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Carl Ray

An engineer turned entertainer, educator, mentor and activist, Carl F. Ray was born on August 30, 1944, in Butler, Alabama, to Vidella and George Ray. In 1962, tragedy struck his life when a white man killed his father, George, because Ray did not call the man “sir.” Consumed by anger and guilt, Ray suffered from depression and nervous breakdowns. Ray persevered and graduated from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1967 with a B.S. in electrical engineering.

For years Ray worked as an engineer before deciding in 1976 to try his luck as a standup comic. To support himself, Ray drove a taxi. It was a rider in his cab who made him see the value of forgiveness and acceptance. By 1989, he was host and producer of his own cable television comedy show. In 1990, he began to work also as a motivational speaker, which led Ray to write and perform a one-man play, A Killing in Chocktaw, dealing with the years following the tragedy of his father’s death. This play was turned into a documentary in 2004.

Since 1988, Ray and his wife, Brenda, ran Courtland Esteem School from their home in San Jose, California, where they taught African American youth in first through sixth grades. Concerned about young black students attending college, Ray escorted teams of youth on college tours. More than 1,200 students have participated in these tours. Ray received commendations for his work from Congressman Norman Mineta, Santa Clara County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado and other government officials. CityFlight recognized Ray as one of the "10 Most Influential African Americans in the Bay Area."

Ray passed away on September 17, 2014 at the age of 70.

Carl Ray was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 28, 2002.

Accession Number

A2002.039

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/28/2002

Last Name

Hampton-Ray

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Tuskegee University

Rosenwald High School

Butler Public Elementary School

First Name

Brenda

Birth City, State, Country

Butler

HM ID

RAY01

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

Knight Foundation

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bahamas

Favorite Quote

If I Wake Up In The Morning, It's A Good Day.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

8/30/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/San Jose

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Grits

Death Date

9/17/2014

Short Description

Educator and comedian Carl Ray (1944 - 2014 ) started as an engineer, but later in life used his experience of personal tragedy and racial injustice as inspiration for a play, motivational speaking, stand-up comedy and his work in education with African American youth. He and wife Brenda ran a school in the Bay area, and organize college tours to encourage wider enrollment of African American students.

Employment

Lockheed Martin

Delete

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Carl Ray's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Carl Ray lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Carl Ray describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Carl Ray describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Carl Ray talks about his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Carl Ray describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Carl Ray talks about his experience having polio as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Carl Ray describes his family life

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Carl Ray describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Carl Ray talks about his childhood experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Carl Ray describes the community where he grew up

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Carl Ray talks about attending Butler Public Elementary School in Butler, Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Carl Ray talks about his childhood friends

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Carl Ray describes discovering his comedic talent

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Carl Ray talks about ethnicity in Choctaw County, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Carl Ray describes his experience as a student at Rosenwald High School in New Roads, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Carl Ray describes his decision to attend Tuskegee University in Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Carl Ray describes the opportunities available to black engineers in 1967 and his starting work at Lockheed Corporation

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Carl Ray describes the murder of his father, George Ray III, by a white neighbor William Carlisle in 1962, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Carl Ray describes the murder of his father, George Ray III, by a white neighbor William Carlisle in 1962, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Carl Ray describes his father's murderer, William Carlisle

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Carl Ray reflects upon how he felt after his father's murder

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Carl Ray talks about his experience after the trial for his father's murder

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Carl Ray describes his experience returning to Tuskegee University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Carl Ray describes playing pranks and cards

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Carl Ray describes his developing a comedic persona

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Carl Ray describes the blackouts he started experiencing at Tuskegee University in Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Carl Ray describes his forgiveness of his father's murderer, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Carl Ray describes his forgiveness of his father's murderer, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Carl Ray describes his start at the Lockheed Corporation in 1967

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Carl Ray describes his experiences with racism at the Lockheed Corporation

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Carl Ray talks about building a Tuskegee employee network at the Lockheed Corporation

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Carl Ray describes leaving the Lockheed Corporation to start a comedic career in 1976

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Carl Ray describes finding comfort in travel and comedy

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Carl Ray describes his comedic approach

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Carl Ray talks about how he lost his interest in comedy

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Carl Ray describes the dynamics of the comedy circuit

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Carl Ray describes his experience as a touring comedian

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Carl Ray lists some of his favorite comedians

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Carl Ray describes his writing process

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Carl Ray describes why he quit stand-up comedy

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Carl Ray describes the start of his community outreach

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Carl Ray talks about his proudest accomplishments

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Carl Ray describes the origin of the Courtland Esteem School in San Jose, California

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Carl Ray describes his hopes and concerns for black youth, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Carl Ray describes his hopes and concerns for black youth, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Carl Ray reflects upon his healing process

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Carl Ray reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Carl Ray narrates his photos, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Carl Ray narrates his photos, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

1$9

DATitle
Carl Ray describes playing pranks and cards
Carl Ray describes the start of his community outreach
Transcript
Now, you were saying--you were describing yourself at the window [of the college union at Tuskegee University in Alabama].$$Right, so what I would do I would gradually get up enough nerve to get closer and after a few weeks I walked in--I went into the card room and I would watch them play cards. And by this time, I'm standing next to kids playing cards and one, one of the kids said "You wanna play." I said "No I don't know how, I don't know how to play." He said, "We'll teach ya. Come on and sit down, we'll teach ya." So I sit down I didn't know nothing about no cards, just playing bid whist. And they were teaching me how to play and for the first time I--it was something I enjoyed and I got into learning a game, and that was like a savior for me 'cause I learned how to play cards and I would go every, every day after dinner. I would get in there around 5:30, and I would play cards until they close. Well when you play cards kids talk and they slam the cards down on the table, and I was developing this little personality. I was enjoying--I was slamming cards down and they say humorous things, I'm saying humorous things, and talking back and all of that, and so that card room became--I stayed there every night 'til they closed. Because when I left there, I had to go back and into, to, into this, this world, which wasn't pretty. So I became the man, playing cards. I even got me a job in the college union so I could stay there all the time. Now when I leave there, my, my biggest problem wa, was nightmares. I had nightmares like you wouldn't believe. They were so painful and fearful until I wouldn't lay down to sleep. I would sit on a straight chair and that way I would bob and weave so I would never fall into a deep sleep 'cause I would always wake myself up. So I became--I, I, I could exist on two, three raggedy hours of sleep a night because I would rather stay awake then to lay down and have these nightmares. So what I begin to do I begin to become a, a prankster. I would stay awake late at night. I would go around and I would get trash cans, and I would fill 'em with half of water and I would lean 'em on the door so when the guys opened their doors in the morning the water would flush in. Even I would get a mop and put it right in the crease of the door so when they opened it, it would fall in on 'em. I would get ropes and tie doorknobs together so when guys try to open their door--so I kept myself busy, two, three, four o'clock in the morning sitting up all these little pranks. And they, finally they knew who it was, 'ole Ray had been here, but what they didn't realize I was, I was doing anything to entertain myself because I wouldn't sleep because of the fear of the nightmares. So I would do anything to stay awake.$So what have you been doing the last eight years?$$Been doing some motivational speaking, consulting work, educational consulting. What I, what I, what I did I said, "Look, you know, I got all of this experience, I got all of this experience where through the years on the side I've spent all this time working with young people, helping young people get into college. There has to be some value there," so I just went to a guy and say "Look hey I got a lot of experience, this is what a wanna do," and I just started the contract here and there, bingo, it was a natural for me.$$And talk about that, because you were start, you started to take kids to--$$Oh, about fifteen years ago this year I just started taking kids to visit Historical Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs] in the South, and that was a spontaneous move. I, I took 4 young men. I was looking for something to save some of the young black men. And I never will forget we were out one night and you know how we get together as a group and we talk about all the problems we have as African Americans in the community, and after we do all this talking and there's always well you know "They oughta do something, they oughta do something," so coming home that night I asked my wife [Brenda Ray], I said, who are they. She said what you talking about. I said have you ever notice we get together, we have all these great discussions, we come up with all these solutions to all of these problems, then we say why don't they do something. Nobody ever do anything, and I just said I'm gonna become they. And that's when I got four boys and said "Hey look I'm gonna take y'all out South," put them on a plane, flew them to George, got a van, psst, rode around Georgia and Alabama; that was it. Then I said oh--buddy of mine said when you go back next time and maybe we'll rent two vans. I said I'll think about it. The next year I ended up taking four to five kids. No money. Charged it on my American Express card. American Express called me up, "Hey have you lost your card?" (laughter) "No." "We see a lot of activity on your card, we've never seen this much activity." I said, "I just bought some tickets for some kids. You gon get your money back." Now before they called me mind you they had checked my checking account, my savings account, and they said, "Well we've check all your accounts and you don't have that much money." I said, "Don't worry about you'll have your money, I'll get you your money, don't worry about it." So I got them that money. I went out to some folks in the community and say, "Hey look give me--I need $9,000, I done charged about easy"--but I got the money, paid it off, and it just kinda mushroomed from there, and it's still going.