reviewed “Magic Mike XXL,” which opened July 1, has grossed $26.6 million so far, not too shabby for a movie with a budget under $15 million. Interestingly, “Terminator Genysis,” which opened July 1 and received absolutely brutal reviews, has grossed $28.7 million, which is not exactly what Paramount was hoping for.”

SLT-peaches-and-wine-04FOOD + TRAVEL: Grapes and peaches thrive side-by-side in Hill Country. Taken from a Statesman story by Pam LeBlanc: “Drive out on U.S. 290 into the Hill Country and you might wonder if grapes are replacing peaches as the staple of Fredericksburg farmers. The short answer? No. Experts say both industries are thriving, even benefiting each other. But the long answer gets a little more complicated. In Austin, most people are familiar with Fredericksburg peaches. Nationally, though, Hill Country peaches are only a blip on the peach-growing radar. The top peach-producing regions are California, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Not so with wine. Within the past five years, the Hill Country wine scene, which includes 60 wineries — about 30 lie between Johnson City and Fredericksburg — has drawn attention on the national and even worldwide stages.”

Art Anderson's USA from November 1946 LCRA News.
Art Anderson’s USA from November 1946 LCRA News.

ARTS + CITY: Here’s an anecdote left out of my upcoming story about LCRA graphic artist Art Anderson. His nephew Ross Smith writes: “His dad was hired in 1918 for a year by the New Mexico highway department to oversee the section of Route 66 connecting Sante Fe and Albuquerque and the Indian pueblos inbetween.  They lived up on La Bajada Mountain.  His mother took him into Sante Fe once a month for shopping, and Art told me of riding his tricycle up and down the long boardwalk porch of the old Governor’s Mansion.  (Years later, in the early 1990’s, I got to talk with some of the very old Indian artisans working there – they still remembered Art, and said he was a holy terror, because his trike shook the porch so much they couldn’t get any work done.)”