Viola Pettus

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Viola Pettus was an African-American woman, born about 1886, who lived in Marathon, Brewster County, Texas. Viola is remembered in Texas for her courageous work as a nurse during the 1918 flu pandemic. Her legendary service — even to members of the Ku Klux Klan — formed the basis for one of the plot lines in American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, a play by Richard Montoya, a member of the Culture Clash performance group.[1]

Viola was married to Benjamin Pettus. They had three daughters: Ura, Hazel, and Dorothy. The US Census lists the Pettus family as living in Justice Precinct 3, Brewster County, Texas, in 1910 and 1920.[2][3]

Sometime prior to 1929, Viola and Benjamin Pettus opened their home in Marathon, Texas, to African-American and Seminole children of the community who were denied education in the segregated school system of Brewster County.[4]


  1. ^ Montoya, Richard; Culture Clash (2010). "American Night: The Ballad of Juan José". OSF 75th Season. Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  2. ^ US Census (1910) Census Place: Justice Precinct 3, Brewster, Texas; Roll T624_1533; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 6; Image: 608.
  3. ^ US Census (1920) Census Place: Justice Precinct 3, Brewster, Texas; Roll T625_1781; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 14; Image: 1071.
  4. ^ Glover, Mark (2008). "African-American school in Alpine seeks historic recognition". The Big Bend Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-08-16.