Other Voices

Reby Cary gave voice, aid, inspiration to students of color

Reby Cary in 2014
Reby Cary in 2014 Star-Telegram

In the spring of 1970, Chicano students at the University of Texas at Arlington decided to form the Association of Mexican American Students.

We felt compelled to assert our cultural voices and support one another in our efforts to score good grades and graduate. Arlington, Texas, at that time was 96 percent white, 0.6 percent African American and 2.7 percent Latino, according to the U.S. Census.

UTA was overwhelmingly white and culturally white supremacist. Surrounded by the Rebel theme, the Confederate flag, horse-mounted Johnny Reb mascot screaming a battle cry at football games, student center rooms named after Confederate generals and battles, “slave auctions,” students decked in Confederate uniforms, upholstered furniture with depictions of slaves working fields, and predominantly white faculty, some African American and Chicano students felt they had stepped into a time warp circa “Gone With the Wind” Dixie.

At the time, only two university campuses in the country had the rebel theme: the University of Mississippi and UTA.

Then-Mayor Tom Vandergriff, who called the UTA football games, would summon the police as African American and white students scuffled. In the fall of 1969, a fist fight erupted between African American and white students as whites attempted to unfurl the Confederate flag at a pep rally in front of the student center.

Speaking on a microphone, Reby Cary attempted to dissuade the white students from displaying the flag by appealing to their intelligence.

Chicano students approached Cary, then UTA assistant history professor and associate dean of student affairs, to sponsor the fledgling student organization. Impressed with his confident, bold stance in promoting African American students and studies, his articulate assertion that minority students were as intelligent as white students, his advocacy that minority students graduate to improve their community, AMAS leaders sought his strong voice.

Without hesitation, he accepted and spoke to the administration to formalize our existence.

He advised us to focus on studies, to support one another, to respect our heritage, to think smart, to work hard. Cary realized that, like African American students, Chicano students needed academic minority role models, encouragement to stay the course, and an advocate for their education.

He understood the American minority students’ struggles to wade through a white-dominant cultural setting that promoted historical white supremacy regardless the toxic impact.

UTA today is a predominately minority-student-serving school. The Dixie days are truly gone with the wind.

It took women and men like Cary, outnumbered but not outwitted, to push a higher-learning institution to raise its sights from a slavery past to a freedom future. In 1971, the UT System Board of Regents disallowed the Confederate flag and Rebel theme partly through Cary’s dissident efforts.

Reby Cary passed away Friday, Dec. 7, but he’s not gone with the wind. His spirit lives in minority students scrambling to earn good grades, in activists challenging repressive policies, and in all who believe the American Dream is a right, not a privilege.

Gracias, Reby Cary, for leading us to higher ground and caring for African American and Chicano students. We are legion.

Viva Reby Cary!

Richard J. Gonzales is a local author of two books, Raza Rising, Chicanos in North Texas and Deer Dancer.