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Payne / Background Information

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Interviewer: Thank you for meeting with us today. Payne: No problem. Interviewer: I’d like to start off with some background information about you. Can you tell me when and where you were born? Make sure you give me your birthdate and some background information about your parents as well. Payne: I was born in Port Arthur, Texas. Born March 3, 1968. I attended school in Port Arthur, Port Arthur Independent School District. Went to elementary, junior high, and high school there. Graduate of 1986 from Abraham Lincoln High School. It’s no longer in existence right now but it was a very popular school back then. I left University of Houston after graduating with honors, went to—after graduating from Lincoln High School, I went to the University of Houston and that’s where I attended in 1986 through 1989. I finished with a political science degree with honors. Left University of Houston in 1989. Started University of Houston Law Center in 1990 and graduated with honors in 1993. After University of Houston Law Center, I started work at Vincent and Elkins Law Firm which is in Houston, Texas where I primarily practiced on personal injury and products liability on the defense side. Then, in 1995, I switched over, moved back home to Beaumont, Texas, and I’ve been there with Provost Umphrey since then. Interviewer: Okau. Payne: Oh, parents. My mother—my father is no long alive. His name was James Caleb Payne. He was originally from Sims Port, Louisiana. My mother, long time worker at JC Penney’s in Port Arthur, Texas. Jefferson City is where it started, and she stayed there some thirty years and now retired. She now lives in Beaumont, TX as well. Interviewer: So, can you tell me about your experience in school? So, K-12 education and at the time that you started Lincoln, it was still segregated. Is that correct? Payne: I tell people when I get a chance to speak that I was probably one of the few or we were one of the few schools that still had predominantly black students. I say predominantly because of the Vietnamese community had come in and we had several Vietnamese at our school. It was still predominantly black. Me personally, I didn’t have a white student in my class until I went to the University of Houston. You say predominantly black except for my seventh and eight grade year we had Nancy Nguyen, who was a Vietnamese student. She was in our class seventh and eighth grade and then she left, but from K-12 it was pretty much all black until I got to the University of Houston. Interviewer: What side of Port Arthur did you—or what part of town did you grow up in? Payne: I lived kind of in the middle. Port Arthur is very much so known as the east side and the west side. West side is predominantly or exclusively black and the east side was kind of a mixture. We generally will focus on it being the west side and the east side because the west was where you really crossed the tracks and started where predominantly blacks where. That’s where I want to school. I lived kind of in the middle. I say in the middle because you wouldn’t really call where I lived which was on Stillwell the east side. The east side is when you really cross Twin City Highway. You really make that distinction based on where the Pizza Hut people would deliver. Pizza Hut would never cross Twin City Highway. If you wanted Pizza, you had to live on the East side if you want it delivered. If you lived on the right had side or the western side of Twin City Highway, that’s where the pizza stopped. So, generally people refer to east side and west side as where the pizza delivered and where the fast food restaurants were, and I was kind of in the middle. All of my schooling was done on the west side.

Interview Interview with James Payne
Subjects Work
Housing › Neighborhoods
Housing › Neighborhoods › Residential Segregation
Geography › Geographical Descriptions
Geography › Places (Cities, Towns, Neighborhoods, and Intersections)
Geography › Spatial and Residential Segregation
Education › All-Black Education
Education › Higher Education
Family › Parents
Tags University of Houston Law School
Lincoln High School, Port Arthur, TX
Port Arthur Independent School District, Port Arthur, TX
J.C. Penney
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Interview date 2016-06-16
Interview source CRBB Summer 2016
Interviewees Payne, James
Interviewers Grevious, Danielle
Locations Houston, TX
Port Arthur, Tx
Beaumont, Tx
Sims Port, LA
Duration 00:04:13
Citation "Background Information," from James Payne oral history interview with Danielle Grevious,  June 16, 2016, Beaumont, Civil Rights in Black and Brown Interview Database,, accessed May 09, 2021