Lost in the Cause

In the early 1960s, Eldrewey Stearns was a powerful force for integration in a segregated society. Then he forgot his way, and history forgot him. Until, that is, he met writer Thomas R. Cole.

At Michigan State, Stearns says, he became a young Republican, and he still recalls meeting Richard Nixon at a whistle stop in the late 1950s and having the then vice president shake his hand. Nixon spoke at his graduation ceremony too, says Stearns, urging him and his classmates to go home and do great things. It was as though Nixon, through the handshake and the speech, had conferred a personal mission of leadership on Stearns.

"I voted once in my lifetime," he says, "and it was for Richard Nixon. That was because I knew him and I didn't know Kennedy. But when Kennedy died, I cried a full five days."

Now, like more than a few Americans, Stearns has become something of a xenophobe. The race problem, he says, has become mired in black versus white, when blacks and whites should be united against Asian and Arab immigrants. In the '70s, Stearns says, he tried to organize boycotts of immigrant merchants, but his personal problems got in the way.

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But that's not what Eldrewey Stearns is likely to be remembered for. Instead, it will now be that part of his life memorialized in Cole's book. No Color Is My Kind is due in stores in mid-June, when a wave of publicity for Juneteenth will wash over Texas. Stearns has made his contribution, and so has Cole, in depicting Eldrewey Stearns as neither hero nor pariah, but a complex, effective, bewildering, fascinating man who changed Houston forever.

At the Spanish Village, Stearns looked over at his white collaborator. "He thinks he made me famous," Stearns said, pointing to Cole. "But I made him famous."

"Maybe you'll write a book about me, Eldrewey," Cole bantered back, "and I'll give you as much shit as you've given me the last 12 years."

After talking almost constantly for an hour and half, Stearns seemed to sink in his chair. He had barely touched the bowl of menudo he had ordered in softly spoken Spanish.

"It's painful going through all this," he said. "I've been through the most amazing time, but that didn't give me any peace."

"You've earned your rest, Eldrewey," said Cole. "You have earned your rest."
"Thank you," said Stearns with a sigh, "for saying that.

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