CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Although his days as a high school athlete are well behind him, Pastor Claude Axel can still recall the times of racism and segregation when he would leave the Corpus Christi area.
Born in the small town of Taylor, just northeast of Austin; at the age of six, Axel moved to Corpus Christi.
He recalls having many black mentors in his early life, but doesn’t believe he had any black teachers once he made it to Miller High School.
“There were just black students,” Axel said. “But the teachers were very good. There were very respectful to all of us.”
The makeup of his classmates was diverse, and that was OK, Axel said.
“We had a phenomenal time,” he said. “There were three separate races. Hispanics, Anglos and Blacks. But we were like a family.”
As a track athlete, Axel said his coaches treated everyone equally. However, he does recall a time of inequality when the team would travel out-of-town.
“One of the events — and I never will forget, was whenever we would go out of town. To San Antonio, to the Valley, or Victoria — wherever we go, I remember — I didn’t understand what was going on at the time,” Axel said. “The coach would get off the bus whenever we [would] roll into a new town, and the couch would tell us, ‘Alright boys, you stay on the bus.’ So, we stayed on the bus and we’re just talking and having a lot of fun. Then he would come back and tell the bus driver, ‘Let’s go on, down the street.’”
Axel continued, saying his coach would repeat this about three or four times.
“Later on in life, I realized what the coach was doing — he was getting off the bus to go and see if the black athletes would be accepted at the restaurant or in the hotel/motel areas. And protecting us.”
The name of that coach was Fred Jonas, Axel said.
In Corpus Christi today, Axel said he is proud of his city. Although he is aware the black population is small and many younger blacks are drawn to larger cities like Houston and Dallas, he said he’s noticed that there are more blacks within City Hall, as well as within the city’s police and fire departments.
“I’ve seen so many new faces, so many new hirees from our new city manager,” he said. “And a lot of those faces are black faces. And I’ve been here for numerous years. I’ve never seen as many black persons working at City Hall as I do now, and I think a lot of that has to do with our city manager, Pete Zanoni. It makes a huge difference.”
From his relationship with former mayor Joe McComb to the newly-elected Paulette Guajardo, Axel said the city has always made themselves available to listen to black voices.
From a national standpoint, Axel said the Capitol riots in D.C. is one of the saddest things he’s witnessed other than 9/11. He believes the divide within the United States would also disappoint Martin Luther King Jr.
“I think Dr. King would encourage all of us as Americans ... as we are about to have the 46th president of the United States of America, I think he would urge all of us to be patient, to have trust,” he said. “And let’s give Joe Biden a chance to unite this country.”
Axel has been a pastor at Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church since 1991, and a pastor since 1978.
You can watch Pastor Claude Axel's full interview below.