East Texas Groundbreakers Reflect On Accomplishments

If declared the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator Obama would become the first African American to capture the presidential nomination for either of the major political parties.

Wednesday, KLTV 7 News spoke with an impressive group of trailblazing East Texans, who reflected on their own historical accomplishments, as well as the nation's.

The journey for Barack Obama began more than a year ago. Now, an African-American man stands as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.

If Obama clinches the nomination, one more glass ceiling could be broken - something federal magistrate Judge Judith Guthrie is all too familiar with.

"I was doing a criminal case. The prosecutor was a female, the defense attorney was a female, the FBI agent [that was testifying] was a female, all the courtroom staff was female. The only guy in the court was the poor defendant," she laughs. "You wouldn't have thought that would have happened when I first got on the bench."

That's because Judge Guthrie was the very first female to be appointed to her position here in East Texas just 22 years ago. It's one she doesn't take lightly.

"...When we do our job, we do our jobs as judges, not just as men and women. I think it's healthy for the judiciary to look like the populace."

Mae Smith is also no stranger to groundbreaking accomplishments. Her son, Lovie Smith, brought national attention to the Big Sandy area back in 2007. Now, he's one of the first African-American head coaches to lead a team - his Chicago Bears - to the Superbowl. Historic not just for the NFL, but for East Texas.

"It meant a lot...it was a big accomplishment for somebody who came from a small town like this. He accomplished what he started out to do."

And Dr. Patrick Thomas says he was just at the right place at the right time. In 1968, Dr. Thomas, an experienced surgeon, performed the first pacemaker surgery right here in East Texas. "For a good while, it was the only one. There were no cardiologists in those days. It's satisfying to say that you put together a team that could function this way and effectively made Mother Frances, now Trinity Mother Francis, a heart hospital."

East Texas role models in their own historic right, helping bring perspective to our nation's history in the making.

Layron Livingston / llivingston@kltv.com