History of the African Americans in Houston

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African American Library at the Gregory School, located in the Fourth Ward in Houston

The African American population in Houston, Texas has been a significant part of the cities community since its founding. As of 2010, John B. Strait and Gang Gong, authors of "Ethnic Diversity in Houston, Texas: The Evolution of Residential Segregation in the Bayou City, 1990–2000," stated that of all of the minority groups in Houston, African-Americans are the most segregated from non-Hispanic whites.[1]

History[edit]

When Houston was founded in 1836, an African-American community had already begun to be established.[2] In 1860, 49% of the city's African American population was enslaved;[3] there were eight free blacks and 1,060 slaves.[2] Before the American Civil War, enslaved African-Americans living near Houston worked on sugar and cotton plantations, while most of those living within the city limits held domestic and artisan jobs.

Although slavery ended after the U.S. Civil War, by the mid-1870s racial segregation became codified throughout the South, including Texas.[4] African Americans in Houston were poorly represented by the predominantly white state legislature and city council, and were politically disenfranchised during the Jim Crow era; whites had used a variety of tactics, including militias and legislation, to re-establish political and social supremacy throughout the South.[5] Texas Southern University students led the integration of Houston in the 1960s. Six months after their first sit-in, 70 Houston lunch counters were desegregated. The success of their continued efforts eventually led to the full integration of businesses within the city.[6]

The Houston Riot of 1917 was a riot of black U.S. soldiers stationed in Houston.

In 1929 Houston Planning Commission chairperson Will Hogg made a proposal to designate areas of the city by race in its zoning so African-Americans do not become too numerous near White communities; the city did not enact this as it never adopted zoning.[7]

In the 1940s and 1950s black people from small southern towns moved to Houston, resulting in the black communities increasing in size. The black population in the Third Ward became larger and therefore closer in proximity to nearby Jewish communities.[8] White people began to move from the Third Ward area, partly due to the passage of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1952.[9]

On Friday, March 4, 1960, Texas Southern University students led Houston’s first sit-in at the Weingarten’s grocery store lunch counter located at 4110 Almeda Road. That sit-in played a major role in the desegregation of Houston’s white owned businesses. Today, a U.S. Post Office sits at that location; however, a Texas Historical Marker sits in the front of the building reminding visitors of the courageous role TSU students played in the desegregation of Houston, Texas.

In 1970, 90% of the black people in Houston lived in mostly African-American neighborhoods. By 1980 this decreased to 82%.[10]

Historically, the City of Houston placed established landfill facilities in established African American neighborhoods. Private companies also located landfills in black neighborhoods. Between the early 1920s and the late 1970s the five municipal sanitary landfills were in black neighborhoods. During the same period, six of the eight municipal solid waste incinerators resided in mostly black neighborhoods. From 1970 to 1978 three of the four private landfills established during that period were located in Houston black neighborhoods.[10] Around that era African Americans made up around 25% of the city's population. Houston City Council, which decided where the landfills would be located, was entirely composed of white residents until 1972.[11] The political efforts and advocacy behind a 1979 federal lawsuit regarding one proposed landfill led to political changes that ended the deliberate placement of landfills in black neighborhoods.[11][12]

In 1980, the city had 440,257 African American residents, making it one of the largest black populations in the country.[2] As of 1987 most African Americans in Houston continued to live in inner-city black neighborhoods, even though they gained the legal right to move to any neighborhood. According to research at the University of Chicago, many African Americans choose to live in neighborhoods where they were raised.[13]

From the 1980 U.S. Census to the 1990 U.S. Census, many African Americans left traditional African-American neighborhoods such as the MacGregor area, Settegast, Sunnyside, and the Third Ward and entered parts of Southwest Houston, such as Alief, Fondren Southwest, Sharpstown, and Westwood.[14] Meanwhile, a significant percentage of Houston's Non-Hispanic whites population (particular those with children under 18) left the city for suburban communities, this phenomenon was known as white flight.[15]

In 2004, some African-Americans who had lived in the suburbs had returned to the inner city area due to their previous ties to those communities.[16]

By 2005 the outflow from traditional black neighborhoods, such as the Third Ward, Sunnyside, Kashmere Gardens, and the Fifth Ward continued, with blacks moving to Alief, other parts of Southwest Houston, Missouri City, and northwestern suburbs. Around 2005, African Americans began to move to an area around Farm to Market Road 1960, in an unincorporated area in Harris County. In many traditional inner-city black neighborhoods, Mexican and Latino residents moved in.[17] In addition to the New Great Migration, many African Americans in the US have moved to Houston for lower cost of living and more job opportunities.[18] Houston gained approximately 233,000 African-Americans between 2000 and 2010.[19]

An additional 150,000 to 250,000 mostly black evacuees arrived in 2005 from the New Orleans metro after Hurricane Katrina, with many of them deciding to stay in Houston.[20]

Commerce[edit]

A "you buy we fry" restaurant in Sunnyside, Houston

African Americans tend to be the main clientele of Houston's "you buy, we fry" fish restaurants. As of 2004, the city's highest concentration of those restaurants is in the Third Ward, a predominately African-American neighborhood.[21]

Cuisine[edit]

The Louisiana Creole people who settled Houston around the 1920s brought their cuisine with them. The Creole and Cajun cuisine style spread in Houston in the post-World War II era,[22] which led to various Creole food chains such as Frenchy's Chicken, Pappadeaux, and Popeyes.[23] Creole dishes include boudin, black rice and shrimp creole, crawfish, gumbo, and jambalaya.[22] Bernadette Pruitt, author of The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941, wrote that Creole cooking became "an important cultural bridge" in the city and in its African American community, and that, "As cooks, Creole housewives transformed Houston's typical southern cuisine."[22]

Demographics[edit]

From the 1870s to the 1890s, African Americans made up almost 40% of Houston's population. Between 1910 and 1970 the African American population ranged from 21% to 32.7%.[3] There were about 34,000 African-Americans in Houston in the 1920s, and in the 1930s there were about 63,000 African-Americans.[24] In 1920, 20% of the people classified as "black" were subclassified as "mulatto"; the census stopped taking statistics on "mulatto" people after 1920. In the racial segregation era people of Louisiana Creole origin with African heritage attended black institutions such as schools even though they often considered themselves racially distinct from non-Creole African Americans.[25] Creoles spoke Louisiana Creole French, making them linguistically distinct. Creoles also had different musical practices as they performed Southwest Louisiana-style "la-la".[26] In the 1920s the "San Felipe districts" had the largest group of African-Americans, the Third and Fifth wards had other significant communities.[27]

In 1940 the African-American population numbered 86,302, 21.4% of the number of people in Houston. The same population increased to 125,400, 21% of the city population, in 1950. 87.9% of the population increase from 1940 to 1950 was due to African-Americans moving from other parts of the United States, mostly Louisiana and Texas; most of the migrating African-Americans from rural areas and small towns. 1960 the African-American population numbered 215,037, 25.7% of the city population. In the central city, from 1950 to 1960, the African-American population increased by 20,299. Their percentage of the total population increased during that period from 23.4% to 31.1% because large numbers of white people left the central city. In 1970 the African-American population numbered 316,922, 25.7% of the city population.[8] By 1980,[10] Houston had 440,257 African American residents, making it one of the largest black populations in the country.[2]

In 2004 55% of the African American population born in Harris County originated from the Houston area either by birth or through growing up there as children.[16]

Cultural institutions[edit]

The Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) and Buffalo Soldier National Museum located in the Houston Museum District.[28]

The Houston Black Chamber of Commerce serves black businesses and professionals.[29]

The University Museum located on the campus of Texas Southern University is an art gallery that primarily highlights art by and about people in the African diaspora.[30]

Shrine of the Black Madonna is a cultural center, museum and bookstore that is owned and operated by the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church.[31]

Politics[edit]

Lee P. Brown, elected in 1997, was the first black Mayor of Houston.[32] He was the city's 50th mayor.[33]

As of 1997, African Americans typically constituted less than 25% of the electorate of the City of Houston. For the election of Lee P. Brown, blacks may have made up over 33% of the turnout. Brown won 90% or more in African-American neighborhoods.[34]

As of 2005 Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houstonian, is one of two black Texan U.S. House of Representatives members.[35] Al Green (Texas 9th district), also from Houston, is the other.

On December 13, 2015, Houston elected its second African-American mayor, Sylvester Turner.[36]

Religion[edit]

The number of African American Catholics in Houston increased after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected rural areas in the Southern United States.[37] Most of them moved to the Fifth Ward.[38] Due to a perception of the Catholic church being more favorable to African Americans than Protestant churches, the Catholic church in Houston increased in popularity with African Americans in the 1930s.[39]

The oldest black church in Houston is Trinity United Methodist Church, which was started by Rev. Elias Dibble who came from Mississippi to establish churches.[40]

The oldest Black Baptist church in Houston is the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, historically a part of the Freedmen's Town of Fourth Ward and now in Downtown Houston.[41] Jack Yates once served as the pastor of this church.[42]

The city's first black Catholic church was St. Nicholas, located in the Third Ward.[43] The Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in the Fifth Ward, Houston's second black Catholic church, was officially founded in June 1929.[44]

In the 1920s, prior to the construction of Our Mother of Mercy, a group of Louisiana Creole people attended the Hispanic Our Lady of Guadalupe Church because it was the closest church to the Frenchtown area of the Fifth Ward.[43] Because the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church church treated the Creole people in a discriminatory manner, by forcing them to confess and take communion after people of other races, and requiring them to take the back pews,[45] the Creoles opted to build their own church.[46]

The number of African-American Catholics in Houston increased after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected rural areas in the Southern United States.[47] Most of them moved to the Fifth Ward.[48] Due to a perception of the Catholic church being more favorable to African-Americans than Protestant churches, the Catholic church in Houston increased in popularity with African-Americans in the 1930s.[39] The third black church, St. Anne de Beaupre in the Houston Heights, named after the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Quebec, Canada, opened in 1938.[49]

Media[edit]

The Houston Forward Times, which began publication in 1960,[50] is the largest black-owned newspaper in the city.[51] The Houston Defender and the African-American News and Issues are other well established black-owned papers. The Texas Freeman was founded in 1893 and later merged to become The Houston Informer and Texas Freeman.[39]

KCOH 1430 AM was a black-owned radio stationed started in 1953.[52] It was a focal point for the Houston black community located at the iconic "looking-glass" studios on 5011 Almeda in Midtown Houston. KCOR launched the careers of radio personalities Michael Harris, Ralph Cooper, Don Samuel, Wash Allen. The station was purchased in 1976 by a consortium of investors, led by its general manager at the time, Michael Petrizzo.[53] After his death in January 2012, the radio station was put up for sale. The 1430 AM signal was eventually sold to Catholic-oriented, La Promessa Foundation's Guadalupe Radio Network in November 2012.[54] The Petrizzo family continued to own the historic building and equipment, leasing them and the 1230 AM signal to Dunn Ministries which continued the Urban Oldies format. KCOH announced in January 2016 that it has plans to move to the FM dial.[55]

The Houston Sun was established by Dorris Ellis and Lonal Robinson in 1983. It has won more than 200 awards and recognition[who?] and presents the First Amendment Conference annually for high school and college journalism students during March, African American Press Month. Dorris Ellis was awarded the Gutenberg Press Award by the Printing Museum of Houston in 2015. The Sun's staff is made up of journalists and interns who covers city hall, school board and local community news.

Education[edit]

Texas Southern University, is the largest HBCU in Texas and the only historically black university in Houston. Prairie View A&M University is in Prairie View, Texas (immediately northwest of Houston).

Historically black high schools (schools reserved for black students prior to desegregation in the 1960s) in Houston include:

Historically black middle schools include:

The Imani School is marketed towards African-American families.[56]

Opinions varied on whether the North Forest Independent School District (NFISD), which closed in 2013,[57] was a "historically black" district, and therefore also the largest historically black district in the state to be closed; Kimberly Reeves of the Houston Press noted that the district had not been predominately African-American in the segregation era and remained so since desegregation, into the 1970s.[58]

History of secondary education[edit]

Booker T. Washington High School (current 1958 campus shown) was the first high school for blacks in Houston.

In 1892 Colored High School, the first high school for black students, opened.[24] There were 8,293 students in Houston's schools for black students in the 1924-1925 school year.[59] In 1925 the Houston school board announced that a new high school would open in the Third Ward, in light of the large increase in the black population. The Houston Informer stated that the schools needed to be named after prominent black people from the city and/or other successful black persons.[24]

With the construction of the former Jack Yates High School (later Ryan Middle School), Wheatley High School, and other schools, the capacity of Houston's secondary schools for black children increased by three times from 1924 to 1929.[60] The original secondary school for blacks, Colored High School, became Booker T. Washington High School.[24] At the time all three secondary schools had junior high and senior high levels. There were 12,217 students in the black schools in the 1929-1930 school year. William Henry Kellar, author of Make Haste Slowly: Moderates, Conservatives, and School Desegregation in Houston, wrote that conditions in black schools "improved dramatically" in the 1920s.[59]

Yates High School (current 1958 campus pictured) was Houston's second black high school.

On January 27, 1958, Worthing High School opened, relieving Yates.[61] Yates moved to its current location in September 1958. Yates's former site became Ryan Colored Junior High School (now Ryan Middle School), named after the first principal of Yates.[62] Booker T. Washington moved to its present-day location in Independence Heights in 1959.[63]

In Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD), M.R. Wood School served as one of three schools for black students, including the sole black senior high school, until the district desegregated in 1965.[64]

Racial desegregation of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), resulting from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s,[65] occurred in the 1970s.[66] Yates High School began to lose upper and middle class students due to flight to the suburbs,[65] and the establishment of magnet schools in HISD.[67] As a result of the losses, Yates began to deteriorate.[65] Wheatley lost its upper and middle class students due to the same factors,[66] and in 1979 its principal, Charles Herald, stated that integration caused the best students and teachers to leave the school.[68]

History of tertiary education[edit]

In 1927 the Yates building began housing Houston Colored Junior College, later Houston College for Negroes.[60]

Culture and recreation[edit]

The Ensemble Theatre, an African-American theater company, has its studio in Midtown. The theater, founded by George Hawkins in 1976, is the largest African-American theater company in the United States.[69]

The Houston Museum of African American Culture is a museum devoted the exhibitions and public programs highlighting the lives and experiences of peoples of the African Diaspora. It is located at 4807 Caroline Street, Houston.

Juneteenth[edit]

Juneteenth is an annual celebration recognizing the emancipation of black slaves in Texas. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and published it on January 1, 1863, but it did not reach Texas until June 19, 1865. Over the next few years, African-American populations across Texas collected money to buy property dedicated to Juneteenth celebrations. In Houston, the effort was led by the Reverend Jack Yates, a Baptist minister and former slave. His church, Antioch Baptist, and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church formed the Colored People's Festival and Emancipation Park Association. In 1872, they pooled $800 to put down on ten acres of open land as home for their Juneteenth celebration.[70] In honor of their freedom, they named it Emancipation Park.[71][72]

There are several events throughout Houston commemorating this occasion. The Friends of Emancipation Park (FEP), a non-profit group of volunteers, was founded in 2007 by Dorris Ellis and Lonal Robinson to preserve and protect the interest and legacy of Emancipation Park. The FEP picked up the parade and keeps it going along with other exemplary programs. The FEP led the $33,000,000 renovation campaign to restore Emancipation Park and this campaign serves as an anchor to revitalize the Third Ward community and thwart the onslaught of gentrification.[73] Emancipation Park, with a space of 500,000 square feet (46,000 m2), is located in the Third Ward.[74]

Martin Luther King Day[edit]

There are two rival Martin Luther King Day parades held every year. The MLK Grande Parade is held by the MLK Parade Foundation,[75] and the other, the Original MLK Birthday Parade,[76] is held by the Black Heritage Society. As of 2007 Ovide Duncantell is the executive director of the Black Heritage Society and Charles Stamps is the CEO of the MLK Parade Foundation.[75]

Previously there was one MLK day parade held annually,[77] and Stamps was a part of Duncantell's organization.[75] In 1995, Stamps left and formed a separate parade. The two parades began competing for the favored times and days to hold their events. By 2007 the City of Houston had regulations stating that one parade can be held in Downtown Houston on a particular day. The Black Heritage Society and Duncantell sued the city in 2007 after Duncantell did not get the permit, arguing that several provisions of the ordinance enforcing the one parade per day in Downtown rule were unconstitutional.[77] In 2007 Lee Rosenthal, a U.S. district judge, on Wednesday January 10, 2007 ordered the city government to allow both parades to hold their events in Downtown Houston.[75] By 2008 the one parade per day rule, with the prized parade day decided by a coin toss, was again in place.[78]

The Houston Press ranked the 2006 MLK day parade, when the two rival parades joined together, as the "Best Parade Houston 2006".[79]

Service projects and voter registration drives also occur on MLK Day in Houston.[76]

Black Heritage Day at Houston Rodeo[edit]

Every spring, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo dedicates a day of the festival to acknowledge and celebrate black culture. A different popular black music artist headlines and performs at the event each year.[80]

Labor Day Classic[edit]

The Labor Day Classic is the only HBCU football classic in the Houston area. The classic is a gridiron match-up between Texas' two largest HBCUs, Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M.

Black Gay Pride[edit]

Houston's black LGBT community annually officially celebrate its presence during a special event called "Splash". Splash organizes gay and lesbian events in order to improve the cultural, environmental, medical and social health of gay men, lesbian and transgender people of African descent.[81]

Notable residents[edit]

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

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  5. ^ Woodward, C. Vann and McFeely, William S. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. 2001, p. 6
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