James W. Mills
Students watch as Professor James W. Mills (R) accepts the TOHA community award from Dr. Helmut Lanerbein (L), chair of the history department at University of Texas Brownsville--Texas Southmost College, for Mills's oral history study of Fort Brown and its surrounding community before, during, and after World War II.
Professor James W. Mills, of the History Department at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, received the 2012 Barnes Award for his project titled, "Memories of Fort Brown and Other Select Interviews: an Oral History Project." In this community-based work, Professor Mills captures the memories of individuals in the Brownsville, Texas, and surrounding areas in regards to operations at Fort Brown, an old border post which closed permanently in May 1944.
Mills recognized that the opportunity to interview people who had memories of Fort Brown as an operational military establishment was fading. Therefore, as a class assignment in Fall 2008, he supervised students and found people who were willing to share their valuable memories of Fort Brown, as well as the surrounding community, including Matamoros, Boca Chica Beach, and Brownsville herself, during, primarily, the 1930s and 1940s. Some memories they discovered were even older than that. Time was of the essence. All of the interviewees were at least seventy years old, while a few were as mature as ninety-five. At least three of the interviewees have passed away since this work was completed.
The resulting interviews offer important primary account insights into the topic subject matter and should be valuable to future researchers interested in Fort Brown and the surrounding community. All of the oral history interviews were recorded, both written and electronically, in VHS or CD type formats. Some were recorded using cassette players. Of the roughly forty interviews that were conducted, twenty-seven were edited and published in a book bearing the project name: Memories of Fort Brown and Other Select Interviews. No other known published work has addressed this same topic during this time frame.
All of the folders containing written interviews, recorded interviews from CD's or VHS formats, pictures, and signed release forms are in the Professor Mills's possession at present, but he intends to donate the materials to the Brownsville Historical Association or the archives department of the local institution for higher education.
Copies of the book are currently cataloged with The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College libraries. A copy is also housed with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Additional copies can be found at the Brownsville Heritage Complex gift shop located at 1325 E. Washington Street in Brownsville, Texas.
This project serves as a model for community research as an oral history project. Amazingly, all of the people interviewed for this assignment were born at Fort Brown as children of soldiers and officers who were stationed there or grew up as lifelong residents of the surrounding, immediate community. These oral history interviews are an important documentation of Fort Brown in its last decades, as well as significant primary sources in regards to Brownsville and the surrounding community.