When he was a young man growing up in Gonzales, Bishop George Sampleton’s mother told him he would write a book about his life that would be included in universities and would serve to inspire others.
More than 50 years later, his mother’s words proved to be prophetic as Sampleton, who now resides in Cedar Creek, has published his memoir, “Don’t Give Up Keep the Faith,” which now rests in the collections of more than 45 major universities — including Yale, University of Delaware, UT-Austin, Texas A&M, Notre Dame — as well as at the Library of Congress and at the historic Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which recently observed the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.
Sampleton, who is currently the pastor of the Spiritual Pentecostal Church in Bastrop, was a member of the first integrated class at Gonzales High School when he began attending in 1965.
“We had so many difficulties and different things going on in the school,” Sampleton said.
“I would come home and be frustrated, hurt and down and so despondent. My mom noticed the expression on my face and said, ‘George, what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘It seems as if we can’t actually do anything, we can’t actually succeed and we are outcasts over there.’
“She said, ‘Sit down. Listen to me. You’re over there for one thing and one thing only. You’re over there to learn because one day, they’re going to be reading about you in the universities and studying about you and you’re going to have a book out about your life. The title of that book is going to be ‘Don’t Give Up Keep the Faith.’
“My mom was the driving factor in my life that helped me come up with this particular subject,” Sampleton added. “She said ‘it’s not about hatred. You’ll never go anywhere if you continue to hate. But if you love and are at peace with yourself from within, you’re able to do the things you need and not only that, you will be a contributor to those who have been haters and help them to see we are all human beings and all have differences, but it is how we handle those differences.’”
Sampleton said his mother always told him, “If they knock you down, I better not see you down on that floor. You better be up crawling on your elbows. I better see you trying to climb up. If you don’t, I’m going to be right here to instill that in you to let you know you are somebody.”
Sampleton grew up in a family of six children with his parents in Gonzales and said his father was an “uneducated and unlearned” laborer whose wisdom and sage advice came from life and not books.
“We were considered nomads and gypsies because Dad only made $18 a week,” Sampleton said. “But during that time, I never saw or heard him complain even when he knew things were bad. He never held his head down.
“What I learned from him is, first, you must respect yourself and then others will respect you. They may not like you, but they have to respect you. Don’t go around looking for a hand out. Apply yourself. Dedicate yourself, commit yourself to what you are doing and be a well-done person in doing a well-done job.
“They will respect you because you are honest and non-judgmental. Everyone has problems, including you, but we must teach people to work on their own problems and self-esteem. If I look down on myself, other people are going to look down on me.”
Sampleton said lessons that can be learned from his book include not just self-pride, but perseverance, fortitude, hard work and honesty. And at all times, he said, he has tried to embrace love and not hatred even when he endured racial intolerance, bigotry and saw injustice in his small town growing up.
He said he values hard work and believes when young people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they appreciate their accomplishments even more.
“If you’re not going to get out here, roll your sleeves up, wrap your hands around something and go to work, don’t bring that to me,” Sampleton said. “If you give somebody something, they don’t know the value of it. They’ll just as soon throw it away in that trash can. But if I earn it, I’m going to take care of it and not let anybody destroy what I worked for, whatever it is.”
Sampleton said his time at Gonzales High School came during a period of great transition. A total of 56 students came over from what had been the “colored” high school for African-American students and by the time graduation rolled around in 1968, only 15 of those remained.
He fondly remembered the influence of the late Thomas E. Burrows, who was his principal at Gonzales High School, as well as his typing teacher.
“She was my typing teacher and I don’t remember her last name, but she said, ‘George, don’t worry because you are going somewhere,’ even in the midst of everything that was going on,” Sampleton said. “That was very encouraging to me and she saw the potential in me.
“I especially looked up to Mr. Burrows. I always would think about him and how he dressed and walked and carried himself. He would stop me in the hall and ask me, ‘Are you doing all right? Yeah, you’re doing all right, George.’ That left a lasting impact on me. He would encourage me to remain steadfast and understanding. He believed in me.”
Sampleton said he did not write the book to make a profit, but because he was divinely inspired to share the truths he has learned in life.
“The Lord didn’t bless me to write that book to sell it,” Sampleton said. “All of those books at the universities were ones I donated. When the Lord helped me to write the book, he said ‘I don’t want you to write this for money.’ If I do that, I’m going against the spiritual laws of Heaven.
“I have to stay humble. If I did this for money, the money will leave you, but the integrity and what you stand for will be here for the rest of your life and beyond.”