Jack Johnson, the first African American and first Texan to win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, was born the second of six children to Henry and Tiny Johnson in Galveston on March 31, 1878. His parents were former slaves. To help support his family, Jack Johnson left school in the fifth grade to work on the dock in his port city hometown. In the 1890s Johnson began boxing as a teenager in "battles royal" matches where white spectators watched black men fight and at the end of the contest tossed money at the winner.
Johnson turned professional in 1897 but four years later he was arrested and jailed because boxing was at that time a criminal sport in Texas. After his release from jail he left Texas to pursue the title of “Negro” heavyweight boxing champion. Although he made a good living as a boxer, Johnson for six years sought a title fight with the white heavyweight champion, James J. Jeffries. Jeffries denied Johnson and other African American boxers a shot at his title and he retired undefeated in 1904.
Nevertheless, Johnson’s reputation as a skilled ring tactician continued to grow as he defeated both black and white boxers. Finally, in 1908, Johnson fought a white champion Tommy Burns in Australia for $30,000, then the highest purse in boxing history. Johnson knocked out Burns in the 14th round to become the first African American heavyweight champion of the world.
When African American enslaved people were set free on June 19, 1865, The Yates family moved to Houston where he became drayman and Baptist preacher. As a minister, Yates did missionary work among the freedmen and women who were rapidly moving into Houston immediately after the Civil War. When the first black Baptist church (Antioch Missionary Baptist Church) was organized in Houston in January, 1866, he became its founding pastor. By 1875, the Antioch congregation, almost all of whom were former slaves, had erected a brick church edifice. With Yates at the helm of Antioch, the church had become influential in the political, social and cultural life of black Houston.
A marine biologist, academic, and administrator, Samuel Milton Nabrit was born in Macon, Georgia, to James Madison Nabrit and Gertrude West in 1905. Upon completing his elementary and high school education, he entered Morehouse College in 1921. There he earned the B.S. degree in Biology in May 1925 and spent the summer teaching at his alma mater. His stay at Morehouse was short lived because in September, 1925, he entered the University of Chicago where he pursued a master’s degree. Five years after completing his M.A. in 1927, Nabrit became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences when he graduated from Brown University in 1932.
Ben Kinchlow began life as a free black in Texas, when most African Americans were slaves. After the Texas Revolution, the new Republic legalized slavery and free African Americans were at risk of being sold back into slavery. Ben’s mother, Lizaar Moore, a half-white slave woman obtained her freedom from Sandy Moore, in Wharton County and in 1847 with one year old Ben and her other son journeyed to Mexico.
The family settled in the border area of Matamoros where Lizaar worked washing clothes, charging $2.50 a dozen for men’s clothing and $5.00 for women’s. Young Ben learned to ride and break horses and stayed in Mexico about twelve years before moving to Brownsville, where he lived until emancipation.
Working on the Bare Stone Ranch, Kinchlow became acquainted with Captain Leander McNelly and, at nineteen became a guide for McNelly working without pay. So began the Texas Ranger life of the earliest known African American with the Special Force or McNelly’s Rangers. When McNelly died Kinchlow returned to working cattle and breaking horses. He worked on the Banqueta Ranch as well as the King Ranch with horse breaking his main responsibility. Then he moved onto Matagorda County where worked as a cowhand on the Tres Palacios Ranch. He worked for twelve years getting fifty cents a head for every Maverick he roped and branded.
Peyton Colony was a freedmen’s community established in 1865 by Peyton Roberts (c.1820-1888), an ex-slave who migrated to Caldwell County, Texas. Roberts was born enslaved on the William Roberts Plantation in Virginia. Roberts and several families on the Roberts Plantation gained their freedom at the end of the Civil War.
In late 1865, Peyton Roberts led these families to the Texas hill country eight miles southeast of the present-day town of Blanco. They homesteaded public land and built cabins on their new properties. Their small community, along Boardhouse Creek, became known as the Peyton Colony.
In 1874, Rev. Jack Burch, a freedman, from Tennessee, arrived in the Colony and pitched a tent for the first meeting of the Mt. Horeb Baptist Church. Jim Upshear, one of the colonists, donated land for a permanent site and the settlers built a log church, which also served as a community school. Part of the Colony site, now a state park, includes a cemetery with 176 graves, including Peyton Roberts and many of the original settlers.
Thad Sitton and James H. Conrad, Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow, Austin, TX.: University of Texas Press, 2005; Wanda Qualls, “Peyton Cemetery – Black, Blanco County, Texas,” 2002, http://ftp.rootsweb.com/pub/usgenweb/tx/blanco/cemetery/peyton.txt (accessed April, 16, 2007); Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. “Peyton, Texas,” http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/PP/hrp77.html (accessed Aril 16, 2007).
Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, is the first African-American college established in the Lone Star State. The institution was founded in 1873 by Bishop Isaac Wiley of Methodist Episcopal Church and chartered by the Freedman’s Aid Society in 1882. Isaac Wiley grew up with dreams of becoming a minister but instead turned to medicine. In 1850 he was given the opportunity to go to China on a medical missionary trip. Following his return to the United States he entered the ministry and rose through the ranks before becoming a Bishop in 1872. In 1873 he founded Wiley College. The college is now affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is dedicated to the idea of social responsibility and seeks to contribute and revitalize the community, which it serves.
Wiley College was established to provide an education to newly freed men and women and to prepare them for a new life. It was also established to train teachers for careers at black elementary and secondary schools in Texas and other states and territories.
Pompey Factor, former slave, scout for the United States Army and Congressional Medal of Honor winner, was born in Arkansas in 1849 to Hardy Factor, a black Seminole chief and an unknown Biloxi Indian woman.
By the end of that 2nd Seminole War (1835-1842), most of the Seminole Indians and runaway slaves were captured and removed to the Indian Territory. The fear of enslavement drove many black Seminole to Mexico in the 1850s. Factor’s family was among those who emigrated.
On August 16, 1870, Factor enlisted in the Army and was assigned the rank of private with the Detachment of Seminole Negro Indian Scouts who worked with the Twenty-fourth Infantry, an all-black regiment. As a scout, he performed reconnaissance duties in Texas for the Army, tracking the movements of Comanches, Apaches, Kiowa and other Native Americans who refused to go to reservations.
The Beaumont Race Riot of 1943 was sparked by racial tensions that arose in this Texas shipbuilding center during World War II. The sudden influx of African American workers in industrial jobs in the Beaumont shipyard and the subsequent job competition with white workers forced race relations to a boiling point.
The riot itself exploded on June 15, 1943 with most of the violence ending a day later. White workers at the Pennsylvania Shipyard located in Beaumont, Texas confronted black workers after hearing that a local white woman had accused a black man of raping her. The woman who made the accusation was later unable to identify her attacker from the number of black inmates held at the city jail.
Nonetheless, on the evening of June 15, about 2,000 shipyard workers and an additional 1,000 bystanders marched on City Hall when they learned that a suspect had been jailed. The number of people eventually reached 4,000 as the mob approached City Hall. Once there, the mob splintered into smaller groups and began to break into stores and destroy property located in the black neighborhoods near downtown Beaumont. Black citizens were assaulted while whites looted and burned black stores and restaurants. More than 100 homes of black Beaumont residents were ransacked.
Heman Marion Sweatt was a postal worker from Houston, Texas, who in 1950 integrated the University of Texas Law School. Sweatt was born on December 11, 1912 in Houston, Texas. He was the fourth child of James Leonard and Ella Rose Sweatt. In 1930, he graduated from Jack Yates High School and earned a degree from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas in 1934. Soon after, Sweatt returned to Houston and worked as a mailman.
Michael L. Gillette, Michael L., "Heman Marion Sweatt: Civil Rights Plaintiff," in Alwyn Barr and Robert Calvert ed. Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times. (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981); http://txtell.lib.utexas.edu/stories/s0010-full.html.
Lacey Kirk Williams was the President of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., from 1922 to 1940 and Vice President of the World Baptist Alliance between 1928 and 1940. He also succeeded in creating an interracial alliance which he called a "cooperative" between the wealthy American Baptists, a white denomination, and the National Baptist Convention which greatly contributed to the latter's growth and the black community as a whole. Williams was President of the National Baptist Convention when he died in a plane crash in 1940 on his way to deliver a speech in Flint, Michigan.
Williams was born to a former slave couple, Levi and Elizabeth Williams, on the Shorter Plantation near Eufaula, Alabama. His family migrated to Texas in 1878. He received his education at Bishop College in Texas and Arkansas Baptist College and was ordained to ministry in 1894 at the Thankful Baptist Church in Pitt Bridge, Texas. The same year he was married to Georgia Lewis and they had one son together. Williams became the pastor of the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church in Ft. Worth in 1910 and soon afterwards was elected president of the Texas Baptist State Convention.
J. Gordon Melton, Religious Leaders of America: A Biographical Guide to
Founders and Leaders of Religious Bodies, Churches, and Spiritual
Groups in North America (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991);
Alphonso R. Jackson cultivated a three-decade career in public service that included an appointment as head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the administration of his long-time friend, President George W. Bush. Born in Marshall, Texas, in 1946, Jackson grew up in South Dallas, the youngest of twelve children in a working-class family. He earned a B.A. in political science (1968) and a M.Ed. (1969) from Northeast Missouri State University. He then studied at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, where he received a J.D. in 1972.
An early career in health care led to political aspirations for Eddie Bernice Johnson, culminating in her current position representing Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is an advocate for women, children, and human rights.
Born in Waco, Texas, in 1935 to parents Lee Edward Johnson and Lillie Mae (White) Johnson, Bernice Johnson traveled to Indiana to attend college when there were no educational opportunities for her as a black woman in Texas. She earned a diploma in nursing from St. Mary’s College of Notre Dame in 1955. One year later she married Lacey Kirk Johnson. The couple had one son, Kirk, and then divorced in 1970. Bernice Johnson continued her education. She later received a BS in nursing from Texas Christian University in 1967 and a MS in public administration in 1976 from Southern Methodist University.
Johnson was the chief psychiatric nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital until 1972 when she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, the first African American woman ever elected to public office from Dallas. She also became the first woman in Texas history to lead a major Texas House committee when she chaired the Labor Committee. Five years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to be the regional director for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. When Carter left office in 1980, Johnson entered the private sector as a business development consultant in Dallas.
King Curtis was a famous tenor sax player during the 1950s and 1960s and was known for his signature honking sound. Born in Fort Worth, Texas on February 7, 1934, with the birth name Curtis Ousley, King Curtis got his musical education in the public schools of his hometown. Curtis started out on alto sax at the age of 12 and then switched to tenor at 13. After graduating from high school, he began touring with Lionel Hampton’s jazz band. In 1952, Curtis moved to New York and began to venture out from jazz to a rising musical genre called rock and roll.
King Curtis by the late-1950s was a well-known session musician working with numerous rock and roll and rhythm and blues artists including Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Buddy Holly, and Wilson Pickett. He’s also remembered for his solo on the Coasters’ hit with “Yakety Yak” in 1958. Over his playing career as a session musician, it is estimated that King Curtis performed with over 125 jazz, pop, R&B, and rock and roll artists.
Texas Southern University, a state-supported institution of higher learning located just southeast of downtown Houston, was established on March 3, 1947 when the Fiftieth Texas State Legislature passed a bill establishing a " Negro University with a law school to be located in Houston." This bill grew out of demands by African Americans for graduate and professional training in the state of Texas, and because of a lawsuit filed by a black Houston mail carrier, Heman Marion Sweatt, to desegregate the University of Texas Law School.
Southwestern Christian College, a junior college with a four year Bible degree program, was largely the brainchild of George P. Bowser (1874-1950), an influential African American preacher in Churches of Christ. A former Methodist minister, Bowser received biblical and ministerial training at Walden College in Nashville, Tennessee. He brought his deep thirst for knowledge over into Churches of Christ by establishing a journal, Christian Echo (1902-present), and by founding educational institutions. From 1907 to 1914, Bowser led the Silver Point Christian Institute in Silver Point, Tennessee. In 1938, Bowser then launched the Bowser Christian Institute in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before its collapse in 1946.
In the 1870s George Jeffrey Tillotson, a Congregational minister from Connecticut, traveled to the Southwest in search of land to establish a school for African Americans. After finding several acres of land in Austin, Tillotson succeeded in raising $16,000.00 for an educational enterprise. While Tillotson was busy garnering funds for the project that bore his name, Samuel Huston, a wealthy landowner from Marengo, Iowa, contributed $9,000.00 to establish a co-educational school for African Americans in the same city. Originally known as the West Texas Conference School, the school's name was changed to Samuel Huston College 1890 and opened its doors in 1900.
Jim Perry was an African American cowboy and top hand, the highest-ranked cowboy, on the three million-acre XIT Ranch near Dalhart, Texas. Perry established himself as an expert roper, rider, bronc buster, cook and musician.
Perry was born on February 2, 1858, in Texas. Very little is known about his early life. Since his teens in the 1870s he worked for the Horse Shoe T Cross Ranch before joining the XIT, which was up and running by 1885. Perry helped string over seven hundred miles of barbed wire fencing along the entire XIT Ranch property by 1887 making it the largest fenced ranch in the world.
Jim Perry was regarded as such an accomplished steer roper. In his later years Perry was revered for his culinary skills as a ranch house and chuck wagon cook for the XIT. He was also quite renowned as a top fiddler, which added to his likeability for he was loved and revered by his peers.
Perry remained a loyal employee of the XIT Ranch for two decades despite the fact that his race precluded him from becoming of one of the ranch’s foremen, a position for which he was well qualified. On September 29, 1908 he married Emma Beaseley. The couple had no children. In 1918 Jim Perry died in Oldham County, Texas from a brain tumor.
African American cowboy Charley Willis was recognized as a singing cowboy who authored the popular trail song, “Goodbye Old Paint.” Willis was a skilled cowhand who not only sang songs from the trail but who contributed to preserving authentic cowboy music from the era.
Charley Willis was born in 1847 in Milam County, outside of Austin, Texas. Freed after the Civil War he headed to West Texas at age eighteen and found work breaking wild horses at the Morris Ranch in Bartlett, Texas. In 1871, at age twenty-four, he rode the Chisholm Trail one thousand miles north into Wyoming Territory as a drover. Charley was musically knowledgeable and talented. He became known for the songs he brought back from the trail.
In 1885 Willis taught his favorite song, “Good-bye Old Paint,” to Morris’s seven-year-old son, Jess. As an adult Jess Morris became known as a talented fiddler, and though credited with authoring “Good-bye Old Paint,” he was quick to clarify that had he learned the song from Charley Willis as a child. In 1947 John Lomax, a pioneering musicologist and folklorist, recorded Morris singing and playing Willis’ song, “Good-bye Old Paint,” and later sent it to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress where it is preserved.
Texas cowboy Robert Lemmons was one of the greatest mustangers of all time. He became a legend in his day by perfecting his unique method of catching wild mustang horses.
Robert Lemmons was born a slave in Lockport, Caldwell County, Texas in 1848. He moved to Dimmit County, Texas; then a sparsely uninhabited land overrun by wild horses. Lemmons gained his freedom at the end of the Civil War at age seventeen. He found employment with Duncan Lammons, a man who taught him about horses and gave Robert the surname “Lemmons,” (a variant spelling that evolved over the years). Robert Lemmons farmed, hauled supplies, and went on cattle drives for Duncan Lammons.
No other cowboy equaled Lemmons in capturing mustangs, which were in high demand for roundups during the cattle drive era of the 1870s and 1880s. Lemmons usually worked alone totally isolating himself from humans to gain a mustang herd's trust and thereby infiltrate the heard. He then uprooted the herd hierarchy by mounting the lead stallion and then taking control of the herd, which followed him into a pen on a nearby ranch.
Twentieth century artist John Thomas Biggers was an educator, painter and muralist. His travels in Africa in the 1950s influenced the depiction of social and cultural themes in his work.
John Thomas Biggers was born in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1924. The youngest of seven children, Biggers enrolled in Hampton Institute where he initially studied plumbing. However, he found that his true love was art and soon changed his major.
Biggers trained with Viktor Lowenfeld at Hampton and received his first notoriety in 1943 when the 19-year-old student artist was featured in the exhibit Young Negro Art in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. That same year he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. In 1945 Biggers was committed to a Navy mental hospital in Pennsylvania for issues relating to anger and depression. Later that year he was dishonorably discharged.
Upon leaving the Navy, Biggers followed his mentor Lowenfeld to Pennsylvania State University where he developed his specialty working with murals. Biggers earned a master’s in art education in 1948 and a Ph.D. in 1954 from Pennsylvania State University. While still working on his dissertation, Biggers became an art instructor at the new Texas State College for Negroes (later Texas Southern University), becoming a founding member of its Art Department faculty. He continued to work at Texas Southern University until his retirement in 1983.
Born November 16, 1963 in Houston, tennis star Zina Garrison was the youngest of seven children and was raised by her widowed mother, Mary Garrison. She began playing tennis at the age of 10 through the MacGregar Park Tennis Program. The program was run by John Wilkerson who later became Garrison’s coach throughout her tennis career. She graduated from Ross Sterling High School in 1981.
Garrison had an illustrious amateur career. She burst onto the scene in 1978 when she reached the finals in the U.S. Girls National Championship. Then from 1978 to 1982 she won three more major tournaments. As an amateur she became the 1981 International Tennis Federation Junior of the Year and the 1982 Women’s Tennis Association Most Impressive Newcomer.
Lonnie Smith was a well-known dentist in Houston, Texas, an officer in the Houston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a civil rights activist. He is best known for his role in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case bearing his name, Smith v. Allwright.
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