Eva Lindsey, a fourth-generation native Austinite, is manager and steward of the Victory Grill, a cultural landmark in the capital city since 1945. No person in Austin’s music industry carries the dynamism and optimism of Lindsey, who in 1971 was a guiding force in the civil rights movement, helping end segregation in Texas public schools.
A graduate of Austin’s east side learning institutions, Blackshear Elementary, Kealing Junior High, and Anderson High, Lindsey was raised in an environment which held music as a symbol of family unity. Her father, an accomplished jazz musician, and an aunt whose children sang the blues, played key roles in forming her enthusiasm for music. Sunday gospel singing with her family proved to be the vehicle which most awakened expectations of inner harmony; its impact carrying Lindsey far from the corner of Eighth and Concho Street.
After attending Fisk University in Nashville, Lindsey eventually landed a position with the Austin Independent School District as a member of a human relations team hired to aid desegregation. It was a confusing and painful time, Lindsey recalls, but she made progress assisting stressed-out youths whose schools were ordered to desegregate by the Fifth Circuit Court. “Every major (social) change was driven by the student population,” she states. Though racism prevailed in Austin, Lindsey made strides toward social and economic equality as a tireless civil rights activist, helping assimilate blacks into the community.
While growing up in her east Austin neighborhood, Lindsey came into contact with jazz and blues musicians who made the Victory Grill on Eleventh Street a regular stop on the “chitlin’ circuit.” Johnny Holmes opened the Victory Grill in 1945 at the end of the war, thus the venue’s name. During its run, the Victory Grill saw giants such as Billie Holiday, Ike and Tina Turner, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Albert King, Etta James, and locals Boyd Vance and T.D. Bell grace its stage. But by the 1960s, once civil rights legislation was crafted, integration gutted the African-American community. In music circles, top shelf artists that once made the Victory Grill their home turned to clubs on the west side of Interstate 35 for better money, eventually causing businesses like the Victory Grill to go under.
Years of neglect and sporadic use followed, but Lindsey decided to reopen the Victory Grill again in 1995 with an updated kitchen, sound system and the original vinyl booths. “I want to save this place because it’s the only icon left.” Lindsey has a staunch belief that her prior social experiences in the face of overwhelming odds have prepared her for the struggle to make the east side relevant once again. It’s a vision she will strive to fulfill and no individual is more capable of shaping the future of east Austin.