Fort Worth

A man of many firsts, Reby Cary prepares for his first roast on Saturday

Devoyd Jennings lives in constant amazement at the life of Reby Cary, a longtime historian, educator and civil rights leader in Tarrant County.

“A lot of us baby boomers look at him and just marvel,” Jennings said. “He presents quite a challenge to us, to be just as good as he was for as long as he was.”

Cary exemplifies how African-Americans in Fort Worth made advancements, said Jennings, a longtime friend and president of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce.

Cary, 93, will honored at a roast Saturday for his long list of accomplishments. The event is sponsored by the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society.

Cary credits God for any blessings that have come his way during his nearly centurylong walk, which took him through I.M. Terrell High School, Prairie View A&M University, the U.S. Coast Guard for five campaigns during World War II, a professorship at the University of Texas at Arlington and multiple battles against discriminatory practices here in America.

He was also the first African-American elected to the Fort Worth school board in 1974 and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1979.

He said much of the credit for his success should go to his mother, who kept him — forced him — to stay on the straight and narrow path.

“My mother, she was so tough on me, she told me how to get my hair cut,” Cary said. “When my friends were out playing marbles, my mother would say, ‘Get back in the house and study.’ If she saw me with my head outside of a book, my behind would soon be on fire. It never changed.”

Cary grew up during the Depression and said he made money mowing yards for 10 cents.

“All those hard times and stuff, I never missed a meal,” Cary said.

Jennings said Cary’s life can be seen in some of the lyrics to the song God Bless The Child.

Mama may have, Papa may have

But God bless the child that’s got his own, that’s got his own.

Fighting racism

Cary said he has not finished his battles against discrimination, which have been a part of his family’s legacy.

Cary said his father, Smith Cary, established Rising Star Baptist Church in an old gambling shack at Irma and New Orleans streets in Fort Worth. Cary grew up in the church, listening to sermons and services that started in the morning and lasted well into the afternoon.

“Whiskey bottles had to be removed so that the word of God could find nurture,” Smith Cary said in a Star-Telegram interview before his death in 1969.

In 1949, the city purchased the church to build Interstate 35W and link North Texas to Oklahoma. Under Smith Cary’s direction, the church moved to the Morningside area at Evans and Morphy streets, which did not set well with some residents in the area.

It was a white area then.

Smith Cary encouraged church members to boycott a grocery store whose owner worked to keep African-Americans out of the area. The church received bomb threats.

But tensions subsided. Later, whites began to move away from the Morningside neighborhoods as blacks moved in.

The experience would serve as a template for Cary’s crusade against racism.

Cary, author of 18 books, said he almost always starts off his manuscripts talking about millionaire African-American banker Bill “Gooseneck” McDonald, a former Republican Party chairman and national delegate.

“McDonald told blacks that if they wanted their own businesses they should start setting them up,” Cary said. “If you want your own newspaper, you set it up. Don’t go around with your hat in your hand asking, ‘What are you going to give us?’ I tell blacks all the time to start your own businesses. You don’t have to worry about any discrimination then.”

Cary lived his advice.

Taking on UTA

He said a speech landed him at job at UTA, which led to him igniting a crusade against racism and the man who had been his boss for all of two weeks.

Cary was working at Tarrant County College in 1969 — making about $8,000 annually — when he made a speech at UTA.

Cary said his speech was about black Arlington residents who were forced to live in segregated housing in that city. The speech included a dig at African-American UTA students with sub-par GPAs, who marched to protest UTA’s then-Confederate symbolism instead of studying to raise their grade averages.

A few days later, Cary said

he got a call asking him to consider an assistant history professorship along with a position as the dean of student affairs at UTA. Two weeks after accepting those positions, which paid $15,000 annually, he called his employer and told him to get rid of all the Confederate flags — UTA’s mascot was Johnny Reb — on the campus.

While he was at it, Cary said he told his boss that needed to eliminate all the other symbols of the Confederacy on campus.

Another job allowed Cary to make the demands.

“In the evening I was selling real estate and I made more money selling real estate than I did teaching,” Cary said.

Cary’s effort was joined by others and in the early 1970s UTA changed the name of its mascot to Mavericks and removed the symbols of the Confederacy from the campus.

‘I give God the credit’

In 1942, when Cary got the paperwork about to draft him into the U.S. Army, he said he ran to join the U.S. Coast Guard.

He had heard stories from Mississippi and Alabama about discrimination in the Army ranks. The Coast Guard was accepting African-Americans as apprentice seaman, not cooks and cleaners, Cary said.

Cary said he was in the first group of 13 Coast Guard trainees from Tarrant County. While he initially believed that he would stay stateside, Cary learned that during wartime the Coast Guard becomes part of the Navy.

The men who fought from the USS Cambria, to which Cary was assigned, saw extensive combat in the Pacific theater during World War II.

“I was the first black radioman on that ship,” Cary said. “I found out the captain was from Mississippi and thought to myself, ‘Oh Lord.’ But they were good to me. Every day, I ate what the admiral ate.”

The sailors had daily prayer meetings that were sparsely attended, Cary said. But as time passed, the meetings filled. By the time they left Okinawa, the meetings were standing room only, Cary said.

“I give God the credit for bringing me back,” Cary said. “All my accomplishments were not because of Reby Cary. It was what God allowed me to do.”

This story includes information from the Star-Telegram archives