By Lucia Haugh, El Paso High School —
She came to play cards, and over a decade later, Barbara Byrd is the first to tell you that the McCall center isn’t just fun and games.
Byrd, referred to lovingly as Ms. Byrd, is the McCall Center manager and has been for over 10 years. She has commissioned countless renovations to this center, “from the outside in”.
However, replacing windows and doors for the center is not why she became the manager. Ms. Byrd wanted to carry on the McCall center legacy. “There was a great need. I could see it. I wanted the McCall center to be a beacon on this corner as it was so many years ago”
She shared her story of how she became the beloved manager of the McCall center. “I was invited down to play cards. So that’s how I came to the McCall center and in the first place. I wasn’t intending on being the manager here for so long”.
Aside from her connection to the McCall center, Ms. Byrd also attended the Douglass school, which was the only school that black children could attend in pre-Civil Rights El Paso. The school went from first grade to twelfth grade. This makes her an informational resource on the marginalization and racism in El Paso’s history.
Ms. Byrd recalls being in the ninth grade during El Paso’s desegregation of schools “See, in 1955 we integrated, so then I went to Jefferson, and I graduated.”
Things have changed a lot for black people in El Paso since then, Ms. Byrd said.
“Things are of course better, but we still have a long way to go. You used to not see any African Americans downtown working, but there’s plenty of them now,” she said.
The McCall center works to improve conditions for African American people by bringing awareness to how far they have come. Ms. Byrd said, “McCall has always been about the preservation and advancement of African American history in El Paso”. Ms. Byrd is proud to be one of the faces of this center and hopes that the McCall legacy continues as our city grows and develops.
This story was produced as part of the 2023 High School Journalism Camp at the McCall Center. The center hosted a one-week journalism camp where El Paso high school students publlished a special edition of The Good Neighbor Interpreter, a regional newspaper that McCall Center founder Leona Ford Washington once 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.