Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
By its very mission, the Texas Informer is a celebration of black history every month.
Founded in 1995 as the Cherokee County Informer, Walter and Maxine Session were inspired by a black-owned bookstore in Dallas, which carried The Dallas Post Tribune and Minority Opportunity News, newspapers that covered the local black community.
“We decided then and there, that we needed a newspaper like those here in East Texas,” Maxine recalled. “By March of 1995 we had setup the Cherokee County Informer and printed the first issue in May of that year.”
Through the years, the monthly periodical has filled a particular niche by documenting local black history, or, “as the old generation use to say, 'straight from the horse's mouth,' through cover stories based on personal interviews. It offers a format for local black people to tell their side of the story and it brings positive news about local people that helps to build self-esteem and racial understanding,” Maxine said.
“The Informer is a celebration of black history every month because African Americans do have much to celebrate,” she added. “We can't keep newspapers in the racks because everybody reads it.”
Graduates of G.W. Bradford High School, Rusk's historic black high school, she and her husband recall growing up in a segregated society in the 1950s and 1960s.
“Growing up in a segregated society and facing raw racism even after serving my country in the Army has greatly inspired my beliefs,” Walter said. “I believe in racial equality: Equal pay for equal work; job promotion based on performance, not race; fair housing; equal treatment by banks and law enforcement.”
He cites Martin Luther King Jr. as his favorite black historical figure, adding that he draws inspiration from the famed civil rights leader.
“His leadership and what he was able to do in the civil rights movement inspired me to do some of the things I have done,” Walter said, adding “I try to be a role model for young people by working hard, being a family man, a Christian and a good husband and father.”
His wife also finds Dr. King an inspirational figure who made huge contributions to black history.
“I have lived in two worlds, the abusive segregated society of the fifties and sixties and the life changing years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so I have to say Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (made the greatest contribution),” Maxine said.
“Although our parents protected us to the best of their ability, nobody knows of the law-sanctioned mistreatment we lived through in that segregated society, except those committing the acts against us and God above,” she said.
In the 50 years since Dr. King first raised national awareness about civil rights and equality, strides have been made, though there is still room for improvement, the couple said.
“On a scale of one to 10, I would probably rate improvement a six based on economic statistics and what I observe just living life daily,” Walter said. “The very high level of unemployment and poverty in the African American race is an indicator, also. The black population is only about 13 percent of the US population with unemployment ranking as high as 35 percent for people of working age.
“We've come a long way, but The Civil Rights Act only ended the laws that allowed segregated schools, public facilities and the workplace. It didn't change the heart of unfair thinking people. Often, we are still judged on skin color in racial profiling by law enforcement, the justice system, on the job, loans for business, and building family homes,” he said.
“A clear example is after the settling of a long-standing law suit against the federal government, black farmers still report discrimination in the assistance and contracts that farmers of other races receive. Racism is still alive and well in this county and this country.”
In striving to make a difference in the world around her, Maxine said she draws on the example of her role models: The men and women she grew up with, who taught her to respond to others with kindness and respect.
“Through age 18, I lived in a segregated society; therefore, all of my role models were black. The men and women in my church, the teachers and coaches in my school and my family … my mother, aunts and my grandmother. The women were caring and nurturing,” she said.
“Like most of the girls from my era, I learned good morals from them, how to treat others as you want to be treated, the proper way for a real lady to dress, sit, walk, talk and act.”
Her maternal grandmother, Lue Ella Denman, especially stands out in Maxine's mind.
“She was a licensed mid-wife who delivered more than 500 babies, in and around Cherokee County,” she recalled. “And tramps – or hobos, as they were called back in the '60s – sometimes camped near the train tracks not far from the community and her house. Occasionally, they came looking for food and water, and my grandmother always shared whatever was available, from biscuits and syrup to beans and cornbread.”
It's those small lessons in caring for and respecting others that stand out all these years later for the Sessions, who are parents to three daughters and have eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
For those lessons are the bedrock of their personal response to keeping the dream of Martin Luther King alive so that others may share in it.
“It's very important to keep the dream alive and not let MLK and the many others who died in the wake of the civil rights movement, die in vain,” Walter said.
“The challenge we face is to be an example for young people to follow, and getting them to understand the importance of strong work ethics, the importance of getting a good education – be it technical school or college – and all of the other characteristics that go with that, like respect and compassion, and being able to get along with others regardless of their race, creed or color.”
Along with running their newspaper, the couple is actively involved at Mount Pleasant Christian Methodist Church.
A retired clients rights investigator at Rusk State Hospital, Walter owns and manages Fast Action Bail Bonds, while Maxine is a retired public school teacher and administrator.
He also has served as mayor pro tem for the city of Rusk.
Living in a small community like Rusk, Walter – who has served nearly three decades as a local city council member and is presently mayor pro tem – sees the particular challenges for blacks.
“In small towns, the percentage of African American business ownership is very low, in part due to lack of financial backing and experience in know how,” he said.
Which, in turn, “black children rarely have the opportunity to grow up and work for or run a family business which makes it even more important to get a good education,” he said.