Drusilla Dunjee Houston (1876-1941)

Drusilla Dunjee Houston
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The self-trained historian, educator, and journalist Drusilla Dunjee Houston was born in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia on January 20, 1876. Her parents were Rev. John William and Lydia Taylor Dunjee. The couple had nine children but only three including Drucilla would survive to adulthood.

Rev. Dunjee was a graduate of Storer College in Harper’s Ferry.  He worked with Baptist church organizations and was eventually sent to Oklahoma City in 1892, only three years after the city was founded in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. Drusilla, then only 16, became in 1892 one of the first kindergarten teachers in Oklahoma Territory.  Having been trained in various settings including a conservatory in Minnesota, she was, even at her young age, considered particularly well-educated in this frontier environment.

In 1898, Drusilla Dungee met and eloped with Price Houston. The couple settled in McAlester, Oklahoma Territory.

Drusilla’s younger brother, Roscoe, would become a prominent journalist and Civil Rights activist in Oklahoma City. In 1915 he founded the Black newspaper the Black Dispatch, and two years later, Drusilla began her journalism career, became a contributing editor and author of numerous columns dedicated to the racial uplift of African Americans.  Eventually those columns would be syndicated by the Associated Negro Press (ANP).  For a brief period Drusilla Houston would direct the ANP.

Houston became the quintessential “race woman” during the time she lived, meaning that she dedicated virtually all of her public activities to what was known at the time as Black racial advancement or uplift. Influenced by W.E.B. DuBoisThe Negro (1915), which discredited white racist scholarship that Africans had no history, Houston without the help of research assistants, philanthropic funding, or access to many research repositories, available at the time, set out to write a six volume study on the influence of ancient Cushites in the Upper Nile Valley on Southwest Asia, India, and Europe. In fact, after the publishing of her now classic Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire (1926), she wrote DuBois a letter thanking him for inspiring her and informed him that she was not trying “reach the white race.” Her book was dedicated to people of African descent and to debunking the racist notions of the “Klan and all race haters.”

Although dated by today’s standards, Houston’s landmark scholarship in 1926 helped establish the undeniable fact that Black Africa influenced civilizations in the ancient world.  It made Houston the first woman and the first Black author to write a multivolume history of Africa. Although dismissed by many contemporary historians, her work would eventually influence a number of later scholars who centered their research around Africans and African Americans in human history.

Throughout her career, however, Houston never strayed far from promoting education among Black people. In 1908 Houston founded the McAlester Seminary for Girls, leading it until 1917 when she was appointed Principal of the Oklahoma Baptist College for Girls located in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. She held that post until 1923. Returning to Oklahoma City, she established the Oklahoma Vocational Institute for Fine Arts and Crafts.  She also founded the Black YMCA and Red Cross for Oklahoma City as well as its branch of the NAACP.

In 1935 Houston moved to Arizona partly for health reasons. There, however, she continued her activism, writing columns for the local Black newspaper and supporting organizations that promoted racial uplift.

Drusilla Dungee Houston died in Phoenix, Arizona on February 8, 1941.  She was 65 at the time of her death.

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