Editor’s Note: The Caprock Chronicles are edited by Jack Becker a Librarian at Texas Tech University Libraries. He can be reached at email@example.com. Today’s column is by Joshua Salmans, who is an assistant librarian at TTU Libraries.
A lonely icon of Lubbock’s cultural heritage in Lubbock’s Eastside community, “The Flats” is the old Caviel Pharmacy. The pharmacy turned museum draws upon the community’s deep historical roots to cultivate an engaging and responsive space for the expression of Lubbock’s unique African American experience through the arts, music, and dance on display at the museum.
Located just down the street from its sponsoring organization the Lubbock Roots Historical Arts Council on Avenue A and 23rd Street, the pharmacy building is now Caviel’s Museum of African American History.
Today, a newcomer to Lubbock will not be able to experience this neighborhood, bounded by Avenue A to Avenue C and 16th to 19th Streets. The sounds and smells of various lively venues, such as Do Drop-In, Mickey Mouse, Aaron’s Tea Room, or Clara Shields Café and Hotel are all gone.
Roy Roberts and Katie Parks, who documented the social life of the Flats in Remember When? A History of African Americans in Lubbock, Texas, described this small patch of land. It had a lively musical and arts scene, which dated from the late 1920s and continued until the 1940s. The area featured annual events of blues music from artists such as BB King, T-bone Walker, Fats Domino, Louis Jordan, Joshua O’Neal, Little Easter Phillips, Bozo Bailey, and many others.
Style Shows, musicals, dancing, and Christmas parties, according to Roberts and Parks, evoked a festive spirit to the neighborhood. People of The Flats knew how to have a good time.
The area is nearly empty now with only towering granaries and half-submerged rail car tracks—vestiges of the agriculture industries that inherited the land. The Housing Act of 1949 established a program of urban renewal that in an attempt to gentrify The Flats effectively gutted it by 1970.
Later the community suffered further when a F5 tornado ripped through Lubbock’s Depot District and The Flats in 1970. The community was further isolated by the construction of Interstate 27 that now acts “as a wall” between it and the rest of Lubbock.
However, two African American pharmacists and their business have stood the test of time, survived the tornado, Urban Renewal, and other problematic events to serve the Eastside community for almost 50 years. Alfred and Billie Caviel opened their pharmacy in 1960 and gained the unique distinction of being the first African American couple to own and operate a pharmacy in the United States.
The two met at Texas Southern University’s School of Pharmacy and worked for Triple S pharmacies in Lubbock after Billie graduated in 1957. They lived off Alfred’s paycheck and used hers to save money to start their own pharmacy.
Their opportunity came when Triple S closed sometime between 1959 and 1960. A local doctor allowed them to use a patient waiting room as in-house pharmacy until they could find a building for their business. The building they purchased in 1960 is the current site of Caviel’s Museum of African American History.
It was rare in those times for women, especially African American women, to become a pharmacists. She recalls being one among the four or five women pharmacy students at the university during her studies.
That dire statistic did not stop her from perusing the profession she desired. Caviel spoke fondly of her male pharmacy colleagues in Lubbock and said they accepted her as a professional. What she describes as her fondest memories, however, is the relationships she had with her customers.
Caviel got to know them and the struggles that came with low-income and poverty. Knowing that some patients couldn’t afford their medicines much less afford another doctor’s visit to renew their refills, she worked with their doctors and give them medicine until they could afford another visit.
After they decided to close in 2009, a friend of hers suggested that they donate their building to the Lubbock Roots Historical Arts Council. She met with then Director, Eric Strong, and had only two stipulations: that the pharmacy building retain their name and that it be a museum.
Shirley Green, the current Director of Roots Historical Arts Council, emphasized the importance of Caviel’s Museum in keeping the memories of the trail blazing Caviel’s alive for all Lubbock’s residents to know and understand. Paramount to the museum’s mission is to keep Lubbock’s African American experience alive and highlight the businesses, art, and music that survived Urban Renewal.
Green exhorted current Lubbockites and transplants, “History is not always pretty, not always ugly, not always negative, not always positive. But if you know where you came from, you know who you are. Everyone wants to be proud of who they are and where they came from.”
Caviel’s Museum currently provides a space for Lubbock and Southwest artists, musicians, and performers to exhibit their work, which highlights the African American experience. Each month it hosts artists exhibits and performances during the First Friday Art Trial.
It also organizes the Caprock Jazz Festival that features prominent Jazz, R&B, and Blues artists. It is located at 1719 Avenue A and can be reached at (806) 535-2475 or on Facebook @cavielmuseumofafricanamericanhistory.
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