Video 3 of "Interview with Mr. Ray Hill."
MAURICE CHAMMAH: Thank you. We're here at the K.P.F.T. radio studio in Houston, Texas. The voice that you're hearing is Maurice Chammah and on the
videography is Kimberly Ambrosini-Bacon. And we're here with Ray Hill. I guess if you just want to start by telling us a little bit about where you're from, your background.
RAY HILL: Well I'm native Houstonian. I was born in the Heights of Houston, which is kind of inner city and my father at the time worked for Jesse
Jones, Houston's big multi-millionaire magnate who at the time was only as Secretary of the Treasury for the Roosevelt administration
HILL: and Raymond was starved off of the farm in the 30s by the depression and he and Frankie—I was raised to call my parents by their first name—we're
funny people that way-and he and Frankie came to Houston and he went to work for Jesse Jones as a janitor
HILL: and it was just this big old honest farm boy who had a little snap and a couple years of college and so Jesse put him in a coat and tie and made
him general manager of the Gulf Building, which at the time was the tallest building west of the Mississippi, which was fine, except all that stress—that old farm boy wasn't built for that, so
it gave him ulcers which took another forty years to kill him, but ultimately he would die of those ulcers.
HILL: And then the war came, and Frankie was so politically involved that she wanted to make metal things to chuck at Nazis. So she wanted to go move
where she could go work in industry, and so they moved out east of town.
HILL: Frankie went to work for Port Houston Iron Works as a blacksmith. My little bitty 5'2" mother ran a major steam hammer to make metal things to
chunk at Nazis. And my father went to work for Brown & Root shipyard.
HILL: Now Raymond had organized the grange as a farmer. Didn't work—didn't save him, small farmers were being trampled during the depression and so he
continued organizing, by organizing the shipyard workers for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Frankie would ultimately try to organize nurses for the Teamsters.
HILL: So I grew up in a household that talked about great leaders of unionisms past—John L. Lewis, Samuel Gompers, Saul Alinsky—all of the great names
of activism in the labor movement were like the cereal on our breakfast table.
HILL: And so I studied all of that and I took a little leave to become a teenage Baptist evangelist.
HILL: Raymond would call himself a skeptic. Frankie would of called herself an atheist and here their son was a fundamentalist Baptist evangelist,
which they didn't like that very much except the money was so good that they stopped complaining. So we had better refrigerators and stoves and I drove a nice Studebaker when I was sixteen
years old. Made good money.
HILL: At seventeen I decided that was basically fraud. I had a crisis in my faith and I said, I'm going into small communities usually. My last revival
was in Colmesneil, Texas. And I'd go into town and entertain for four days, and leave with a lot more money than anybody in that town would make in a year. Why shouldn't you feel guilty about
HILL: So I gave that up as dishonest, although I would later become a burglar. They would punish me for being a burglar and reward me for being a
preacher and obviously it should have been the other way around.
HILL: But I came back, finished high school and went into college. I went to college in 1960.
HILL: Two years prior to that when I was still in high school, I was the secretary of one of the Houston chapters of the NAACP. There again my parents
leftie leanings kind of thing. I was the only white person in the room, busily making notes and publishing a complete set of minutes for that year, in 19 and 68—1958.
HILL: Then in the 1960s, here integration came more slowly than other parts of the country, so I was involved in that kind of activism and I was in
Houston, but I spent a lot of time on the road as kind of a professional college bum.
HILL: And I first went to Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, then Tulane University where I was a perpetrator of fraud and taught composition and
rhetoric to Newcomb women-strange in those days we didn't call them women at all. We called them Newcomb girls, but they were women.
HILL: Then I left there and went to Columbia University to study economics under a visiting professor under the name of Salvador Allende. He would go
on to become quite well known for his presidency of Chile.
HILL: And while I was there I ran into this big ol' bear of a man who said, "No son, the revolution is not economics. The revolution is
HILL: That was C. Wright Mills and so I transferred from economics to psychoanalysis and I studied under him for a while until he got to the point where
fraud [Freud] turns to Alpert [Jung] and says, "We must make a dogma of psychoanalysis" and after that teenage evangelist crap, I didn't want to have anything to do with dogmas.
HILL: So I dumped that, and still trying to figure about this gay stuff, although I had been out of the closet since Galena Park High School, 1959, and
I'm some years into college, there's just not a lot known about homosexuals, so I got to the Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana and study under John Money and Clarence Tripp and
Karen Horney, and the really greats of the waning years of the institute.
HILL: Dr. Kinsey was dead before I got there, but the rest of the staff and faculty that made the nucleus of that—and I studied there, kind of found
myself there and returned to Houston and was the—rode shotgun on Jim McCary, Dr. James Leslie McCary's human sexuality classes at the University of Houston.
HILL: And during that time, I was talking about homosexual movement which did not exist in the 66-67 era--or ‘67 I took a little time off and went to
Vietnam as a journalist. I used French papers, landed in Hanoi. Came down the trail and came out, traded sides at Da Nang, and came out through Saigon.
HILL: So while I was over there, everybody was shooting at me. At the first half of the trip the Americans were shooting me, the second half of the
trip the North Vietnamese were shooting at me, but I got a lifetime's fill of war, and so I came back and got involved in the anti-war movement.
HILL: So I would get active in the student mobilization committee to end the war in Vietnam and wound up being basically the national chair of that,
for the moratorium march on Washington in 1968. At that time it was the biggest demonstration in the history of this country.
HILL: And I learned a lot about national marches and movements there. If it's time to have a march, you can't screw that up. If you don't call for it,
somebody else will and it will happen.
HILL: If it's not time for people to go to Washington to scream and yell, ain't nobody coming and you'll get to visit with your friends when you get
there and have a free weekend. So you can't lose with a deal like that, but that gave me some cred as an organizer on my feet activist.
HILL: In 1970 we came—well 1968, while I was still at the University of Houston as a substitute teacher, a group of us got together and decided we
needed a radio station. Pipe dream if there ever was one.
HILL: So we started organizing and there were four of us, Larry Lee, Don Gardner, Don is still alive, he's in the Austin music scene, myself and Debra
HILL: And we got together and of course there were other people involved, too, but we were the nucleus. And we got together and decided we needed a
radio station and then Don and Larry went to California and found out about Pacifica.
HILL: So we decided rather than completely to reinvent the wheel, what we would do is we would attach our wagon to the team at Pacifica and thus
Houston has a Pacifica radio station that has endured since we went on the air in March of 1970.
HILL: In November of 1970 I went to prison because I—the police had been watching me for years, because of the anti-war stuff, civil rights stuff, all
of this activism and gay stuff is kind of spooky so they were watching me—they had no idea how I was making a living, and how I was making a living is I was a burglar.
HILL: I didn't like break into people's houses and steal their cutlery, number one, there's no money in cutlery, number two you go into somebody's
house and steal their stuff, they're going to be seriously mad at you for virtually ever, and you don't need a bunch of enemies out there.
HILL: So I was a commercial burglar. I stole things that queers know about: antiques, art, jewels and electronics, such as they were in the
HILL: And I did that from about '65 until early in '70 and I got busted in '70 in an income tax investigation and they figured out that the guy who had
been pulling these massive—that they were calling organized crime thefts in Houston was actually the gay activist guy.
HILL: And so then—so of course that was fascinating to the news media, so it was headline after headline after headline, which was so embarrassing
because all my friends in Houston were learning about how I was paying for all the things I was paying for, driving nice cars, going to gay holidays, opening of the beaches in Fort Lauderdale
and Mission Days in San Diego, and Splash Day in Galveston and Mardi Gras.
HILL: All these gay holidays, I was always there and always had a suite of rooms and always entertaining, plus the fact I could afford to reach into my
pocket and pay for buses to go to big demonstrations against the war and all of that.
HILL: That was very impressive. Then they found out I was actually stealing for all of that.
HILL: But, by the time I actually got to prison, and I was sentenced to twenty consecutive eight-year sentences, or I was sentenced to prison to be
there 160 years.
HILL: And so—but my headlines, which I was worried about because they kept reminding people I was queer, which may not be a lot of status in
HILL: As a matter of fact, being queer in prison at the time was not only low status, it was negative status, and you hear all kinds of tales and all
the mythology of that, but it also said "Four and a half million burglary ring busted." It also said, "Leader refuses to identify co-conspirators."
So when I got to prison, I was a hero. Texas prisons are full of people who haven't stolen 200 dollars in their lifetime and actually got away with it.
And here comes this four and a half million-dollar guy waltzing through the door.
HILL: And if you're a hero to the inmates, you're also a hero to the staff, because prisons are not two societies, they're one society.
HILL: Those people are all the same people. Prison guards come from the same socioeconomic, educational levels that the convicts come from.
HILL: And you don't know that until you wake up in the middle of the belly of the beast and just look around, and all of a sudden, all of these people
look a lot alike. Some of them wearing gray uniforms and some of them are wearing coats and ties and some of them are wearing white, but they're the same people.
HILL: They speak the same rough, kind of interestingly caricatured language, and see, since I'm in broadcasting and I used to teach composition and
rhetoric, I just loved the language in prison.
HILL: All you have to do is forget what M and F stand for, and the rest of it is just real colorful and fascinating and it can come up with some pretty
interesting imagery if you're into broadcasting where words being image-creators.
HILL: I mean, that's how this thing works. You don't have to paint the whole picture, but if you start creating the image, it happens in the
imagination of the listener.
HILL: And so that was excellent training for all this. And I did that for about three years and I prospered there.
HILL: Well, when you go to prison for 160 years, you're not worried about "how to survive until I got out," because with 160 years there is no getting
HILL: So how I survived means, "How do I live here? And I had that figured out in about a week, and then the next question is, How do I prosper
HILL: Well, since everybody knows I'm gay, they'll take advantage of that and gay people make great bureaucrats. They used to call us eunuchs you know,
so we're very good at manipulating power that other people have for mutual advantage, so I became the bookkeeper of the maintenance department.
HILL: And I want you to know, as soon as that took over, I saw to it that that was run with such efficiency you wouldn't believe it.
HILL: Everything on—there were only two Ramsey Units at the time, but everything was fixed and working well within weeks, and I had parts ready to
repair anything that might break down in the foreseeable future, because I was running it.
HILL: The guards didn't know anything about the maintenance department. I had an office. I had a telephone. I had an air conditioner. I lived very
HILL: And I created this whole bureaucracy that ran with such efficiency that it was incredible and then the guy from the construction department came
over, and said that he caught his bookkeeper pulling a young officer out of his bunk and they had to send both of them away and would I come over and help him get his office organized as well
as the maintenance office was organized.
HILL: And I said, "Sure." But that job came with the keys to a pickup trunk and when you're a convict and you can have the keys of your truck waiting
at the front gate, you don't ever give that job up.
HILL: So I continued at the Ramsey for another two and a half years, as both maintenance bookkeeper and construction bookkeeper, which was, you know,
you have a lot of time on your hands so you can do two jobs.
HILL: And that made me very popular with the inmates. Because I was in a position to hire people out of the fields. The cotton fields.
HILL: If you know anything at all about Texas prisons, if you looked at Alan [Pogue]'s pictures, you've seen inmates doing that backbreaking, grunt
labor in the hot sun in the fiends, and Slim McGhee, he was the field major at the Ramsey at the time required large Black men to bring him 300 pounds of cotton a day. That's half a bale of
cotton per man.
HILL: And if you didn't do that, you were going to spend the night sitting in the hall at the unit, shelling stingy little goobers, too small to call
peanuts, all night long, and then you had to get up the next morning and go out in the fields and get Slim 300 pounds.
HILL: And if I could give those guys jobs, then that would make me a hero among Black inmates.
HILL: And see, I didn't have the problem every other inmate had, every white inmate. Every other white inmate was invested into the racist system under
which prison operated, but I had been secretary of the NAACP, so I hired more Black men for maintenance and construction than white guys because when I got there, the two bookkeepers preceding
me in both jobs basically hired their friends.
HILL: And since it was a segregated prison system, their friends were all white. So I integrated those departments.
HILL: And I had people not only would work just unendingly grunt labor, digging ditches, doing all kinds of things, but they were going to have a hot
breakfast when they went out, they were going to have a hot lunch at noon, and they were going to have a hot meal, and they'd be sitting on their bunk when the field would be coming in the back
HILL: And that is worth working hard for. Anyway, I needed strong men.
HILL: I had to supply mostly Hispanic—Hispanics make great brick layers because they have smaller hands. And the key to laying standard sized brick is
small hands. And so all of my brick layers were Hispanic, and the Black inmates that I got out of the cotton fields were carrying them—the mortar, the hod and the bricks up ladders to feed ‘em
on those—and it was an amazing machine.
HILL: I could build buildings in half the time anybody else could because I had a better allocation of labor than anybody else had. So I prospered
HILL: But then after about three and a half years of that, I decided, I really don't want to do this the rest of my life. So I went to the law library
and I drafted an eighth Amendment writ saying it was cruel and unusual to send someone to 160 years in the Texas penitentiary for nonviolent crimes against nature.
HILL: And I had money left over from my stealing days. As a matter of fact, I hadn't been there six months when the warden called me to his office and
said, "Did you know they were investigating your income tax?" I said, "Sure warden, I knew that and how much do I owe ‘em?"
HILL: "Well I got a check here for eighty nine thousand dollars that you've overpaid your income taxes." I said, "Thank you very much." "Do you want me to
put this in your commissary account?" I said, "No, sir. I don't draw interest on my commissary account. My lawyer will be down in a few weeks and we'll put it in the bank where I do draw
HILL: So I had money. And if you have money, you have lawyers. And so I had lawyers. I hired a lawyer to help me with my writ.
HILL: So we come to Houston for a hearing before –it was supposed to be before John Singleton. John Singleton had been a labor lawyer before he was
appointed federal judge by Truman.
HILL: And we thought, "Well, he doesn't know me, he knows my father, but he didn't know me, so he'll be there and at least he'll hear me out. But we
got there and it was a visiting judge from East Texas. Some little hayseed looking thing.
HILL: And we walked in and as we sat down, my lawyer, wonderful guy, leaned over and said, "You know, we're pissing in the wind. There's no chance we
can win this case." I really appreciated his enthusiasm. I said, "Just follow along."
HILL: The judge came in and he didn't want to hear the motion. He wanted to go play golf. It was a beautiful day. It was kind of like today. He was
visiting from East Texas. He told us how bad the golf courses were in East Texas, said you've got gophers, you've got holes and if you're not careful the squirrels will run off with your
HILL: I don't know why that was information that we needed, but that he could play on the nice courses down here because he was a federal judge, he'd
just to show up and they would let him play, if he was a member of the club, or they probably wouldn't even charge him greens fees.
HILL: And so I listened to that and I didn't know what was going on. So then he'd just get up and walks out. And they put me back into custody and my
lawyer goes to talk with the State of Texas lawyers and comes back and he says, "I've got it all worked out."
HILL: And I didn't know what that meant and this was like my life we're talking about. And they changed one word in my sentence from twenty consecutive
eight-year sentences to twenty concurrent eight-year sentences.
HILL: So I only had eight to do and I had been a trustee since I got there, four years, four months and seventeen days later, I walked out of Texas
prison a completely free man, having discharged myself. And I was more afraid to get out than I had been to go in.
HILL: A couple of things you know when you're out of the prison system. You know you're going to be nobody for the rest of your life because it's got
these numbers on your forehead, it says ex-convict on each cheek of your ass, in case they somehow get separated. I mean, there's just no future. It's over.
HILL: But the other thing you know is you know that you've got to get some discipline in your life because you've lived in a discipline environment.
You got up when you needed to get up. You went to bed when you got through. You were at this appointed place and you never missed a schedule and all that.
HILL: Well, with all of that you can't trust yourself to get your life back together so I thought, What's the closest thing to prison? Ah!
HILL: And so I went down and I convinced — there seems to be some knowing grins in the room — I went down and got a Texas Rehabilitation Commission,
that's got a different name now, the Texas Rehab — at the time to do tuition and books and I enrolled in University of Houston-Downtown college. The community college branch of the University
of Houston system.
HILL: And as I'm enrolling, it's all paid for, I look on the wall and there's one of those spiral notebook pages, the ones with the torn out little
things on the edge. It said, "Be Important. Sign up for Student Government."
HILL: And I said, "Well what does that cost?" And they said, "Nothing." And I said, "Okay. Where do you do that?"
HILL: Over there? And I went over there and they had legal pads laid out with the various handwritten in offices that were available and somebody had
signed up for everything except president.
HILL: Well me being the new kid on campus I didn't know that there was an incumbent president seeking reelection and I could get into all these other
things and have to complete, or I could get into the black page and not have competition, so I signed up for that and then he signed up and it was a campaign.
HILL: So I developed a campaign slogan: Give a Convict a Break.
HILL: And came up with a bunch of hand-painted portraits to stick around the room and that caught the imagination of student body and I was elected,
less than ninety days out of prison, to be president of the student body at the University of Houston-Downtown college.
HILL: So Dr. J. Don Boney, not the one that was on the city council, but his father who was a real giant in education, called me in his office and
said, "Mr. Hill, how is it that somebody who's been out of prison for less than ninety days is the president of my student body?"
HILL: And I said, "Dr. Boney, some of us do politics better than others."
HILL: So he and I proceeded to fight the next two semesters over, he wanted to create spaces for nice faculty lounges and I wanted that space for
student carrels and so I—what I did was I got the faculty on my side.
HILL: I said, He wants to replace those faculty lounges because he's going to fire all you and get a bunch of other teachers. So he's trying to dress
up the place.
HILL: And they believed me. And so the faculty and I bonded against him, so it was carrel space. So I won for my students and drove Dr. Boney
HILL: He called me in, in the middle of the semester and said, "Mr. Hill. You're going to give me more gray hair than my son." And I said, No, Dr.
Boney. I know your son and I don't think that's possible for me to do that.
HILL: And so I enjoyed my college years but they didn't last long because while I was doing that, it was 1975 when I got out, also I organized with a
handful of people Houston Gay Political Caucus which is now Houston Gay Lesbian and Transgendered Political Caucus and I also began thinking about the gay movement as a movement.
HILL: And the problem with a gay movement being a movement is gay people did not think of themselves as a people. It became kind of like dead men, one
to a box.
HILL: And the term "gay community" in every city in this country meant the part of town where the bars are located. Because we were also creatures of
HILL: And that's a problem for me because way back in 1959 I had stopped drinking.
HILL: I've got now almost fifty-two years of being drug and alcohol free, which comes strange for a guy that basically lives in the hippie gay world
and at that time the only institution gay people had were bars.
HILL: So I'd go to bars to politically organize and stay as long as anybody sober enough to have a conversation with, and I would leave without
drinking. And so I'm an unlikely guy in that world and that was in '75.
HILL: In '77 we got advance notice that Anita Bryant was coming to Houston to perform in the Texas Bar Association Convention.
HILL: Relatively minor kind of thing but if you're an activist, you realize that what you've got here is major symbol that might be attractive to your
population, so I got together a group of people and we organized a welcoming party for Anita Bryant.
HILL: We had about three weeks to do that, and three weeks you could do some wonderful things.
HILL: This is even before Facebook and Twitter and all this instantaneous stuff.
HILL: There you have weekly publications, you've got three weeks in the gay bar rags to do that. I had a gay radio show on this radio station. So in
three weeks you could do some remarkable organizing,
HILL: and since I was the ex-convict it was my assignment to go deal with the police. We divided up the chores and so I called Captain Bond who was in
charge of special operations and said, "We're going to have a demonstration."
HILL: "Well, you can't use the streets." "We understand that. We know what the ordinances are. We bothered to read them." "Use the sidewalks and you're
going to have to stop when them lights change."
HILL: I said, "We understand that, but we're going to expect a crowd." "How many people do you expect?" I said, "About five hundred."
HILL: And he laughed because there had never been a demonstration in Houston with five hundred people ever. Ever. For any reason. Anti-war. Civil
rights. Five hundred people was just an unheard of number.
HILL: We had 12,000. And we marched. And we had gone a few blocks with the sidewalks until the officer that was assigned to be the liaison between the
police department, the one right here behind me, his walkie-talkie crackled and he said, "Mr. Hill. Captain Bond wants to talk to you."
HILL: I said, "Captain, what can I do for you?"
HILL: The radio was about like this, about like those purse phones we used to carry with earlier technology.
HILL: "Take the goddamn street!" I said, "Captain, there's two streets we're gonna be—" "Take both of the mother fuckers!" So the officer heard him and
said, "I'll call the officers now."
HILL: I said, those people aren't going to do what your officers tell them to do. Those are my people. So I sent my parade marshals.
HILL: And I choose those people very carefully. My parade marshals are the most effeminate guys I can find and the butchest little dykes I can
HILL: Why? Because they're instantly identifiable. You know they're on our side.
HILL: And I said, "I'll send my runners up." So they scampered off. We took the streets.
HILL: Now, if you're an activist, what that does to your crowd, everybody's been given the rules. This is what we've got to do. We've got to stay on
the sidewalks. You can use sidewalks on both sides of the streets. We've got to stop at every light. Blah blah blah blah blah.
HILL: And you go four blocks and all of a sudden you have one street. That changes the whole dynamic of the event. Everything is different from that
HILL: So they marched down and as the layout was, Anita was performing in side the Hyatt Regency and we got streets on both sides of the Hyatt Regency
and we turned, one column turns right after the Hyatt Regency and goes to the rowdy area, which is over City Hall and the city library.
HILL: And so they decided since they've got to turn, they may as well walk around the block a couple of times. And they're chanting so loud, nobody can
hear Anita Bryant sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
HILL: And so we go down there, and the people that are going to be speakers are at the head of the column. We've got Liz from "All in the Family" in
town. We've got David Goodstein, the publisher of The Advocate. We've got some national honchos. They've got Ginny Appuzo.
HILL: All these national honchos and honchas in town to be the speakers and so they get there and they set up and they speak.
HILL: And they tear down the speaker stand with this application and then they leave. I'm still four blocks back here bringing up the last of the
HILL: So when I get to the thing, I've got the biggest crowd but I don't have a sound system.
HILL: A remarkable thing happens. I get up on a little bitty rise and I get those in front of me to sit down and it's—there's a wave of anticipating me
saying something goes through the crowd, and I've got this enormous crowd, 12,000 people sandwiched between City Hall and the street past the library between two library buildings
HILL: and I'm talking into a building that's shaped like this [motions with hands] and the sound is—it's a natural amphitheater and I give the best
three minute speech of my life.
HILL: Then I step off the stand while they're screaming and yelling and cheering, feeling very differently from what they felt when they started the
march and there is a young reporter there who sticks a microphone in my face and says, "A.B.C. Radio. National hookup. Live."
HILL: They can't edit that. If you're live you're like live.
HILL: And so I describe to a radio audience in the best oh I guess, maybe 90-second speech of my life, a minute and a half. A minute and a half is a
lot of time in radio and I tell them, "Look, they've got good orange juice from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California, but don't drink any of that Florida stuff because it oppresses people.
Drink the other stuff."
HILL: And that goes live over this radio network. So I go on and about my business and about two weeks later I'm driving up Yell Street. Here in
Houston there's the Texan Orange Juice Company there, and there are three stainless steel tank trucks in a row with Florida license tags.
HILL: I said, "They can't sell the stuff that's Florida orange juice. They're gonna homogenize it and sell it as Texas orange juice. We have made an
HILL: And so I started calling a news conference, but I remember something Frankie told me. When you lose, do so with humility. When you win, do so
HILL: So I didn't call a news conference and I quietly told myself, "You're doing good work." And went on.
HILL: But I also realized as we were marching back from City Hall from the demonstration that something had changed. The term "gay community" did not
mean the part of town where the bars were. Beginning that day the term "gay community" meant a group of men and women with common goals and aspirations.
HILL: And so I decided that we didn't have any institutions to support that community. We had bars.
HILL: The American Revolution was organized in taverns but they were very different places from gay bars.
HILL: Gay bars are dark and out of the way, shadowy places with the music too loud and the lights down. They're designed for anonymous hookups, not
discourse and all that.
HILL: So the next year, 1978, I called for Houston Town Meeting One. And that was resulted in the founding of the Montrose Counseling Center, the
Montrose Clinic the Montrose Sports Association, the Montrose Community Center, Gay and Lesbian Hispanic Unides, and all of the organizations that sustained us until AIDS comes,
HILL: and then those organizations provided the nucleus so we could found first the Kaposi's Sarcoma Foundation, because the term AIDS had not yet been
coined in 1980 and then 1982 that became the K.S. AIDS Foundation that is now AIDS Foundation Houston, and I am the co-founder of all of that. Everything in town.
HILL: And then, that was 1980, and the radio station starts crumbling around me.
HILL: And they can't get anyone to stay consistently in management so the staff elects me as interim manager and we tell the lawyers that I'm manager
and the lawyer says, "No you can't do that."
HILL: And we said, "Why?" "Well, because the F.C.C. rules says that to manage broadcast facilities you have to be a person of good moral
HILL: And I said, "Well, what does that mean?" And he said—cause I'm from the law library—remember I got a—what does that mean? And they say, "Well,
certainly no convicts and certainly no perverts for starters."
HILL: So I said, "Look, why don't you inform the F.C.C. that we're not in compliance with that ruling. We're not in compliance. We report ourselves as
not being in compliance and see what they do."
HILL: Well the lawyer said, "That's crazy."I said, "Just inform them."
HILL: So they followed me and informed them and we got a letter back.And they said, "Oh, well, we're going to make it as an agenda item the next time
the Federal Communication Commission meets, it will be on the agenda, would you like to come and make a presentation?"
HILL: The lawyer calls back. "Now we have to make a presentation."I said, "No you don't. It's an invitation. It's not an order. Say thank you very
much, but let us know."
HILL: So we set it out and then we got another notice saying the F.C.C. has exempted K.P.F.T. in Houston from that rule and to the rules and
regulations and we're going to consider the details of that rule at the next F.C.C. meeting.
HILL: And so my lawyer said, "Well what should we do?"I said, Nothing. They're going to do it and they'll let us know.
HILL: And then we got a letter after the next F.C.C. meeting that because their lawyers had difficulty coming up with a legal definition "good moral
character" they were removing the rules from the regulation. I became the first queer ex-convict to manage a broadcast facility licensed by the F.C.C. in the United States. One of my many
accomplishments that nobody knows about.
HILL: But as manager of the radio station, I remember the convict stuff and I thought the public needed to know about the criminal justice system. So I
gave myself an hour to do the prison show.
HILL: It's my own radio—I'm the manager, I can do with this time what I want to, so I gave myself an hour and it was on Sunday afternoon and I went in
and I would talk about what you don't know about the criminal justice system.
HILL: For instance, suppose somebody in your house gets arrested. My God, they're in jail, we got to get them out. So you run down to get them out and
you meet these nice people they call bail bondsmen.
HILL: And somehow or other they figure out exactly how much money you have access to, and that's just about what it costs to get them out but we need
to sign the lien on the title to your house in case they run out off and give—we'll hold the titles to your cars, by the way.
HILL: So everything you've got is tied up in a bail bondsman and you get your friend or family member out and you wake up the next morning and you say,
"Oh, what do you mean they won't to appoint him or her a lawyer if they're not in jail."
HILL: So now you've got to go hire a lawyer, except you don't have any resources left.
HILL: Right. I mean, you're broke. There's no, nothing to that. And anyway, how do you tell the difference between a lawyer in a clown suit and a clown
in a lawyer suit? How do you do that? How do you know what is an investment? When do you know who's going to adequately—you a novice.
HILL: This is your first experience. You don't know anything and you are going to make every damn fool mistake anybody every heard of.
HILL: Don't you think somebody ought to do a radio program and kind of say, Hey, y'all listen up. This is what you need to know about this stuff.
HILL: That was my concept of the prison show.
HILL: Plus I would tell anecdotes from prison. I could make it interesting. Radio is entertainment anyway. I mean if you can't make this thing dance
and sing and tickle the imagination of your audience you obviously ain't got no business with one. And so, that's what I had in mind.
HILL: I never got that audience. Never did. But I hadn't been on the air three weeks till I was realizing that every convict in Texas prison with a
radio was getting back to their cell after—dinner, evening, they feed—I don't know at three o'clock in the afternoon, that's when they feed the evening meal.
HILL: They were either skipping the evening meal or going out—they went out early and they rushed back so they could get to the radio show.
HILL: And my audience was people who knew all of that. They weren't novices. They weren't beginners. They knew about bail bondsmen. They knew about
lawyers because they had experienced all that.
HILL: And then about a month and a half in, I come into—oh, I picked up a sidekick. Kind of your Roy Rogers and your Gabby Hayes. Except my Gabby Hayes
was Shan Donelson [spelling?], and she's from Tennessee and her southern accent was so thick you couldn't tell whether she was Black or white.
HILL: Exactly what I needed for my show. You remember my prison experience with all those Black folks? I needed somebody that you couldn't tell because
in radio you can't see.
HILL: And Shan came down and started doing the radio show with me, so I'm fixing to go on the air, the phone rings and Shan answers it cause it's
Sundays, there's not any staff around here and so Shan says, "This lady wants to talk to you."
HILL: And I said, I'm a radio star and it's show time. I don't have time for this conversation. I've got important to things to do. Tell her I'm going
to call her back.
HILL: She said, "She's calling from a pay phone. You better take this."
HILL: And at her recommendation I took the call. The first thing I heard was traffic sounds. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. And rain sounds, you could hear
the rain, you could hear the water and she's outside at a pay phone calling me right next to the freeway.
HILL: And then this frail voice, "Mr. Hill, I have saved for a long time to go see my son on the Wynne Unit and we've had an accident. I'm all right
but I'm not going to be able to make it to visit and would you tell him—"
HILL: And then all of a sudden another voice comes, "Would you please deposit seventy five cents to continue—"And I thought, Damn, this is good
HILL: So I said, Operator, operator, can you reverse the charges?
HILL: "If you'll accept them."I will accept the charges. But operator would you let us know when three minutes are up?
HILL: I want that voice on the radio. So I run to the studio and I do the introduction and then just hook them up and say, "Ma'am, where you calling
HILL: "Well I don't know, I think it's, it's, it's north of Conroe, we got run off the road."
HILL: And there's all these weather sounds and all that."And I was going to go visit my son on the Wynne Unit."
HILL: And I said, Is that difficult for you to do?And she said, "Yeah, I've saved a long time for the—to do this and we got run off the road and I
can't make it. I'm going to be all right but I can't make it. Will you tell him?"
HILL: I said, No ma'am, he's listening. You tell him.And she started talking to her son and then, "Your three minutes are up."
HILL: I said, see, isn't this wonderful. Isn't this great? It makes, even now it's great radio.I said, Operator, that's all right, thank you, we'll
continue the call for as long as it lasts.
HILL: But I got all of that in. Now, only a true revolutionary would see the value of all of that.
HILL: Oh, by the way, we had twenty-five calls. How did we get in touch with this woman and how did we get her to see her son? We will carry her. We
will pay the way. We will do whatever it takes to do that.
HILL: So it worked out very well but the next Sunday when I came in to do the show, all of the lights were lit. Every one of them.
HILL: There wasn't anything left, there wasn't anything left for me to do. They had taken my show.
HILL: And that is how I discovered the format of the prison show. Because at that time, and for many years after that, Texas inmates were not allowed
access to telephones.
HILL: That only happened a few years ago and we worked very hard at the prison show to make that happen.
HILL: And now that it's happened, I think one of the reasons the Texas prison system allowed it to happen is to try to put me out of business. Sorry,
it didn't work. They still don't allow enough people—so most of my callers are for people who don't have access to a telephone: people on Death Row, people in solitary confinement.
HILL: But I knew that was going to weigh into us. I understand the system pretty well.
HILL: But that was thirty years ago. That was in February—March. I guess we converted to telephone calls some time in April. The show has been on the
air for thirty one years this coming March.
HILL: And I think it does several things. One, It actually does keep those families loosely connected no matter what the circumstances in prisons are,
the radio is a great bonder of that.
HILL: We do a lot of weddings on the prison show. I think we have three in the hopper now. As they get their paperwork done, we'll bring them in and
Judge Dale Gorczynski, Precinct One, Place One, will come down and conduct the wedding for free,
HILL: so if you want to beat the high cost of having weddings done, get married on the prison show, it will happen for free. You need to pick a husband or
wife in prison, we actually married a guy in prison to a woman in prison, a double proxy wedding, that was a first for us recently.
HILL: In addition to that, it gives me an opportunity to talk to convicts about the need for a movement for their equality.
HILL: Now equality for convicted felons is a pipe dream. But I'd like to remind you at one time, equality for gay, lesbian and transgendered people was
a hopeless myth.
HILL: But that has changed a lot. And you're welcome. I didn't do all of that by myself, but I was certainly in the room where we planned and plotted
and executed that. And see, from my perspective, I'm dealing with the same people.
HILL: Who were queers before 1960s?
HILL: They were self-oppressed, self-negating, self-hating, guilt-ridden, fearful, misunderstood, denied-acceptance group of people.
HILL: Who are convicts? I could go back through the list, but it's the same words.
HILL: Who's gonna fix that? Not well meaning church ladies or prison ministry guys who are really chasing bucks from the free world to try to run a
sham that they're doing something to change convicts.
HILL: All those convicts that find Jesus in prison somehow lose contact with him when they go rob the Stop-N-Go, or steal the car. What is going to change
them and change their world is primarily what they think about themselves.
HILL: Gay rights did not come about because straight people felt generous toward queers. Gay rights came about because queers changed who they thought they
were. And you cannot be oppressed without your permission.
HILL: That's just a reality in life. Gandhi noticed that.
HILL: And you reach hallmarks - whenever the Lawrencecase was won and the Lawrencecase was an important case. They woke me up in the middle of the
night.[loud sound] I don't know what this is.They woke me up—sorry about that.
CHAMMAH: No problem.
RAY HILL: They woke me up in the middle of the night because John Lawrence had been arrested. And at first I didn't believe them because nobody gets arrested
for 21.06, it's just not something you get arrested for.
HILL: It's something that they—it's Class C misdemeanor and you weren't supposed to be arrested. Anyway, you're supposed to issue a citation. And you took
the fun out of it for the cops and the cops stopped enforcing it.
HILL: So they wrote—someone called me and said, "My friend's been arrested for 21.06."And I said, No, no, that's not possible.
HILL: I said, You'd call me in the middle night if somebody got caught weenie wiggling in the arcade? And it's 21.07, not 21.06. And you leave them in
jail, and they'll probably get out on their own recognizance in the morning or call a bail bondsmen, you can get them out now and we'll pick them a lawyer tomorrow.
HILL: And they said, "No, no, it didn't happen in an arcade. It happened at his apartment."And at that point, I woke up, because if it happened at his
apartment, it could be 21.06.
HILL: And the first words out of my mouth was, The hard thing is to convince your friend that we must lose his case.
HILL: Because if you win the case, you don't have anything to appeal. So we've got to appeal this case in order to get rid of the law. And the first
thing the judge tells me, he's going to dismiss the case, and I've got to go over there and convince him not to do that.
HILL: And then I wet-nursed that case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The book about it is coming out later this year by Dale
Carpenter. And what you will find out when the book is here, is we never had a trial.
HILL: What we appealed was a motion to quash that I had convinced the judge to deny. So we had no development of the facts. This case had no facts. We
had no development of the law. This case did not have an examination of the law, all it was based on was the Hardwick v. Bowersdecision out of Georgia, some ten years before, which the gay
HILL: We appealed the pure principle through all Texas courts of appeal, and to the Supreme Court of the United States and we won 6-3.
HILL: Not on equal justice, which I expected, but on privacy, which meant that every law criminalizing homosexual intimacy was declared
unconstitutional in a single sweep.
HILL: After that, as Gandhi puts it, the rest will fall from the tree like ripe fruit.
HILL: Gay marriage, "Don't ask-don't tell,' all of that, because on June the 23rd, 2003, gay people woke up just like everybody else. We were just
ordinary citizens. No criminal sanctions anywhere to be had.
HILL: And suddenly we were equal under the law, and that's such an important principle, they carved it over the front door of the Supreme Court of the
United States. Equal justice under the law.
HILL: And that is really significant. The rest of it will fall like fruit from the tree.
HILL: Having spent forty years in that movement, then I resigned from political activities in the gay and lesbian movement and started devoting most of my
energy to prison stuff.
HILL: There are two great anachronisms in Texas and the United States in this century. One of them is war.
HILL: Killing one another over whatever perceived issues plus the mayhem and the slaughter of innocents does not belong in this century, and does not
belong in developed human life culture at all. It's a great anachronism.
HILL: The other one is executions.
HILL: This business that the state, actually executions are rituals and to put that in kind of—I'm in radio so I think pictures with my voice.
HILL: If you were to drop in Aztec society and you look around and here's all this wonderful architecture and all of this really advanced mathematics
and my god, look at this calendar.
HILL: This is absolutely fascinating. No other society in the history of the world has been able to come up with calculating time continuum like the
Aztecs. This is fascinating.
HILL: But what is this business about dragging people to the top of those steep stairs, laying them on a stone, and cutting out their hearts so that
their blood flows down those stairs and you throw that heart out. What the hell is that?
HILL: Well, we have to do that you see, because that way we can ensure that the seasons will change. And that the corn will grow and that our society
remains orderly and doesn't break down in chaos.
HILL: Well now you take somebody from that society and bring it to the United States, or Houston, Texas now, and they look around and say, "My God,
look at all this architecture. You were able to do in glass and steel what we were trying to do with stones. I mean, look at all this.
HILL: And you can go to the moon and come back and look at all of this fascinating—look at all this electronic work, but what is this business about
setting a date specific to carry somebody into a little room and strap them down and put needles in their veins and people sit around and watch them die. What the hell is that all about?"
HILL: And we would say, "Oh, well we have to do that or a society will fall into lawlessness and chaos will reign."
HILL: Both of those systems are myths. Both of those systems are belief systems. Both of those systems are equally flawed.
HILL: But because we believe that, we can continue it. And because the Aztecs believe it, they continue it, as long as they continue anything.
Ray Hill is a prison activist and queer activist as well as the founder of The Prison Show, a radio program that has aired weekly on Houston's Pacifica radio station KPFT 90.1 FM since March 1980. In Video 1, Hill shares the inspiration for his early activism; his experiences during his incarceration in the Texas prison system; and his work as a community organizer. Hill describes how he helped to organize the Houston Gay Caucus, now known as the Houston Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Political Caucus, as well as his role in founding The Kaposi's Sarcoma Committee, which later became The KS/AIDS Foundation and is now The AIDS Foundation Houston. At the end of Video 1 and the beginning of Video 2, Hill discusses the origins of The Prison Show; his activism in prison reform, including his role in the creation of the program Gang Rejection and Disassociation (GRAD); and his perceptions of the criminal justice system. This interview took place on October 5th, 2010 at the offices of KPFT FM in Houston, Harris County, Texas.
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Ray HillRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Maurice ChammahRole: Interviewer
Kimberly Ambrosini-BaconRole: Videographer
Nancy Semin LingoRole: Transcriber
Maurice ChammahRole: Proofreader
Type of Resource:
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