Austin, Jim and Gloria
Jim and Gloria Austin
Co-founders of the National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame
When Jim Austin and Gloria Reed met in Fort Worth, Texas, during the early 1990s, they discovered that they had a lot in common. Not only were they both interested in assisting the development of their city by working in the real estate business, but they were also deeply committed to promoting a strong, diverse, and compassionate community. Together, they participated in the formation of the Renaissance Cultural Center, which offered educational and cultural programs, scholarships, and other services to support the young, the old, and the poor within Fort Worth's inner city.
The Austins continued to work together on community projects after their marriage in 1997, and in 2001 they founded the National Cowboys of Color Museum in Fort Worth. As African Americans, they had a special interest in preserving and publicizing the largely unrecognized role that people of color played in the settlement and development of the Old West. In an October 2003 edition of Realtor Magazine, Jim Austin explained the importance of preserving such hidden history, "At least a third of all working cowboys were African American, Hispanic, or Native American. Minority cowboys weren't shown in movies or on TV. Youngsters need to know about them and what they did in order to fully appreciate their own history and know how much they have to be proud of."
Jim Grew Up Back East
Austin himself grew up over a thousand miles from the western frontiers that gave birth to the famous historic image of the cowboy. The son of James Nelson Austin, a brick mason, and Beatrice Austin, a social worker, James Nelson Austin, Jr. was born on May 16, 1951, in the city of Wilmington, near the Atlantic coast of North Carolina. When he was twelve years old his family moved to New Jersey, where his mother took a job with the New York City Department of Welfare and his father worked on the grounds crew at William Paterson University. Jim Junior returned to North Carolina each summer to visit his mother's brother, John Bernard Carter. His uncle Bernard was a farmer, storekeeper, and bail bondsman who was well known in Wilmington for his service to the African-American community. He became one of Jim Austin's childhood heroes, and his uncle's sense of civic duty would inspire Austin to make community service part of his own career.
Austin graduated from Bloomfield High School in New Jersey, then entered Howard University, the distinguished historically black Washington D.C. college. During his high school years he had worked part time in a neighborhood pharmacy, and he planned to study to become a pharmacist. Once at Howard, however, he realized that a career in business interested him more than pharmacy, and he changed his major. Austin had a distinguished academic career, proving his leadership skills by serving as president of the student body, and when he graduated in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in business, he was recruited by a number of corporations. He accepted a job with the financial corporation American Express, commuting to New York City for the company's nine-month training program.
After completing the training program, Austin went to work in American Express's travel division, becoming assistant manager in the company's New Orleans office. He performed so well there that he was soon made manager of his own office in Fort Worth, Texas. Austin was an able manager and enjoyed working in the travel business. Before long, he was promoted to district manager and, under his management, business in the Fort Worth office increased from $700,000 per year to $1.7 million.
Made Fort Worth His Home
Fort Worth is a dynamic city in north central Texas with a colorful past and a lively mix of modern cultures. Austin loved living in Fort Worth and felt that he had found his permanent home. Unfortunately, to remain in the American Express corporation, he would have had to move every few years as the company transferred him to different branches. He felt that he would rather devote himself to his community than to a corporation, so in 1981 he left American Express and opened his own company, Austin Company Commercial Real Estate.
While achieving success in business, Austin did not forget his uncle's example of service to the community. In 1991, he and another Fort Worth businessman named Timothy Grace converted a former grocery store into an organization to help those members of society who had few resources. The Renaissance Cultural Center they created offered services for youth, elders, and the poor, as well as educational scholarships and cultural events.
While working to launch the Renaissance Cultural Center, Austin met another community-minded realtor named Gloria Reed. Unlike Austin, Reed was a Texan by birth, born on January 7, 1956, in Brownwood, in the west central part of the state. Her mother, ParaLee Washington Reed, was a domestic worker, and her father, Kelly Miller Reed, Sr. worked as a porter on the Santa Fe Railroad for many years before becoming maitre d'hotel at a Houston restaurant. The Reeds had five children, although two died in childhood.
At a Glance …
Jim Austin: Born James Nelson Austin, Jr. on May 16, 1951 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Gloria Austin: Born Gloria N. Reed on January 7, 1956 in Brownwood, Texas. Married August 19, 1997; children: Tara Reed, Tanya-K Hailey, Ayesha Austin, Christopher Austin, James Austin III, Ashanti Austin (deceased). Education: Jim Austin: Howard University, BA, business, 1976. Gloria Austin: Attended Howard Payne College, Brownwood, TX, and El Centro College, Dallas, TX.
Career: Jim Austin: American Express Travel Services, assistant manager, manager, and district manager, 1977-1981; Austin Company Commercial Real Estate, owner, 1981-; Renaissance Cultural Center, cofounder and president of board of directors, 1991-; National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame, co-founder and member of board of directors, 2001-. Gloria Austin: Licensed real estate agent, 1980-; Renaissance Cultural Center, executive director, 1991-; National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame, co-founder and executive director, 2001-.
Memberships: James Austin: Kappa Alpha Psi; Sigma Pi Phi; Tarrant County 911, chair of board of directors; Harris Methodist Hospital, board of directors. Gloria Austin: Campfire Girls; Boy Scouts of America; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Awards: James Austin: National Association of Realtors, Good Neighbor Award, 2003; Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, Gooseneck McDonald Award, 2007.
Address: Office—Renaissance Cultural Center Business Office, 2401 Scott Avenue, FortWorth, TX 76103; National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame, 3400 Mount Vernon Avenue, Fort Worth, TX 76103.
Gloria Did Volunteer Community Work
Gloria Reed grew up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Brownwood. Her family placed great importance on education, and she loved school, becoming an avid reader as well as joining the band, the drill team, and the civic club. During the summers she took part in the local library's summer reading club and attended vacation Bible school at every local church. As she grew older, she held several part time jobs, including secretarial and clerical work in the community center and the courthouse.
After graduating from Brownwood High School, Gloria Reed attended classes at both Howard Payne College in Brownwood and El Centro College in Dallas before earning her real estate license at the George Leonard Real Estate Institute. ParaLee Reed had taught her children the importance of community service, and, as Reed began building her real estate career, she began to look for ways to share her success. One of the programs she worked with during the early 1990s was the newly forming Renaissance Cultural Center. Reed used her business skills to do the complex paperwork that enabled the organization to gain tax-free status as a non-profit corporation.
Austin and Reed enjoyed working together, fell in love, and married on August 19, 1997. They continued to take leadership roles in the Renaissance Cultural Center, which was quickly growing and becoming an important community resource. Impressed with the center's work, Cleo Hearns, organizer of black rodeos since the 1970s, suggested a Cowboys of Color Rodeo as a fundraising event for the Renaissance Cultural Center.
Together the Austins Founded a Museum
Hearns had begun organizing the Cowboys of Color Rodeo in 1996 to honor the often-invisible black, Latino, Native American, and Asian people who had helped to settle the old West. The rodeo featured traditional competitions in calf roping, and steer and bronco riding, and also showcased cultural contests such as Native dancing and Spanish-style sidesaddle riding for women. The rodeo and the Renaissance Cultural Center shared many of the same goals of education and cultural pride, and soon the rodeo became one of the center's regular events.
Working with the rodeo, Jim and Gloria Austin became very interested in the forgotten history of people of color in the west. The history of the American West, of which Texas was a major part, has fascinated readers and moviegoers all over the world, and the image of the cowboy riding the range on his horse, is a major part of that image. The romantic fictional image of the cowboy is rugged, independent, plainspoken…and white. In reality, men and women of all races lived and worked throughout the western states. Native Americans and Latinos had long lived in those areas when white and black settlers, black slaves, and Asian workers arrived during the second half of the nineteenth century. People of all races worked at a wide variety of jobs, including tending the huge herds of cattle that formed a large part of the Western economy. The roping and riding skills that helped those workers do their job became the basis for the rodeo.
The Austins grew to believe that it was important that youth of color learn that the history of the West included people who looked like them. In 2001 they opened the National Cowboys of Color Museum to showcase the true history of the diverse American West. The museum houses art, historical records, and artifacts such as tools, musical instruments, and furniture. In 2002 the Austins added a Hall of Fame to salute individuals such as "Stagecoach Mary" Fields, an African-American woman who ran a laundry and a café and delivered mail in nineteenth-century Montana, and could hitch up a team of six horses faster than anyone else in her community.
For both Jim and Gloria Austin, reclaiming the history of people of color in the West was closely tied to the work they had always done to support and mentor young people. They felt it was important that youth of color realize that they were part of the legendary Old West. The Austins were especially concerned about African-American youth, whose history too often skipped straight from slavery to the civil rights movement, with little mention of the powerful stories of the men and women who lived between those times. As Gloria Austin explained, "It is important to dig into history to find the people of color who forged their way West and made a big impact on the growth of this country…. They faced adversity and overcame it, and that's a good lesson for kids today. Learning about that pioneer spirit can encourage young people to take their own challenges and see their own resources."
Still headed by the Austins, the Renaissance Cultural Center and the National Cowboys of Color Museum have continued to grow and contribute to the community. By the early 2000s, the Renaissance Cultural Center had awarded more than $200,000 in educational scholarships and offered full yearly schedules of artistic events, poetry readings, and film festivals. The National Cowboys of Color Museum welcomes thousands of visitors a year and plans to move to a larger and more accessible location in Fort Worth. The museum still sponsors the Cowboys of Color Rodeo, which has expanded from a yearly event to a six-city touring fundraiser. By 2007 the rodeo featured over three hundred professional cowboys and cowgirls of color competing for $25,000 in prizes. Each year, the museum's Hall of Fame inducts new members, making sure that Western heroes of color from both the past and the present are not forgotten.
Porter, Kenneth Wiggins, The Negro on the American Frontier, Arno Press, 1971.
Business Wire, September 10, 2004, p. 32-3.
Dallas Business Journal, January 21, 2000, p. 13.
Realtor Magazine, November 2003, p. 50-2.
"African-Americans and the Old West," Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus,www.liu.edu/cwis/CWP/library/african/west/west.htm (July 6, 2007).
Frazier, Matt, "Renaissance Cultural Center to Honor 5," Star Telegram.com www.realcities.com/mld/dfw/news/local/17404288.htm?source=rss&channel=dfw_local (July 6, 2007).
National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame,www.cowboysofcolor.org (August 12, 2007).
"Realtor Magazine Announces Winners of Fourth Annual Good Neighbor Awards," RISMedia, www.rismedia.com/wp/2003-10-24/realtor-magazine-announces-winners-of-fourth-annual-good-neighbor-awards (July 6, 2007).
Renaissance Cultural Center,www.renaissanceculturalcenter.org (July 6, 2007).
Rockwell, Lilly, "Cowboys of All Colors Rodeo through Town," The Daily Texan,http://media.www.dailytexanonline.com/media/storage/paper410/news/2003/07/14/StateLocal/Cowboys.Of.All.Colors.Rodeo.Through.Town-493301.shtml (July 6, 2007).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through interviews with Jim Austin on June 19, 2007, and Gloria Austin on June 25, 2007.
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