Brilliant Light

Sometimes someone speaks to you from the past and it hurts. I thought I’d write a post about homecoming queens or something, and this photograph of a beautiful woman showed in the google image results, several hits in.

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Detached from context, it’s an image of someone I wanted to know. The openness of the gaze, the beautifully-articulated fingers on the railing, the dashing style of that wide belted band of leather (wider than the roll of the mock turtleneck). The clothing that speaks of preppy ease, given a bit of edge by the watchband and the carefully sculpted afro.

It turns out, this is a person we would all want to know, someone who forty years later a retired city councilman called “this brilliant light.” Lynn Eusan was a groundbreaking, liberatory agent on the conservative campus of University of Houston. UH, a former city college that entered the public university system in 1963, was when Lynn attended a moderately-sized, city-based university in Texas.

Lynn grew up in San Antonio and graduated from Wheatley High School in 1966 (Yes, the high school was named for Phyllis Wheatley. The High School was founded in the early 1930s as a segregated school in San Antonio.) and after high school graduation, Eusan went to UH for college. Her second year at the school she founded the first of three consecutive Black-student groups she created on campus. These were non-violent student activist groups intent on creating interracial coalitions of working-class and middle-class students.

In 1968 Lynn ran for Homecoming Queen — a symbolic effort at the white-dominated school where Greeks held social and cultural power. There was no way she’d win, but she’d make a good effort. Sponsored by the Afro-Americans for Black Liberation (AABL) student group (which she helped found, thank you very much!), she ran against a highly organized Greek system. The fraternities and sororities met before voting each year, to decide on one king and one queen, and then voted en masse. The year Eusan ran, fraternities held minstrel shows with overtly racist and cruel routines mocking her — and by default — all the black students’ — ambitions.

The student paper published an editorial urging students to move forward in life and society, and vote for her. And to everyone’s surprise, a broad coalition of progressive students, African American students, and crucially, international students, did just that, and they voted Ms. Eusan the first African American Homecoming Queen at any predominantly-white southern university.

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The following year she led a march to the President’s office with a list of demands for improvements to the University, including the founding of an Afro-American department. She and other members of AABL were largely successful, in that the President eventually met many of their demands. She graduated in 1970, a journalism and ed major, and was hired as a reporter for HOPE, a local community improvement organization.

She was murdered in September the following year, and the man charged with her murder acquitted — because of that acquittal, her case remains unsolved.

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Lynn Eusan’s life is remembered — there is a city park named after her in Houston, the University’s library has written online about her life and impact on the University, and the Texas Historical Society likewise has archived materials related to her.

It does not diminish her life to acknowledge that she lived with style. Lithe and athletic in build, photographs of her from public sources such as school newspapers and yearbooks show us — today in 2017 — a young woman whose promise was already being fulfilled. She’s confident, beautiful, elegant and strong. Each outfit is traditional with a twist that renders the ensemble into the realm of Style. That sleeveless shell blouse, the woolen mock turtleneck worn with that off-kilter wide buckled wristband, the striped crewneck sweater paired with large hoop earrings, and her hairstyle. The natural afro, so laden with cultural comment and liberation, crowns her self. She embodies the style of resistance in ways that resonate today. I admire what she accomplished, and mourn what we all lost as a nation when she was murdered.

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For further reading

http://blog.chron.com/40yearsafter/2008/12/queen-lynn-from-glory-to-tragedy/ by Rick Campbell is the Houston Chronicle’s recount of her life, with a focus on her unsolved murder.

https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/feu04, provided by the Texas State Historical Association, provides an excellent account of her life within the context of late-1960s Texas society.

http://thedailycougar.com/2013/10/17/uh-remembers-unsolved-murder-lynn-eusan/ is the University of Houston’s reflection on her role on campus and her many contributions to the university’s life.

http://weblogs.lib.uh.edu/speccol/2013/04/30/celebrating-lynn-eusan/ is the University of Houston’s Library System exhibit of her life.

http://www.mysanantonio.com/life/life_columnists/cary_clack/article/Unlikely-crusader-left-mark-1317343.php is a lovely and heartfelt narrative about her life from My San Antonio local city paper and includes memories from her Uncle. Eusan is buried in San Antonio.

 

 

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