Awty Celebrates African American History Month
February is African American History Month. To celebrate the rich history of African Americans in Houston and Southeast Texas, a list of news articles about some of the prominent people/events in African American history will be posted below. These posts will be made every school day during the month of February beginning Monday, February 3.
- February 3 - Juneteenth
- February 4 - Jack Yates
- February 5 - Freedmen's Town
- February 6 - Antioch Baptist Church
- February 6 - College Park Cemetery
- February 7 - Kendleton, Texas
- February 10 - Norris Wright Cuney
- February 11 - the Camp Logan Riot
- February 12 - ELDORADO BALLROOM
- February 13 - Sweatt V. Painter: Nearly Forgotten, But Landmark Texas Integration Case
- February 14 - History of Texas Southern University
If you visit Galveston, make sure to walk down to the end of the strand near where the cruise ships board. There is a historic marker there that gives the history of Juneteenth and the Emancipation of slaves in Texas.
History of Juneteenth ©JUNETEENTH.com
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln's authority over the rebellious states was in question. For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.
General Order Number 3
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove the some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory. The celebration of June 19 was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.
Juneteenth Festivities and Food
A range of activities were provided to entertain the masses, many of which continue in tradition today. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball are just a few of the typical Juneteenth activities you may witness today. Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self improvement. Thus, often guest speakers are brought in and the elders are called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations.
Certain foods became popular and subsequently synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations such as strawberry soda-pop. More traditional and just as popular was the barbecuing, through which Juneteenth participants could share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors - the newly emancipated African Americans, would have experienced during their ceremonies. Hence, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations.
Food was abundant because everyone prepared a special dish. Meats such as lamb, pork and beef which not available everyday were brought on this special occasion. A true Juneteenth celebrations left visitors well satisfied and with enough conversation to last until the next.
Dress was also an important element in early Juneteenth customs and is often still taken seriously, particularly by the direct descendants who can make the connection to this tradition's roots. During slavery there were laws on the books in many areas that prohibited or limited the dressing of the enslaved. During the initial days of the emancipation celebrations, there are accounts of former slaves tossing their ragged garments into the creeks and rivers to adorn clothing taken from the plantations belonging to their former 'masters'.
Juneteenth and Society
In the early years, little interest existed outside the African American community in participation in the celebrations. In some cases, there was outwardly exhibited resistance by barring the use of public property for the festivities. Most of the festivities found themselves out in rural areas around rivers and creeks that could provide for additional activities such as fishing, horseback riding and barbecues. Often, the church grounds was the site for such activities. Eventually, as African Americans became land owners, land was donated and dedicated for these festivities. One of the earliest documented land purchases in the name of Juneteenth was organized by Rev. Jack Yates. This fund-raising effort yielded $1000 and the purchase of Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas. In Mexia, the local Juneteenth organization purchased Booker T. Washington Park, which had become the Juneteenth celebration site in 1898. There are accounts of Juneteenth activities being interrupted and halted by white landowners demanding that their laborers return to work. However, it seems most allowed their workers the day off and some even made donations of food and money. For decades these annual celebrations flourished, growing continuously with each passing year. In Booker T. Washington Park, as many as 20,000 African Americans once flowed through during the course of a week, making the celebration one of the state’s largest.
Juneteenth Celebrations Decline
Economic and cultural forces provided for a decline in Juneteenth activities and participants beginning in the early 1900’s. Classroom and textbook education in lieu of traditional home and family-taught practices stifled the interest of the youth due to less emphasis and detail on the activities of former slaves. Classroom text books proclaimed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 as the date signaling the ending of slavery - and little or nothing on the impact of General Granger’s arrival on June 19th.
The Depression forced many people off the farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate this date. Thus, unless June 19 fell on a weekend or holiday, there were very few participants available. July 4 was the already established Independence holiday and a rise in patriotism steered more toward this celebration.
The Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s yielded both positive and negative results for the Juneteenth celebrations. While it pulled many of the African American youth away and into the struggle for racial equality, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors. This was evidenced by student demonstrators involved in the Atlanta civil rights campaign in the early 1960’s, whom wore Juneteenth freedom buttons. Again in 1968, Juneteenth received another strong resurgence through Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C.. Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activity. In fact, two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations founded after this March are now held in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
Texas Blazes the Trail
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America.
Juneteenth In Modern Times
Today, Juneteenth is enjoying a phenomenal growth rate within communities and organizations throughout the country. Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum and others have begun sponsoring Juneteenth-centered activities. In recent years, a number of local and national Juneteenth organizations have arisen to take their place along side older organizations - all with the mission to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture.
Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.
The future of Juneteenth looks bright as the number of cities and states creating Juneteenth committees continues to increase. Respect and appreciation for all of our differences grow out of exposure and working together. Getting involved and supporting Juneteenth celebrations creates new bonds of friendship and understanding among us. This indeed, brightens our future - and that is the Spirit of Juneteenth.
History of Juneteenth ©JUNETEENTH.com
Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Houston.
Reverend John Henry (Jack) Yates.
YATES, JOHN HENRY [JACK] (1828-1897)
John Henry (Jack) Yates, slave and minister, son of slaves Robert and Rachel Yates, was born in Gloucester County, Virginia, on July 11, 1828. When Rachel's mistress, Mrs. Fields, died, Rachel was given the task of caring for the Fields child, who eventually taught Jack how to read, although to do so was illegal. Jack took his reader, Bible, and songbook to the field with him and would steal out at night and read by the light of a pine knot. He made small amounts of money from fishing. When he was a young man he attended the slaves' religious gatherings and was converted. He married Harriet Willis, of a neighboring farm; they had eleven children. When Harriet's master moved to Matagorda County, Texas, about 1863, Yates, unable to bear the thought of being separated from his wife and children, begged to go along. Upon emancipation in June 1865, the Yates family went to Houston to look for work. Jack became a drayman by day and a Baptist preacher at night and on Sundays. The Home Missionary Society had sent a black man, Isaac Sydney Campbell, to do mission work among the African Americans in Texas, and Campbell, needing help, began to send Yates to hold meetings in Houston and elsewhere. This led to Yates's ordination as a Baptist preacher by Campbell and Elder J. J. Ryanhart. When Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, the first black Baptist church in Houston, was organized in 1866 by Reverend Crane, a white preacher, Yates was called as the first pastor. He and others moved the congregation to a more desirable location. Martha, Yates's oldest child, cooked for the bricklayers, carpenters, and laborers as they constructed the building. Under his leadership, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church purchased Emancipation Park on Dowling Street for the black people of Houston in 1872. A dispute about a pay-as-you-go remodeling plan caused Yates to leave Antioch and organize Bethel Baptist Church in 1891. The queen of England visited Antioch Church on May 22, 1991.
Jack Yates High School, 1927.
In 1869 Yates bought several lots on what is now Andrews Street, where his house still stands; he thus became a homeowner less than five years after his emancipation. He was instrumental in organizing the first Baptist association for blacks in Houston, the Old Land Mark Association, which exists today. Under the direction of two white missionaries, Jennie L. Peck and Florence Dysart, Yates organized Houston Academy, a school for black children, in 1885. He tried unsuccessfully to have Bishop College located in Houston, and then assisted in placing it in Marshall. After Harriet Yates died, Yates married Annie Freeman, on October 13, 1888; they had one child. Yates died on December 22, 1897. Jack Yates High School in Houston was named in his honor in 1926. Yates's son Willis bought farmland and may have been the only black man in Harris County during the latter part of the 1880s to buy, own, and operate a steam cotton gin. He also operated a small store. Rutherford, another son, was raised by white missionaries and received his A.B. degree from Bishop College. He was a teacher and founder of Yates Printing Company of Houston, now in Austin. He was coauthor of The Life and Efforts of Jack Yates, published by Texas Southern University Press in 1985. His brother and coauthor Paul graduated from Prairie View A&M and taught at Houston Academy. Yates's daughter Maria did mission work around the country. Five of Yates's other children taught school. In 1994 John Henry Yates's home was moved from Andrews Street to Sam Houston Park in Houston and restored to its original 1870s configuration. The home was donated by his granddaughter, Mrs. Whiting, and is available for tours through the Harris County Heritage Society.
Gentrification has taken away most of the old “Freedman’s town in 4th ward. Freedmen’s town is the oldest black community in Houston. Only a few homes, and a few original brick streets are there to remind us of the old community.
Freedmen's Town, Houston Texas (1865-Current)
by Nathan Rivet
Freedmen’s Town is a nationally registered historical site. The site was originally a community located in the fourth ward of Houston, Texas that began in 1865 as the destination for former enslaved people from surrounding plantations in Texas and Louisiana after the Civil War.
Freedmen’s Town is located southwest of downtown. After emancipation was proclaimed in Texas on June 19, 1865, former slaves began migrating to Austin, Dallas, Galveston, and other cities, but the largest migration was to Houston. Many of these newcomers traveled along San Felipe Road into the city from Brazos River Plantations south and southwest of Houston. Once there they paved many of the streets in brick. These new residents established a community where they were able to live mostly without the daily onslaught of racism and discrimination.
Freedmen’s Town quickly developed as a cultural center with the establishment of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church (1866) followed by other churches and social and cultural institutions. The community and the larger fourth ward black community that grew around it was prosperous well into the early 20th Century. By 1930, Fourth Ward held approximately one third of Houston’s 36,000 African Americans and was famous for its many businesses that included restaurants and jazz night clubs which attracted even white Houstonians to the area.
Freedmen's Town, Houston, Texas, September 9, 2014. Photo by Patrick Feller (CC BY 2.0)
Despite this apparent social and economic prosperity, black Houstonians and especially Freedmen’s Town residents were limited by a segregated environment which denied access to most city services and formal rules and informal practices that prevented them from gaining better jobs. In 1929, the Houston City Planning Commission proposed a permanent geographical and racial segregation of Houston that limited black residence to the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Wards. While the Houston City Council refused to adopt such a plan (partly because it was illegal), blacks in Freedman’s Town and the Fourth Ward faced restrictive covenants and redlining practices that prevented African American mobility to most other parts of the city. Some fortunate middle class black residents were able to move to other racially segregated, but newer communities in South Houston including Studewood, South Park, Riverside Terrace, Kashmere Gardens, and Acres Homes.
Meanwhile the original Freedman’s Town community was threatened in the 1930s by the expansion of downtown Houston. Parts of the district were replaced by the new City Hall, the Albert Thomas Convention Center, the Gulf Freeway, the Allen Parkway Village, a public housing project. On the eve of World War II other parts of the district were replaced by San Felipe Courts, one of the largest public housing projects in the city’s history. Initially Houston government officials promised that Freedmen’s Town residents would have access to San Felipe Courts but after the United States entered World War II, the project was reserved for white military families. Authorities even constructed a wall between San Felipe Courts and what remained of Freedmen’s Town. The housing project would not allow black residents until 1968.
In the 1970s, historic preservation groups, recognizing that most of Freedmen’s Town had already been lost to newer development, began to work to save the remaining homes, churches, and businesses. They persuaded the U.S. government to designate Freedmen’s Town a nationally registered historical site in 1985. Other organizations such as the Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum which was founded in the community in 1996, continue to work today to save the houses and brick-paved streets laid out by freedmen in the 1860s, from further destruction and redevelopment.
A Brief History ©AMBCHouston.org
In January of 1866, seven months after slaves were freed in Texas (June 19, 1865), a small group of freed slaves organized the first African American Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. They were assisted by the First Baptist Church and missionaries.
After holding worship services at the First Baptist Church and the German Baptist Church, they began to hold services on Buffalo Bayou in a "Brush Arbor." Later, they moved to "Baptist Hill" located at Rusk and Bagby until the present site was purchased. Services were conducted by ministers who traveled to different locations, at stated times.
In 1868, one of Antioch's members, Jack Yates, was ordained at the first Association meeting for African American Baptist Churches. This was the first National Baptist Convention. Rev. Jack Yates became the first pastor of Antioch.
As the membership grew and additional space was needed, Rev. Yates led the church to purchase its present site and build a brick structure. The church, located in the center of Freedman's Town, was the center of activity for the African-American community. It was the first brick structure built and owned by African-Americans in Houston.
Antioch provided the former slaves with opportunities to learn not only about God, but also provided ministries to help them develop educationally, economically and socially.
The first educational opportunity for freed African-Americans began at Antioch. With the help of two missionaries, Rev. Yates began the Baptist Academy. The Baptist Academy taught fundamentals such as: reading, writing, and arithmetic,; in addition to trades, thus enabling men and women to start their own businesses. The Baptist Academy later became Houston College. Houston College was the forerunner of Texas Southern University.
Economic development and recreational activities were also encouraged and supported at Antioch. The Old Landmark Baptist Association of Texas was organized at Antioch. Under Rev. Yates' leadership, members were encouraged and assisted in buying property, owning homes and businesses.
The Emancipation Park, in conjunction with Trinity Methodist Church, was purchased for recreational activities and community celebrations, such as the 19 of June.
With the vision and support of Rev. Yates and Antioch, the first African-American College in the state of Texas began. This was Bishop College.
Just as they did then, Antioch's congregation and leaders continue to provide needed and vital services to the Houston community.
College Park is one of Houston’s three oldest and most historic Black burying grounds (along with Evergreen Negro and Olivewood Cemeteries). It was founded in 1896 by Adam Clay with an investment of $1000. The name resulted from its location across the street from Houston Central College for Negros (1894 – 1921). The first documented interment, Margaret Whitman, occurred on September 21, 1897. Due to its close proximity to the historic Fourth Ward, it was initially burial lots for freed slaves who migrated to Houston following the War Between the States. Over the years many of the Black community’s leading citizens – religious, civic, business, educational – were interred here as are veterans of WW I and II and participants in the 1917 Camp Logan Riot. College Park was abandoned in the 1970s, became overgrown, vandalized and a magnet for the addicted and homeless. For the next 40 years all efforts to save the property failed. Thankfully, through the efforts of Rev. Robert Robertson and the College Park Cemetery Association, it is on its way to returning to its former glory. In 2002 it was designated a Texas State Historical Cemetery.
Oh seek me not within a tomb
Thou shall not find me in the clay
Pierce a little wall of gloom
To mingle with the day.
Brooks, Pinkie (1884-1925) – Unknown Occupation – Writing of epitaphs has become a lost art. The most creative gravestones today offer up the deceased’s name, birthday and date of death. Therefore, when we encounter a great epitaph we write it down in our cemetery notebook. We do not know a thing about this gentleman, but could not resist sharing his epitaph.
Browse below to view a few of the graves located in College Park Cemetery.
Cornish, Jennie (1858-1911) – Housewife – Born in Indian Territory, Jennie migrated to Houston and married John Cornish who was a blacksmith. They had three children: Charles and Loomis (brick workers) and Bertha (housewife).
Hill, Halley Mae – (June 4, 1918 – August 5, 1918) – Baby – There are a number of infants buried in College Park. Most are only identified on their gravestone as “Baby” or “Infant.” Carrie and Eddie Hill’s two month old daughter passed away and has her own marker.
Jones, Earl – Sculptor – Fortunately, this Black Galveston artist is alive and well and sculpted a tree killed by Hurricane Ike into a wonderful piece of art for College Park. Jones is famous for creating the numerous tree sculptures in Galveston out of many of the trees drowned by standing salt water following Ike. You can’t miss it. Enter through the cemetery gate and walk a dozen or so paces south and look to your right.
Jones, Solomon (1875-1960) – Grocer – Jones lived in Freedmen’s Town where he operated a grocery store. In addition he owned his homestead. Over the years he made extra cash working as an elevator operator, watchman and hotel pantry man. In 1930, he purchased a radio, one of only a few in the neighborhood. Neighbors would come from blocks around to hear this high technology form of entertainment. His wife, Winnie, was a chambermaid.
Terrell, Marcelite E. (1866-1924) – Educator – She was a native of Louisiana. Her father, a slave by birth, became the first Black mayor in America in 1868 (Donaldson, Louisiana). He later served in the Louisiana Legislature. Following her marriage to Isaiah Terrell in 1883 the couple moved to Houston where she became a college professor.
Terrell, Isaiah Milligan – (1861-1931) – Educator – Born as a slave in Texas, when he became a free man Terrell quickly realized how important education would be in allowing former slaves to get on the road to prosperity. He established the first school for these individuals in Fort Worth. From 1915 until 1918 Terrell served as President of Prairie View A&M University. He moved to Houston to accept the Presidency of Houston College in 1918. Terrell was a founder and first administrator of the Negro Hospital in Houston, a facility that operates today as Riverside General. He and his wife, Marcelite, lived on the street that runs in front of College Park Cemetery.
Sessums, John Jr. (1849-1928) – Musician – Organized in 1873, the Texas Light Guard is one of the oldest National Guard units in Texas. It mobilized nine times to maintain peace in Houston and once in Galveston, following the Great Storm of 1900. During the Spanish-American War of 1898 these soldiers were sent to support the U. S. Army in Cuba. They were famous for their brilliant reputation in military drills. The Guard won over $40,000 in cash and prizes and finally were no longer invited to competitions, as they seemed invincible. Sessums was the only Black member of the Guard and was named Perpetual Drummer.
Smith, Clara Nell (1927-1952) – Clerk – This native born Texas single woman worked as a clerk in a Houston jewelry store. Her life came to a tragic end on August 13, 1952 when she suffered an appendix attack and died on the operating table.
Lights, Frederick Lee (1859-1921) – Reverend – He was born in Louisiana but moved to Texas in 1871. Lights was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1882. Sometime thereafter, he relocated to Houston, settling in Freedman’s Town. Soon he was elected pastor of Antioch Baptist Church and president of Western Star Publishing.
Fort Bend County Sesquicentennial, 1822–1972 (Richmond, Texas: Fort Bend County Sesquicentennial Association, 1972). S. A. McMillan, comp., The Book of Fort Bend County (Richmond?, Texas, 1926). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
The History of Kendleton shows some slave masters were concerned about the future of the slaves they once owned. When slavery ended, William Kendall broke his plantation into small plots and sold them to his slaves at minimal cost. The freedmen created the town of Kendleton. At the time of emancipation it is important to note that Fort Bend County was 90% African American.
Kendleton is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 59 and Farm Road 2919, 14 miles southwest of Rosenberg in western Fort Bend County. It was once the site of a plantation belonging to William E. Kendall. In the 1860's, Kendall divided the plantation into small farms, which he sold to former slaves. The community that resulted became known as Kendleton. In 1882 the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway Company laid track between Rosenberg and Victoria, passing through Kendleton. A post office was established in 1884 with Benjamin F. Williams as postmaster. In 1890, Kendleton had a general store and 25 residents; by 1896 it had grown to include three general stores and a Methodist and a Baptist church, which served some 2,000 people in the surrounding rural area. The census of 1900 reported 116 residents in the town itself. The Kendleton schools also served a wider population than Kendleton proper. In 1903, the community had two schools for 12 white students and three schools for 202 black students. The population of Kendleton fell to 36 in 1933, but rose again to 100 by the late 1940's. It fluctuated between 150 and 200 in the 1960's and early 1970's but, after voters chose to incorporate Kendleton in 1973, rose to more than 600. In 1990, Kendleton reported 496 residents. Locals estimated that there were around 2,200 people in the town and the surrounding area; however the 2000 census still reported a population of 466.
Norris Wright Cuney, politician, the fourth of eight children born to a white planter, Philip Minor Cuney, and a slave mother, Adeline Stuart, was born on May 12, 1846, near Hempstead, Texas. He attended George B. Vashon's Wylie Street School for blacks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1859 to the beginning of the Civil War. Afterward he wandered on riverboats and worked at odd jobs before he returned to Texas and settled in Galveston. There he met George T. Ruby, president of the Union League. Cuney studied law and by July 18, 1871, was appointed president of the Galveston Union League. He married Adelina Dowdie on July 5, 1871, and to their union were born a son and a daughter, Maud Cuney-Hare.
CUNEY, NORRIS WRIGHT (1846–1898)
Portrait of Norris Wright Cuney. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Cuney was a supporter of Edmund J. Davis, and his career in the 1870's and 1880's was a mixture of success and failure. In 1873, he was appointed secretary of the Republican State Executive Committee. He was defeated in the race for mayor of Galveston in 1875 and for the state House and Senate in 1876 and 1882 respectively. However, in appointed offices and as a dispenser of patronage, Cuney was powerful. From his appointment as the first assistant to the sergeant-at-arms of the Twelfth Legislature in 1870, he went on to serve as a delegate to every national Republican convention from 1872 to 1892. In 1873, he presided at the state convention of black leaders at Brenham (see black state conventions). He became inspector of customs of the port of Galveston and revenue inspector at Sabine Pass in 1872, special inspector of customs at Galveston in 1882, and finally collector of customs of the port of Galveston in 1889.
In 1883, Cuney was elected alderman on the Galveston City Council from the Twelfth District, a post that left him time to work simultaneously as a leader of the Republican party and a contracting stevedore. In 1886, he became Texas national committeeman of the Republican party, the most important political position given to a black man of the South in the nineteenth century. One historian of the Republican party in Texas characterizes the period between 1884 and 1896 as the "Cuney Era."
In order to lead Texas blacks to increased prosperity, in 1883 Cuney bought $2,500 worth of tools and called together a group of black dockworkers, which he eventually organized into the Screwmen's Benevolent Association. He carried this fledgling organization into open competition. He was also strongly committed to education. He was appointed school director of Galveston County in 1871 and supported the black state college at Prairie View (now Prairie View A&M University).
Cuney was first grand master of the Prince Hall Masons in Texas from 1875 to 1877. He also belonged to the Knights of Pythias and the Odd Fellows. He died on March 3, 1898, in San Antonio and was buried in Lake View Cemetery, Galveston.
Camp Logan, circa 1917, was a World War I army training facility located where Memorial Park is now.
Around 2:00 a.m. on a sticky August night in 1917, a 35-year-old Army sergeant named Vida Henry sat exhausted and bleeding by the Southern Pacific railroad tracks just west of downtown Houston. As he watched his men slowly melt into the darkness, the first steps of a long trudge toward a dubious future, there was only one task remaining.
For the previous five hours, Henry had led the soldiers of I Company on a march through town with a single objective - retribution. Now it was done. Houston stood awash in blood and fear, with more than two dozen bodies in the streets, the morgue and local hospitals.
None of this was imaginable a month earlier when the Third Battalion of the 24th Infantry rolled into the city. Henry watched it build day by day, the anger that finally boiled over on a rainy Thursday afternoon. His African-American soldiers absorbed the abusive treatment by white citizens, especially the police, until the moment they decided not to. He saw the fury in their eyes as they raised their rifles.
Now Henry had seen enough. As the soldiers declared their intention to head back to camp, many expected him to lead them. He said no. "Ain't going in," he said. "Ain't going to camp no more." Only one thing was on his mind. He wanted one of his soldiers to finish him off. One by one, he asked them. Each refused. At last, they picked up their rifles and turned to go. Henry reached for his as well, ready to inflict the last death on a night devoted to it.
The largest murder trial in the history of the United States. Scene during Court Martial of 64 members of the 24th Infantry U.S.A. on trial for mutiny and murder of 17 people at Houston, Texas on August 23, 1917. Trial held in Gift Chapel Fort, Sam Houston. The Houston Riot of 1917. Buyenlarge, Getty Images
The scene of a major riot in 1927 in which 17 people were killed. Undated street scene, Camp Logan, Houston, Texas.
Historians would record the Camp Logan Mutiny as an event without true precedent, a deadly and premeditated assault by black army soldiers on a white population. The immediate effect was 16 dead, including five police officers, and 22 wounded (although accounts of the precise number have varied). That was followed months later by the largest murder trial on record, soon followed by two more, with 19 men sent to the gallows and 53 handed life sentences. The greater upshot was a lasting stain on the U.S. military and especially the 24th Infantry, whose proud history would henceforth contain a horrible chapter.
A century has passed since the events of August 23, 1917; ample time to digest the horrific violence, reflect on its causes, make some sense of how such a thing could happen in 20th century America or perhaps how it was bound to, and then interpret and reinterpret the lessons for later generations.
None of that took place. The soldiers' rebellious acts - cold-blooded murder or militant self-defense - were buried along with the bodies that lay lifeless on the streets late into that sweltering summer night, and the bodies hauled down from the gallows not long thereafter. The city moved on. Save for the families of the dead, black and white, there seemed a conscious desire not to remember an event that fit into no useful narrative.
"Yes, they buried it - they had rejected this story for years," said local playwright Celeste Bedford Walker, who brought it back to life in 1987 with her play Camp Logan. "Houston was an up-and-coming type of town. Even though it was the South, it wasn't the 'South' South. A black man, if he kept his head down, could make it here. No one really wanted this story out."
This account is based on trial testimony, U.S. military records, contemporaneous press accounts, and subsequent writings about the event, including historian Robert Haynes' thorough retelling of the mutiny, A Night of Violence (Louisiana State University Press, 1976).
Camp Logan barely outlasted World War I. The ground it sat on became what is now Memorial Park. By the 1930's, the East Texas oil boom fed the continuing transformation of what had been only the state's third largest city. Houston business leaders wanted to project an image of New South opportunity, for white and black alike. Many of the city's black residents had been leaving as part of the Great Migration to the north, where industrial employment offered the potential for a better life. That was a problem. Picking at the scab covering the Camp Logan killings was not perceived to be in anyone's interest.
Over the years the echoes of this furious moment grew fainter until at last they were mostly gone. If no one mentioned it or saw good purpose in reconstructing an ugly tale with no heroes, then it might as well have never happened. Of course, there was another reason for Houston to let it go, one that became more apparent as the civil rights movement began to take root.
"It raises the specter of black violence," said Chad Williams, a Brandeis University history professor who specializes in the African-American military experience. "This is really critical. Going back to antebellum days, one of the great fears was black people taking up arms and fighting back in retribution for the racist treatment they had endured. That is what happened in Houston. That is a possibility that the nation still shudders at."
Follow the path the soldiers took. Ken Ellis, Houston Chronicle.
Leading up to the attack...
With America's entry into World War I, black units were pressed into duty in support roles as the Army mobilized. The task of the Third Battalion of the 24th Infantry that summer was to do guard work for a cantonment under construction in Houston, Camp Logan. The city celebrated the new base, but the decision by the War Department to send in the black soldiers was disliked by white civic leaders, who registered a mild protest. Even a few black leaders considered it a bad idea and said so publicly, which inspired a Houston congressman to redouble his efforts the have the unit posted elsewhere.
Fresh in the minds of many was a major race riot at the beginning of June in East St. Louis, Ill., in which a white mob invaded the city, burned down many of its buildings, and killed more than 100 African-American residents. That arose out of a labor dispute, but still. And some officers in the upper ranks of the 24th were just as nervous, recalling previous problems when black regiments had been sent to Texas.
The military stuck to its decision, pointing out that the assignment was to last only seven weeks and that the men were to be quartered on the edge of town. Upon arrival, the Third Battalion's commander assured leading citizens who greeted him that the men were never armed except while on sentry duty, had a sterling record of overall personal conduct, and would not live at the camp proper but in a special "Negro camp" a mile or so east. There would be a dance hall and cafe next to the camp for the black soldiers, and local black residents would get ample visitation privileges so as to further reduce trips into town.
The soldiers of the 24th Infantry, a descendant of the "Buffalo Soldier" regiments of the western frontier, had a proud history and had recently served with distinction in the Philippines and Mexico. Wherever they had been sent, their race had never overtly been an issue. On July 28, as they got to Houston, they found it was all that mattered. A black man in military uniform was an affront to what local whites viewed as the southern way of life.
In a land ruled by Jim Crow, the soldiers were told to sit only in the back of streetcars, to drink from specified water sources, to ignore the daily barrage of insults and epithets, and to treat white people deferentially, especially police officers. Every encounter, it seemed, carried the sting of slur. The soldiers felt it daily, from the police more than anyone. When they talked back, the townsfolk fumed and the cops became increasingly violent. Small incidents grew until they became a constant headache for city officials and camp commanders.
As the weeks passed, the soldiers' anger tipped toward rage. Increasingly willing to spout off to abusive police officers - virtually the entire force was white and defiantly racist - they suffered assault and arrest without striking back. Adding to their frustration was a belief that the white officers who topped their ranks were doing little to stand up for them and stop the daily denigration.
By the halfway point of their stay, both city leaders and the unit's senior officers were on edge. Fear was rising that something - anything - might spark a major incident. They were right.
On August 23, reports began to reach camp that one of their own was dead. Charles Baltimore, a popular corporal of I Company, supposedly had been shot by Lee Sparks, who along with partner Rufus Daniels were the most feared and despised officers in the San Felipe district, a black neighborhood that today includes parts of downtown and Montrose. At last a line had been crossed. The news made the rounds in no time.
Later came encouraging bulletins that Baltimore was not dead, only injured. That did little to assuage the mounting anger. Soldiers sent word to their girlfriends not to come out to camp or even be on the streets that night. A plan was afoot.
As Baltimore was being brought back to camp, an officer asked him to play down the situation with his excited fellow soldiers. Don't make a big deal about it, he said. Try to calm the frayed nerves.
"I understand, sir," Baltimore replied. Yet as soon as he was back in camp, Baltimore was relating his tale and vowing revenge. Increasing numbers of soldiers promised to join him, and soon they were recruiting throughout the various companies.
The white commander of the Third Battalion, Major Kneeland S. Snow, was warned by a company sergeant that trouble was brewing. Though hardly a gifted leader, he preferred to spend his time playing golf with local citizens and attending social events. Snow had the sense to realize it wouldn't take much to push his men over the edge, and to be safe he decided to cancel all passes to town.
He also pleaded with the soldiers not to take the law into their own hands, adding that Sparks had already been suspended. Just for good measure, he ordered rifles and ammunition to be collected and placed in the guarded supply tents. Some men complied. When he saw several walking away with stolen ammunition, he placed them under arrest and went to supervise collection efforts himself, only to be stopped at gunpoint.
"I couldn't get any response at all in the way of obedience," Snow testified at the first court martial. "No man paid any more attention to me that night than as though I had been a mosquito on his face. I didn't appeal to a man to help me, to stand by me, that responded to me."
With the camp on the edge of open mutiny, all the white officers and some of the black sergeants desperately tried to maintain control. Those efforts were made moot when Frank Johnson, a well known private with a booming voice, bellowed out, "Grab your guns, boys. Here comes the mob!"
A single shot echoed through the darkness. Even though it likely came from Johnson, who had concealed a rifle in his pants leg, the effect was to cause instant panic. Soldiers who had turned in their rifles rushed the supply tents, knocking aside those standing guard. Within seconds, shots were fired out of the camp toward the woods and nearby homes and buildings, into bushes hither and yon, across the camp and through the soldiers' own tents, up in the air and down at the ground.
It is unclear how long the gunfire continued. Some later said 30 minutes, though it may have been less. Residents who lived nearby at first thought it was some sort of "sham battle" training exercise. The firing went on until Snow and other officers finally managed to convince the men that there was no mob, that the only threat was to their fellow soldiers from their own shooting. One had already been seriously wounded.
A few moments of silence was erased by soldiers shouting from various directions. "Let's go to town and get to work," one exhorted. "Stick by your own race," said another. Finally came the clear words of Company I's true leader, 1st Sergeant Henry, a severe by-the-books stickler whose loyalty to the Army and its discipline had never before been in doubt.
"Fall in!" Henry said. "Fill your canteens."
Within minutes a group of about 100 soldiers left camp and started toward town. Some of the soldiers on guard duty at Camp Logan also deserted. Snow got on the phone to warn Ben Davison, former Houston police chief and still a civic leader. The current police chief apparently was asleep and could not be reached.
"Hell has broken loose in my camp," Snow excitedly said, "and I can do nothing with the men."
Then the line went dead.
Freedmen's Town, Houston Texas (1865-Current)
by Roger Wood
Throughout the middle part of the 20th century, Houston's Eldorado Ballroom reigned as one of the finest showcases in Texas for the live performance of black secular music - mostly blues, jazz, and R&B, but occasionally also pop and zydeco. This venue, owned and operated by African Americans, occupied the entire second floor of the Eldorado Building, located across from historic Emancipation Park on the southwest quadrant of the intersection of Elgin and Dowling Streets in the Third Ward, home to the city's largest black population.
From 1939, when it was built, until the early 1970's, the Eldorado was the venue of choice for upscale blues and jazz performances featuring touring stars and local talent, as well as afternoon talent shows and sock-hops. The ballroom was the centerpiece of several profitable enterprises owned by African-American businesswoman and philanthropist Anna Dupree (1891-1977), who had already achieved significant success as a beauty-shop operator before marrying Clarence Dupree in 1914. Together they established the Eldorado Ballroom in order to provide a "class" venue for black social clubs and general entertainment. Almost from the beginning, "the 'rado" (as people sometimes called it) and the large building that housed it became symbols of community pride—the Third Ward's most prestigious focal point, especially for musicians.
El Dorado Ballroom Historical Marker.
Like the more famous Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, the Eldorado Ballroom billed itself as the "Home of Happy Feet" - signifying not only its reputation for lively musical performance but also its large, and reportedly often crowded, dance floor. Among the house orchestras that worked there, providing instrumental backing for locally-produced floor shows as well as for featured touring artists, were big bands directed by distinguished Texas bandleaders and instrumentalists such as Ed Golden, Milton Larkin, I. H. "Ike" Smalley, Arnett Cobb, Pluma Davis, and Conrad Johnson. At its heyday as a venue for major touring acts from the postwar years through the early 1960s, the Eldorado regularly headlined nationally-known performers such as Ray Charles, Bill Doggett, Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones), Etta James, Jimmy Reed, Big Joe Turner, and T-Bone Walker.
Numerous Houston musicians received valuable early professional experience by playing in the Eldorado Ballroom house bands. Many of them subsequently became famous bandleaders and recording artists in their own right. Noteworthy examples include saxophonist and vocalist Eddie Vinson, saxophonist Don Wilkerson, and trumpeter Calvin Owens. Likewise, for many musically-inclined black Houstonians coming of age in the mid-twentieth century, the weekly talent shows at the Eldorado Ballroom provided an initial opportunity to perform in public before large audiences. Among those who reportedly launched their careers there were Peppermint Harris (Harrison Nelson), Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and Joe "Guitar" Hughes.
By 1970, however, the fortunes of the Eldorado, like those of the Third Ward in general, were in decline. Key factors contributing to the ballroom's eventual demise were the negative economic impact for black-owned businesses in the old wards triggered by desegregation, the lack of adequate parking space in an era when more African Americans were starting to own automobiles, and changing musical tastes (as many younger blacks abandoned the classic jazz and blues of their parents' generation for more progressive sounds).
During the last quarter of the 20th century the Eldorado Building was home to various small business enterprises and much vacant subdivided space for lease. But in December 1999, the massive structure (along with the entire seventeen-lot block on which it sits) was acquired by Third Ward–based Project Row Houses, a non-profit arts and community service organization formed to restore the facility as a special performance venue, archive, and meeting site that will preserve the legacy of the once grand Eldorado Ballroom.
On May 17, 2003, the venue opened once again to host its first major event in more than thirty years. This fundraising gala, called Howling on Dowling, raised more than $75,000 for ongoing renovations. Since that opening, the Eldorado Ballroom has hosted concert events featuring jazz, blues, zydeco, and other genres, and Project Row Houses has continued to collect oral histories, old photographs, and other research resources in the effort to compile an archive for the facility. In 2011 the Eldorado received a Texas Historical Marker.
by Andrea HSU
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in the affirmative action case of Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin, as NPR's Nina Totenberg will report later today on All Things Considered.
But we want to take a moment to remember another landmark case that brought the University of Texas to the Supreme Court 62 years ago. It led to the end of segregation at the university and paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education four years later, yet these days, it's seldom spoken of, eclipsed by Brown and other events that followed. Marshall would go on to build a case around the idea of intangibles. Beyond differences in square footage of classrooms and numbers of faculty, course offerings, and books in the library, a separate facility for black students lacked opportunities to debate ideas with other students, a critical part of learning.
"The modern law school is operated so the student can understand ideas of all stratas of society, so he can go out and be of service to his community, his state and his nation," argued Marshall, a future Supreme Court justice. "You tell [Sweatt], 'You go over there by yourself. You don't have a chance to exchange ideas with anybody.' " He would take that argument all the way to the Supreme Court.
On June 5, 1950, the court ruled unanimously that under the Equal Protection Clause, Sweatt must be admitted to the university. Chief Justice Fred Vinson referenced intangibles in the opinion: "The law school, the proving ground for legal learning and practice, cannot be effective in isolation from the individuals and institutions with which the law interacts. Few students and no one who has practiced law would choose to study in an academic vacuum, removed from the interplay of ideas and the exchange of views with which the law is concerned." Sweatt enrolled at the law school that fall, but dropped out before completing his second year. His family cites the toll that his case had taken on his health as well as a failing marriage. He later earned a masters degree in social work from Atlanta University and went on to have a career with the Urban League. Sweatt died in 1982.
Heman Sweatt in line for registration at the University of Texas in 1950. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
History Colored Junior College (1927-1934)
On September 14, 1927, the Houston Public School Board agreed to fund the development of two junior colleges: one for whites and one for African-Americans. And so, with a loan from the Houston Public School Board of $2,800, the Colored Junior College was born in the summer of 1927 under the supervision of the Houston School District. The main provision of the authorization was that the college meet all instructional expenses from tuition fees collected from the students enrolling in the college. The initial enrollment for the first summer was 300. For the fall semester, the enrollment dropped to 88 students because many of the 300 enrolled during the summer semester were teachers who had to return to their jobs once the school year began.
The Colored Junior College was established to provide an opportunity for African-Americans to receive college training. The Junior College progressed so fast that by 1931, it became a member of the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and was approved by the Southern Association of Colleges.
History College for Negroes (1934-1947)
In the summer of 1934, the Houston School Board changed the junior college to a four-year college and the name to Houston College for Negroes. In 1936, 63 individuals became members of the first graduating class. The college operated this way until the summer of 1943, when it formally added a graduate program. In the spring of 1945, the HISD severed its relationship with Houston College for Negroes, and thereafter all management of the college was vested in a Separate Board of Regents.
The college continued to operate in Yates High School, but by 1946 it had grown to an enrollment of approximately 1,400 students and needed room to grow. A few years earlier, with the help of Hugh Roy Cullen, a local philanthropist, the college obtained a 53-acre piece of property in the Third Ward area of Houston. With support from two large donors, Mrs. T.M. Fairchild, in memory of her late husband, Mr. and Mrs. C.A. Dupree, and the African American community, the college raised enough money to construct its first building on the new campus. In the fall of 1946, the college moved from Jack Yates High School to its first building, the new T.M. Fairchild Building, which still operates as an active building in the university's facilities inventory.
Texas State University for Negroes (1947-1951)
In February of 1946, Heman Marion Sweatt, an African American Houston mail carrier, applied to enroll in the law school at the University of Texas. Because Texas was one of the segregated states, Sweatt was denied admission and later filed a suit against the University of Texas and the State of Texas with the support of the NAACP. In response, believing the separate but equal doctrine would carry the day, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 140 on March 3, 1947, providing for the establishment of a Negro law school in Houston and the creation of a university to surround it. This bill was complemented by House Bill 788, which approved $2,000,000.00 to purchase a site near Houston to house this new college and support its operation. Texas law makers initially considered Prairie View A&M College as the location of this new law school. However, on June 14, 1947, the decision was made to use the site of Houston College for Negroes, with its new campus at the center of a large and fast growing black population. Thus, a new law school for Negroes of Texas and Texas State University for Negroes was born.
Under the separate but equal concept, the intention of Senate Bill 140 and House Bill 788 was to create a new university for Negroes in Houston that would become the equivalent of the University of Texas in Austin.
Texas Southern University (1951-Present)
On June 1, 1951, the name of this new university for Negroes was changed from Texas State University for Negroes to Texas Southern University after students petitioned the state legislature to remove the phrase "for Negroes."
When the university opened its doors in September 1947, it had 2,300 students, two schools, one division and one college - the Law School, the Pharmacy School, the Vocational Division, and the College of Arts and Sciences. Responding to the changing times, in 1973, the 63rd Legislature designated Texas Southern University as a "special purpose" institution for urban programming. As a result, four more academic units were added - the College of Education, the School of Public Affairs, the School of Communications and the Weekend College. This designation described what Texas Southern University was doing from its inception - embracing diversity.
Today, Texas Southern University offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in the following academic colleges and schools: the College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences; the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; the College of Science and Technology; the College of Education; the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs; the School of Communication; the Thurgood Marshall School of Law; the Jesse H. Jones School of Business; the Thomas Freeman Honors College; the College of Continuing Education and the Graduate School. Other programmatic emphases are found in the Center for Excellence in Urban Education, the Center for Transportation Training and Research, the Center on the Family and a variety of special programs and projects.
Currently, Texas Southern University is staffed by approximately 1,000 faculty members and support personnel. More than 9,500 students, representing ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, are currently enrolled at the university.