history has deep roots in the first county in Texas.
East Texas has produced some of the
darkest black history in the state and has proven the strength of racism’s grip.
Houston County, along with the rest of the 300-mile stretch known as East
Texas, has lot more in common with the South than the rest of the state, or
any place west of it. Culturally and economically, East
Texas has segregated itself from the Lone Star State. |
the area’s black history proved
to be a chore. In a county where the ratio of blacks and whites is about 50-50,
black history is not exactly
on tap, but it is there. It is buried deep within the county and much deeper in
resident’s memories. It is not often shared or even talked about, and its remains
Allen Seminary for black girls sits atop a hill about a mile north of the
Crumbling and far from its original glory, the historic school was unearthed from
the briars and over growth of the Piney Woods. Having lived in Houston County
my entire life it has only been in recent years that I discovered the magnificent
old building. For many years, the site was buried in briars and hidden from view.
Constructed in 1886, the Mary
Allen Seminary for black girls still stands today as one of the oldest structures
in the county. It is now a visible reminder of the growth and decline of black
education in the area. The school evolved from an all-white into an all-black
administration and from a female seminary to a four-year coeducational college.
Then it was closed and sold off to meet debts that had risen from lawsuits. According
to the Texas State Historical Association, in 1942 the Crockett Chamber of Commerce
proposed that the property of Mary Allen Junior College be donated toward a four-year
state college for black students and was approved by the Board of National Missions
of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. The following year World
War II prevented the Texas legislature from acting on the proposal and the
school was closed and the property sold.|
Colored Farmers National Alliance and Cooperative Union were also founded in Houston
County in 1886. The union was formed on the farm of white Alliance member and
Baptist missionary R.M. Humphrey, and the alliance elected J. J. Shuffer as their
first president. Although the orders' charter barred whites from obtaining membership,
Humphrey was elected as an honorary superintendent. As increasingly repressive
Black Codes were enacted, Humphrey's role was to serve as the group’s white spokesman.
Humphrey could openly express militancy and gain access that would have been denied
Homesite Historical Marker|
Photo by Dana
Goolsby, October 2010
Givens Hill home site also still stands in Crockett,
just south of the loop on Highway 19 South. Solomen George Givens and his wife
Lula Burleson Givens were both born in 1871 in Houston County. Both Solomen and
Lula were the children of slaves. They were married in 1891 and in 1892 they purchased
34 acres of land at the top of a hill south of Crockett,
known today as Given’s Hill. The Givens farm found success on top of the hill
and in 1893; they constructed an eight-room house. Solomen and Lula Givens were
known for their acts of charity. They were also leaders of a nearby school and
Baptist church. The Givenses often hosted baptismal in a tank on their land. For
many years Solomen and Lula’s home was the center of an African American farming
success story that emerged from Houston County is that of Ruth Simmons.
Simmons, born in Grapeland,
spent countless hours listening to her mother share stories about people who lived
life the right way and others who did not. Simmons’ mother passed down family
values and oral history while shelling peas and shucking corn, all the while never
knowing that one day those values would be shared with thousands of other women—black
and white. Simmons went on to make history as the first Black woman (Third woman
ever) to be named president of Smith College, one of the prestigious, all-women’s
colleges that make up the Seven-Sister schools, and the nation’s largest private
undergraduate institution for women.
Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins
also had ties to Houston County. A statue was erected in his memory across from
Café in Crockett. Locals
say Hopkins played on the street and in establishments along Camp Street in his
youth. Camp Street was in the center of the Black Business District in Houston
County. Hopkins music was heard from Camp Street all the way to Carnegie Hall.
Lightnin’ Hopkins recalled Houston County, none too fondly, and mentions it in
his music. Hopkins sang about serving on a chain gang for the county. Hopkins
told Andy Silverman of the Swarthmore College Phoenix in 1963, “I was in trouble.
I had a hundred days down on the chain gang.” Later, while being taped in a recording
studio, Hopkins said “Man come to me; put me in jail in Crockett.
I did pretty good and I runned off. I hit the road, Jack. They come to the Trinity,
got me out of the Trinity [river]. I wore a ball and chain. Man, I can show you
a scar on my leg. You see that? There? That’s from wearing that man’s outfit.”
According to Timothy J. O'Brien, PhD who has authored a book about Hopkins, there
is no evidence remaining that would confirm Hopkins ever served on a chain gang
in Houston County despite his mentioning it many, many times throughout his life.
O’Brien emphasizes that Hopkins was a storyteller, poet and songwriter. According
to the city of Crockett’s website,
the blues singer was once arrested in Crockett
but makes no mention of charges or time served. |
black history that is rarely, if ever, discussed in the county includes the lynching
of a black man who white locals said frightened a white woman. According to “Blacks
in the American West and Beyond” by George H. June, in June of 1932 a black man
named Dave Tillis was accused of frightening a white woman and lynched in Crockett.
The Slocum Race Riot is also said to have begun at the hands of Houston County
men. Lynchings, riots, and mass murders are no strangers to Houston County. Many
white residents still proudly fly the confederate flag, and graveyards are dappled
with confederate flags.|
| Today the county,
particularly the county seat in Crockett,
is still wrought with the effects of racism. Law suits against the county, the
city of Crockett, and individuals employed by the city or county alleging racism
total upwards of $100 million or more, just within the last few years. Crockett
I. S. D is also engaged multiple law suits where alleged racism is a factor. |
The Pines With Dana Goolsby"
Texas Black History | East
Texas | Texas
|Save on Hotels
- Book Here|