Lifelong El Pasoan Karen Cooper Linen calls the little rock house at 3231 Wyoming “a hidden treasure.”
The house on a quiet street corner in El Paso’s East Five Points neighborhood connects to a larger building to make up the McCall Neighborhood Center. Inside is a vibrant community gathering space and repository of El Paso’s Black history and achievement.
“A lot of people that grew up here don’t know that it’s here,” said Cooper Linen, who serves on the center’s board.
The McCall Center was established in 1983 by Leona Ford Washington, a teacher and community activist. It serves to preserve and showcase the history and accomplishments of Black El Pasoans as well as the contributions of African Americans in our country’s history. The site has grown into a space for the community to come together for civic meetings and fellowship. Historically Black fraternities and sororities use the center as a meeting place. The center supports events for Juneteenth and Kwanzaa, and is available for rentals.
Cooper Linen remembers her sorority meetings at the center dating back to the early 1990s, meeting new people and learning the untold histories of El Paso. She wishes more people would get to know the McCall Neighborhood Center the way her family has.
“My daughters grew up in those mentoring groups that we had. Now, my granddaughters are coming to different events and they’re learning,” she said. “It’s not so much educating the Black people but it’s educating everybody on how to treat each other.”
In early October, the center hosted a one-week journalism camp where local high school students were able to recreate a special edition of The Good Neighbor Interpreter, a regional newspaper that Ford Washington published with news about the Black community. The El Paso History museum sponsored the camp as part of the city’s 150th anniversary this year.
“We had this really great opportunity to have a special edition of this historically Black newspaper and have it be student led,” said Camp Director June Straight, who is also a yearbook teacher at Parkland High School.
The students took pictures, conducted the interviews with notable El Pasoans, wrote the stories and designed the newspaper.
“We’re here to guide them,” Straight said. “We’re here to give them the history, to point them in the right direction of where to look and why that is important to our history.”
Stories in the edition include a profile of Barbara Byrd, McCall Center’s manager, who attended the Douglass school for Black children before El Paso desegregated schools in 1955 and she went to Jefferson High School. Another is a profile of Gen. Edward Greer, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He grew up in West Virginia and settled in El Paso after attending school at Fort Bliss. The edition also looks at El Paso’s historic Black churches, the local NAACP chapter and lists a number of notable Black El Pasoans.
While the building for the center was expanded, the original rock house was built by Marshall and Olalee McCall. Marshall McCall was the first Black mail carrier in El Paso, and his wife Olalee was the first female high-school principal in the El Paso Independent School District. Ford Washington was instrumental in having the city purchase the property in 1983 for the center.
Marcus McCoy, the center’s director of public relations, says the site serves an important role in spreading the word on Black history in the Borderland.
“So the McCall Center just having all this untapped African American history, it’s just a beacon of light in the community. It’s a place to come to fellowship and you just get to see all the wonderful things that African Americans have done in this great city known as El Paso, Texas.”
One participant in the journalism camp, Frances Gunn of El Paso High School, said she was familiar with Leona Ford Washington and the McCalls, but working on the Good Neighbor Interpreter gave her a deeper look at some of our city’s little known history.
“I really got to explore the center more and review their materials more in a more comprehensive way. I learned about our own Black Wall Street and then I learned a lot about the historically Black churches,” Gunn said.
The idea for the newspaper camp came from Nora Rose, community engagement coordinator of the El Paso History Museum. After seeing issues of The Good Neighbor Interpreter, Rose was sad to see how an important historic paper was discontinued. That is when she decided to contact the McCall Center.
“So we reached out to them and asked if they would be willing to host this and work with us,” Rose said. “They have so many reproductions of The Good Neighbor Interpreter on the walls. So, this seemed like a match made.”
The Good Neighbor Interpreter was unveiled at a reception on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at the McCall Center. Copies of the newspaper will be available at the History Museum and at the McCall Center.