By the time the U.S. entered World War I, black soldiers and white Texas civilians had a history of hostile relations dating back more than fifty years. At Camp Logan, men with the Third Battalion of the Twenty-fourth U.S. Infantry Regiment faced increasing harassment from Houston authorities. On August 23, 1917, a rumor reached the camp that Corporal Charles Baltimore had been killed for interfering with the detention and interrogation of a black woman by Houston police; in fact, Baltimore had been beaten but survived and was later released. Reacting to the rumor and to racial discrimination, about 150 black troops marched for two hours through Houston. As local whites armed themselves, a violent confrontation ensued that claimed the lives of four black soldiers and fifteen local residents, and wounded a dozen others. The soldiers’ leader, Sergeant Vida Henry, killed himself after the death of a National Guardsman whom the troops had mistaken for a policeman. The group subsequently fell into disarray and the violence dissipated.
Burton was brought to Fort Bend County, Texas as a slave from North Carolina in 1850 at the age of twenty-one. While enslaved, he was taught how to read and write by his master, Thomas Burton. After the Civil War his former owner sold Burton several large plots of land for $1,900 making him one of the wealthiest and most influential blacks in Fort Bend County. In 1869, Walter Burton was elected sheriff and tax collector of Fort Bend County. Along with these duties, he also served as the president of the Fort Bend County Union League.
Merline Pitre, Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares: The Black Leadership of Texas, 1868-1900 (Austin: Eakin, 1985); "Walter Moses Burton" in The Handbook of Texas History Online, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbu67.
William J. Seymour was born in Centerville, Louisiana, to former slaves Simon and Phillis Seymour, who raised him in the Baptist church. While living in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was influenced by holiness teachings, and then he moved to Houston, Texas, where he heard Charles Fox Parham’s teaching on Apostolic Faith. The teaching, simply put, combined the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues (glossalalia), such as was experienced in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2. Seymour embraced the teaching, moved to Los Angeles, California, and began preaching in the spring of 1906 in an abandoned church on Azusa Street, which he named the Apostolic Faith Mission. From this place, the Pentecostal movement spread across the globe.
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.
Born near Thomasville, Georgia on March 21, 1856, Henry O. Flipper rose to prominence as the first African American graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877. Despite being born into slavery to Festus, a shoemaker, and Isabella Flipper, Henry was reared in a family that emphasized excellence, and he and his younger brothers all became respected members of their communities as a military officer, AME bishop (Joseph), physician (E.H.), college professor (Carl), and farmer (Festus, Jr.).
In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first black woman to gain an international permit to fly. After learning French, she attended the famous flight school Ecole d’Aviation des Frères Caudron in Northern France. No schools in America would train a black person. She was inspired to fly by the stories of Frenchwomen flyers told by her brother John, who had served in France during World War I. Coleman performed acrobatics in air shows around the country and gave lectures inspiring audiences that included many children. She believed that there was freedom in the skies and would not perform in an air show with a segregated audience. On April 30, 1926, she was killed in an airplane piloted by William Wills, her mechanic and publicity agent, as he flew her over the field of the next day’s air show in Jacksonville, Florida where she was slated as the star. Coleman who was 34 at the time of her death, had just purchased a Curtiss JN-4 (Jenny) airplane in Dallas, which Willis flew to Jacksonville in preparation for the show.
Bridget “Biddy” Mason, born a slave in Mississippi in 1818, achieved financial success that enabled her to support her extended family for generations despite the fact that she was illiterate. In a landmark case she sued her master for their freedom, saved her earnings, invested in real estate, and became a well-known philanthropist in Los Angeles, California.
Although born in Mississippi, Mason was owned by slaveholders in Georgia and South Carolina before she was returned to Mississippi. Her last owner, Robert Marion Smith, a Mississippi Mormon convert, followed the call of church leaders to settle in the West. Mason and her children joined other slaves on Smith’s religious pilgrimage to establish a new Mormon community in what would become Salt Lake City, Utah. At the time Utah was still part of Mexico.
Tricia Martineau Wagner, African American Women of the Old West (Guilford, Connecticut: TwoDot, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2007); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier African Americans in the American West 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998; Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1995); Jessie Carney Smith, (editor). Epic Lives One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993).
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.
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.
In 1961, Fleming was the highest-drafted player into the National Football League from the Huskies.
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.
Born on February 6, 1898 in Moberly, Missouri, Melvin Beaunorus Tolson is known as one of the most significant African American modernist poets of his time. In addition, Tolson’s work as an educator led Langston Hughes to declare him “the most famous Negro Professor in the Southwest” in the mid-twentieth century.
It may be impossible today to understand fully the shock and outrage which alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's 1959 arrival in New York caused within the jazz community. Coleman's innovations freed his quartet from traditional structures of form, chordal harmony, tonality, and rhythm, and though his work has sharply divided opinion, he is widely acknowledged as having transformed the way in which jazz is heard and performed.
Born in 1930 in Fort Worth, Texas, Coleman began playing tenor saxophone in rhythm and blues (R&B) bands, his own style rooted in the bebop idiom. Though undocumented, his early development suggests something unique – Coleman was assaulted and his tenor saxophone destroyed after a particularly off-putting dance solo in Baton Rouge. In 1949 Coleman settled in Los Angeles where he worked as an elevator operator and independently studied music theory. On the alto saxophone, which remains his primary voice, Coleman developed a plaintively raw and vocalized tone, exploring micro-tonalities and speech-like cries. In Los Angeles Coleman befriended drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, as well as trumpeter Don Cherry, all of whom would later become mainstays in Coleman’s ground-breaking Atlantic quartets. In 1958 Coleman found a willing partner in pianist Paul Bley, and with Higgins, Cherry, and bassist Charlie Haden the quintet recorded a live performance at the Hillcrest Club, The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet.
Harold Mills is a boat racing pioneer and award winning driver. Born August 16, 1953 in Seattle, Washington, he spent nine years in Houston, Texas as a child. He came back to Seattle and grew up as a fan of boat racing.
In the late 1970s, up until 1985, Mills raced his own craft on the local hydroplane circuit. He won his first race in 1985, the Jim Spinner Memorial Regatta at Lake Sammamish outside Redmond, Washington. He retired from driving for the next four years, preferring to promote the sport as an organizer. In 1989, he returned to boat racing as a partner in a 7-litre boat team, From that point he continued to race through the 1990s. In 2000, he won 23 of 26 races he entered, driving a 2.5 liter modified hydroplane he called "Fast Freddy."
Harold Mills has won more than 100 races in his career. In 2001, he moved up to the Unlimited class as the first African American to pilot a turbine-powered unlimited hydroplane. In 2002 he received the Association For Diversity In Motorsports Trailblazer Award.
After graduating from law school Jackson-Lee moved to Houston, Texas after her husband, Dr. Elwyn C. Lee accepted a job offer from the University of Houston. Dr. Lee is currently Vice Chancellor and Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Houston. Jackson-Lee was in private practice from 1975 to 1987 when she was elected a Houston municipal judge. Jackson-Lee then ran for a seat on the Houston City Council in 1990. In 1994 Shelia Jackson-Lee was elected as a Democrat to represent the 18th Congressional District of Texas. She currently holds that seat.
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.
John “Johnny” Royce Mathis, singer, was born in Gilmer, Texas on September 30, 1935, the fourth of seven children born to Clem, a chauffeur and handyman, and Mildred, a maid. The Mathis family moved to San Francisco, California's Fillmore District when Mathis was a young child. When Clem Mathis, who had worked for a time in vaudeville, recognized his son's musical talent, the family scraped together $25, bought a piano and began teaching him songs and routines. Soon afterwards young Mathis started performing in church and school shows.
At the age of thirteen Mathis began taking lessons with Connie Cox, a San Francisco music teacher, paying for his training by working in the Cox home. Mathis studied with Cox for the next six years, receiving voice training in classical music including opera.
J. Green, "Forever Johnny: What It Takes to Maintain the Mathis Lifestyle," New Yorker Magazine, July 3, 2000: 54-58.
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.
Sistema de Castas (or Society of Castes) was a porous racial classification system in colonial New Spain (present-day Mexico). It was a “hierarchal ordering of racial groups according to their proportion of Spanish blood.” In this system, notable categories with significant meaning were español (Spaniard), castizo, morisco, mestizo, mulatto, indio (Indian), and negro (black). At the sistema de castas’ most extreme, there were more than forty classifications, with español being the most desirable and negro being the least desirable for sociopolitical purposes. Race, color, physical features, occupation, and wealth in this society mattered as Spanish officials attempted to control every aspect of a person’s life from employment to regulating dress codes and friendships.
R. Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, 1660-1720 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994); Lawrence B. De Graaf, Kevin Mulroy, and Quintard Taylor (et al.), Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001); Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); Douglas Monroy, Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Leslie B. Rout, The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the Present Day (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the West, 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998).
Harry Edwards is an Emeritus Professor at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) best known for co-engineering the “Revolt of the Black Athlete” in the late 1960’s. Edwards, born in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1942, attended Fresno City College from 1959 to 1960 as a four sport student athlete. He transferred to San Jose State University (SJS) in 1960 on an athletic scholarship in track and field. While he had success on the track field, Edwards and other black student-athletes confronted housing and employment discrimination and a segregated campus social life. Moreover the university funneled black student-athletes into a physical education curriculum to keep them eligible to compete in intercollegiate sports. Few graduated during the years of their athletic eligibility. Determined to earn a social work degree, Edwards began challenging the system. In 1964, he became the first black student-athlete since the early 1950’s to graduate from SJS.
Harry Edwards, The Revolt of the Black Athlete (New York: the Free Press, 1970); The Struggle that Must Be: an Autobiography (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1980); and David Leonard, “What Happened to the Revolt Black Athlete?: A Look Back Thirty Year Later—An Interview with Harry Edwards,” Colorlines (Summer 1998) (URL: http://www.colorlines.com/articles/what-happened-revolt-black-athlete; HBO, Fists of Freedom: The Story of the '68 Summer Games (1999); Michael E. Lomax, Sports and the Racial Divide (Jackson, MS: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2008.
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);
Hanes Walton, Black Republicans: The Politics of the Black and Tans (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1975); Caroline Goeser, Picturing the New Negro: Harlem Renaissance Print Culture and Modern Black Identity (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2007).
Antonio Maceo Smith, educator, entrepreneur, and civil rights activist, was born on April 16, 1903 in Texarkana, Texas to Howell and Winnie Smith. Smith attended segregated primary and secondary schools in his hometown. In 1924 he earned an A.B. degree from Fisk University and then attended New York University, earning an MBA in 1928. Smith continued his educational pursuits, earning master’s degrees in economics and business law from Columbia University. After graduating, he opened an advertising agency in New York.
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.
Lew Freedman, African American Pioneers of Baseball (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007); Alan Ross, Cubs Pride: For the Love of Ernie, Fergie & Wrigley (Nashville, TV: Cumberland House, 2005); "'Mr Cub' Ernie Banks Dies at 83," CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/23/us/ernie-banks-obit/.
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.
Ned Huddleston (also known as Isom Dart) was born into slavery in Arkansas in 1849. His reputation as a rider, roper and bronco-buster earned him the nicknames of the “Black Fox” and the “Calico Cowboy.” He was also a notorious Wyoming Territory outlaw.
In 1861 twelve-year-old Huddleston accompanied his owner, a Confederate officer, into Texas during the Civil War. After being freed at the end of the war Huddleston headed for the southern Texas-Mexico border region where he found work at a rodeo, became a stunt rider and honed his skills as a master horseman.
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.
African American cowboy and rodeo rider Jesse Stahl set the standard of performance in saddle bronc riding that continues to this day. Stahl was a topnotch horseman, a first-class gentleman, and a cowboy who was regarded by many who saw his performances as larger than life.
Conflicting sources establish Jesse Stahl’s birthplace as Tennessee, Texas or California sometime between 1879 and 1883. Nothing is known about his childhood other than he had a brother named Ambrose. Both brothers joined the rodeo circuit but only Jesse went on to fame.
Jesse Stahl is most famous for his performance at the Salinas Rodeo in California in 1912. Before over 4,000 fans, Stahl stole the show in the rodeo’s classic event of saddle bronc riding on the bronco named Glass Eye. The horse would buck, twist his body 180-degrees midair, and land in the exact opposite direction. Most observers felt that none other than Stahl stood a chance of staying on Glass Eye. He did, and that magnificent ride thrilled fans and cemented Stahl’s name into the annals of rodeo fame. Other stories of Stahl's exploits have been passed down through oral tradition.
Jill Elaine Brown became the first African American woman to serve as a pilot for a major U.S airline when she was hired by Texas international Airlines at the age of 28. Her passion for flying began as a teenager, leading her into the U.S. Navy flight training program where she became its first African American female trainee in 1974.
Brown was born in 1950 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father Gilbert Brown owned a construction company, and her mother Elaine was an art teacher in the Baltimore school district. The family owned a farm in West Virginia, and by the age of nine Brown had learned to operate a tractor and perform what her father termed “men’s work.” When she turned 17, the entire Brown family took flying lessons. Brown devoted all of her free time to learning how to fly and became the first in her family to receive a pilot's license. Her first solo flight was in a Piper J-3 Cub. When the family acquired its own plane, a single-engine Piper Cherokee 180D, she became particularly popular with friends whom she took up on short flights. Brown described these flights as trips on Brown's United Airlines.
Alonzo Franklin Herndon was an African American entrepreneur who founded and was the first president of Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Herndon was born on June 26, 1858 in Walton County, Georgia to Frank Herndon, a white farmer, and Sophenie, his slave. By the time of his death in 1927, Herndon was Atlanta, Georgia’s wealthiest African American and one of the first black millionaires in the United States.
Herndon worked on his father's plantation near Social Circle, Georgia. Freed by the 13th Amendment, Herndon and his mother, younger brother, and maternal grandparents became sharecroppers. Herndon supplemented the family income by working as day laborer and peddler of peanuts, homemade molasses, and axle grease.
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, Texas, 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.
Michael P. Anderson, a former Spokane, Washington resident, was one of seven astronauts who died when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry on February 1, 2003. Born on December 25, 1959, in Plattsburgh, New York to Robert and Barbara Anderson, Michael Anderson had three sisters, Brenda, Diane, and Joann. Michael Anderson grew up following his father's Air Force career around the nation until the family arrived at Fairchild Air Force Base. Anderson was 11 at the time. He graduated from Cheney High School in Spokane in 1977 and took degrees in physics and astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1981. Anderson met his wife, Sandra Hawkins, in Spokane and they raised two daughters.
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles, one of the most successful African American women artists in today’s music industry, was born on September 4, 1981 in Houston, Texas, to Mathew and Célestine Ann Knowles. Her father was a salesman and her mother owned a hair salon. Beyoncé began performing when she was seven years old when her dance teacher insisted that she participate in her school’s talent show. Beyoncé's surprisingly poised performance before this audience, despite her shyness, persuaded her parents to begin preparing her for a music career.
In 1990, at the age of nine, Beyoncé successfully auditioned to become the lead singer for the music group Girl’s Tyme which two years later performed on the national television show Star Search. The group, which also included Támar Davis, Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson, Nikki Taylor, and Nina Taylor, did not win, which prompted the girls to work intensely to improve their dancing and singing skills. They also performed once a week during the school year and twice a week during the summer. In 1995, Silent Partner Productions/Elektra offered Girl’s Tyme its first contract when most of the girls were 14 years old.
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.
Clayton Pitre is a long time Seattle, Washington-based community activist, former Chief Housing Developer for the Central Area Motivation Project (CAMP), and a retired Montford Point Marine.
Born on June 30, 1924 to Gilbert Pitre and Eugenie Lemelle, Clayton Pitre was the fourth child of seven siblings. He was born and raised in Opelousas in Saint Landry Parish, Louisiana. His father was a cotton and yam farmer, and his mother was a homemaker. Pitre attended Catholic schools until the 9th grade when he gave up his education to work in various defense plants in early World War II Texas.
In high school both Kim and Debra Rodman developed into standout basketball players, earning college scholarships. Kim attended Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas and Debra played on two national championship teams at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. Both Rodman sisters were All-Americans in college.
On September 20, 2014, a forty-two year-old Liberian native, Thomas Eric Duncan, arrived in Dallas, Texas from a plane flight that originated in Monrovia, Liberia. Duncan came to the United States ostensibly to reunite with his estranged teenaged son and the boy’s mother, Louise Troh, who had at one time been his girlfriend in Liberia. Troh and her son lived in Dallas.
Brunei, officially the State of Brunei Darussalam, is a sultanate (pop. 295,000), in northwest Borneo, in two coastal enclaves surrounded by Malaysia. A British protectorate after 1888, Brunei was granted self-government in 1971 and became independent in 1984.
Joe Atkins was born in Jefferson, Texas, on March 6, 1936, to Willie and Mable Atkins. Willie Atkins supported the family as a farmer but later moved to Dallas in 1950 where he became a plumber while Mable sold insurance. Joe’s parents recognized his aptitude and encouraged his education. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Dallas in 1954 and then moved to Arkansas to attend Philander Smith College, but after only a semester, the homesick student decided to move back to Dallas.
In 1934, Boykin entered Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas, later graduating in 1938 as valedictorian of his class. Following high school, Boykin began college at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, simultaneously working at an aerospace laboratory in Nashville as a laboratory assistant testing automatic controls for aircraft.
Ronald Andrew Crutcher was born on February 27, 1947, in Richmond, Kentucky, to Andrew James Crutcher and Burdella Crutcher. Following his graduation from Woodward High School in Richmond in 1965, Crutcher attended and became a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the Miami University in Ohio where he studied music and graduated cum laude in 1969. He then pursued his graduate studies at Yale University in Connecticut as a Woodrow Wilson and Ford Foundation Fellow, and in 1979 he became the first cellist to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Yale. Dr. Crutcher, who is fluent in German, studied music at the University of Bonn in Germany where he was supported by a Fulbright Fellowship.
Bland graduated from Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, Illinois, in 2005 and earned a marching band scholarship to Prairie View A&M University, a historically black institution in Prairie View, Texas. Bland completed her degree in agriculture at Prairie View in 2009 and soon moved back to Illinois.
In January 2015, Bland began posting a series of videos on social media under the title “Sandy Speaks” in which she editorialized about a number of topics, including police brutality, inattentive parents, and her own emotional struggles. On July 9, she traveled back to Texas for a job interview at Prairie View A&M and was hired as a community outreach coordinator at her alma mater.
In 1971 Ruffin Bridgeforth, Darius Gray, and Eugene Orr, all African American Mormons, met at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to create a strategy for receiving greater support for the black members of the Latter Day Saints. In that year, there were only three or four hundred Latter-day Saints of African descent throughout the world, although some of them traced their family lineage to the earliest black LDS members in the 1830s and 1840s.
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.