EQUAL OPPORTUNITY HERO
T.J. Patterson’s Service to West Texas
On April 7, 1984, T. J. Patterson became the first African American elected to the Lubbock City Council, winning handily over his four opponents. It was a position he would go on to hold for more than twenty years, and his natural leadership would lead him to state and national recognition.
Patterson grew up during a time of American social unrest, protest, and upheaval, and he recounts memorable instances of segregation and integration in West Texas. As a two-year-old, he survived polio when African Americans were excluded from “whites only” hospitals. When he attempted to enroll at Texas Tech after graduating from all-black Bishop College, he was not allowed even to enter the administration building–the president would speak with him only outside, and then only to say Patterson could not be enrolled. Two years later, his aunt would become the first African American to attend Texas Tech.
Patterson spent his whole adult life as a grassroots activist, and as a city councilman he understood how important it was to work in solid partnership with representatives from the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods of the city. Over the years, Patterson took every opportunity to join African American and Hispanic forces, but with a few exceptions, the traditional geographic divide of the minority population limited his efforts–and yet Patterson never gave up. His brave public marches to homes of known drug dealers brought attention to their undesirable activities. Patterson also supported city investment in Lubbock history and culture, plus new development activity, from annexation to paved roads to water mains to fire stations. During his long career he truly was an equal-opportunity hero for all of Lubbock’s citizens.
“Sometimes he puts Lubbock and others ahead of himself,
in fact, most of the time.”
~ quote from Equal Opportunity Hero from T.J.’s good friend
and fellow newspaperman, Eddie Richardson
Equal Opportunity Hero is about T.J. Patterson, the first African American elected to the Lubbock City Council, but this story is actually about so much more. Patterson grew up in segregated Texas and experienced the turmoil and violence of desegregation. Patterson also survived childhood polio, Vietnam, and countless other battles throughout his life.
What it takes to make a city thrive and survive shines through in this story about a humble man who loves God, his family, and Lubbock. As Phil Price eloquently presents, individual stories in our history are not only about individuals. People like Patterson do not live in a vacuum, and Equal Opportunity Hero shows that it takes many people working together to make a city great, fair, inclusive, and a wonderful place to live. Phil Price expertly weaves these other people’s stories into the overall story about T.J. Patterson, building the picture of this notable man linked with so many other notable people.
For me, the best part of this story is Patterson’s personal life that includes his drive to make Lubbock a better and more equal place, the conviction of God’s will and mercy, the blessings of a loving family and true friendships, and the opportunity (and ability to seize that opportunity) to make a difference.
As an added bonus to Equal Opportunity Hero, here is a recent article in a Hidden History Special from EverythingLubbock.com (with the title indicating that not many people know about this family, but they should):
T.J. Patterson and Shelia Patterson-Harris Hidden History
But wait! There’s more. This article includes a little video that will allow you to see and hear T.J. and feel the respect he has for Lubbock and the respect Lubbock has for both him and his daughter, Shelia. With Phil Price mentioning T.J.’s charismatic voice throughout Equal Opportunity Hero, I just had to hear it for myself.
While Equal Opportunity Hero sheds light on T.J. Patterson and all he has done for Lubbock, Texas, it also reminds us that there are many such hidden gems in this great state of Texas. So many people have made a difference, and I want to thank Phil Price personally for highlighting and celebrating the life and contributions of a truly remarkable man: Thomas James (T.J.) Patterson.
Phil Price has been friends with T. J. Patterson for more than twenty years. Now retired, Price was President and CEO of a marketing and design agency. Over the years he has served the Lubbock Independent School District, the Lubbock Better Business Bureau, the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, and other city agencies. He lives in Lubbock USA, with his wife, Victoria.
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