Three of the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) top archivists have visited historic Black towns to conduct preliminary field assessments of historic records, documents, photographs, art works, artifacts and oral history sources. The archivists met with residents and government officials. Dr. Bryan Giemza,Ph.D., Director of the University of North Carolina Southern Historical Collection, visited Eatonville, Florida and Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Biff Hollingsworth, Collecting and Outreach Archivist, visited Grambling, Louisiana and Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist, visited Tuskegee, Alabama and Hobson City, Alabama. A sample of historic materials from each community….MORE
There are so many layers of history and culture in the south Texas and San Antonio region that it is literally very difficult to take a step without encountering a significant landmark or story. For many years a myth has been generated that there is “…no significant Black history in south Texas and San Antonio.” Documentation ranging from periodicals, church histories, photographs, maps and public records makes it clear that the myth is absolutely not true.
The Menger Soap Works structure was built in 1850, on the west bank of San Pedro Creek, less than one half mile west of the San Antonio River. The structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of pre-Civil War industrial architecture, and currently serves as the leasing office for a modern apartment complex. However, between 1868 and 1873 it was rented to “Colored Methodist” and African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church congregations for fifteen dollars a month for religious services. The congregations were started by former Black slaves. In the coming decades, the congregations evolved to serve Black enclaves within one mile of historic Main Plaza, on the west side of the city. Successors of these original Black congregations still survive in west San Antonio, approaching their one hundred and fiftieth anniversaries.
Black businessmen began to work on San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza soon after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Mr. Simon Turner (Black; 1855 – 1942) enlisted at the rank of private in the United States Cavalry in 1867. He was assigned to the Buffalo Soldiers regiment of the U.S. Cavalry stationed in Oklahoma until 1881. In 1881 he was reassigned with other Buffalo Soldiers to deliver mail from El Paso, Texas. Mr. Turner was wounded in action in 1882, and was discharged at the rank of sergeant in 1883, before moving to San Antonio. Initially, he found work as a porter at the Maverick Bank, on the northwest corner of Alamo Plaza, at the intersection of Alamo and East Houston. From 1886 through 1892 Mr. Turner served in the 1st Colored Regiment, Infantry as the Captain of Company A, Excelsior Guard militia (San Antonio).
Between 1884 and 1890 Mr. Turner served as a delegate to a series of “Colored Men’s State Conventions” that addressed civil rights and social issues for Black Texans during the Reconstruction period. By 1891 Mr. Turner was able to operate his own fruit store and “ice cream saloon” near the southwest corner of what is now Alamo and East Crockett Street. By 1900 he moved to San Jose, California. In 1928 he received a medal of honor forty five years after his honorable discharge.
This afternoon the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) announced that the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA) has received a one-time national Innovation Grant in the field of historic preservation. A large number of applications were submitted from organizations in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Louisiana, eastern Massachusetts (broadly defined as the Boston metropolitan area), Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. The HBTSA proposal was researched and prepared by Everett L. Fly, Ellen P. Hunt, Dr. Carey Latimore, and N.Y. Nathiri.
The HBTSA is composed of five of America’s most historic Black towns:
Tuskegee, Macon County, Alabama (settled c.1833; incorporated 1843)
Grambling, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana (settled c.1865; incorporated 1953)
Hobson City, Calhoun County, Alabama (settled c.1865; incorporated 1899)
Eatonville, Orange County, Florida (settled c.1881; incorporated 1887)
Mound Bayou, Bolivar County, Mississippi (settled c.1887; incorporated 1898)
The Innovation Grant will support planning and programmatic costs up to $10,000.
The project meets National Trust interests in the following preservation priorities:
• Building sustainable communities: Demonstrating that historic preservation supports economic, environmental and cultural sustainability in communities.
• Reimagining historic sites: Application of innovative, replicable strategies that create new models for historic site interpretation and stewardship.
• Promoting diversity and place: Broaden the cultural diversity of historic preservation by exposing the depth and scope of American history embodied in historic Black towns and settlements as a collective national resource.
Mayor Alberta McCrory and the residents of Hobson City, Calhoun County, Alabama will celebrate their 115th Founder’s Day on August 15th and 16th of this week (details at Hobson City Hall: 256-831-4940). In addition to being the oldest incorporated Black municipality in the state (chartered 1899), it is one of fewer than twenty five incorporated African American towns remaining in the United States. The town charter was signed by forty nine registered male voters, according to the requirements of the Alabama state constitution at the time. The adjacent photograph shows Hobson City’s first elected officials, and the 1900 Federal Census provided occupation information: Young Pyles (standing, left; occupation – farm laborer), Peter Doyle (seated, left; occupation-farm laborer), Jesse Cunningham (standing, center; occupation – farmer), Edward Pearce (standing, right; occupation – carpenter), C.C. Snow (seated, right; occupation – laborer), and Mayor Samuel L. Davis (seated, center; occupation – Mayor of Hobson City)….MORE
Black landscape designers and gardeners have been present in America since the colonial days of this nation. Wormley Hughes, African American slave, was trained as a “gardener” on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Virginia plantation for more than thirty years, beginning in 1794. James F. Brown, escaped Negro slave, was the head “gardener” for the prominent, and classically styled, Mount Gulian estate in Dutchess County, New York from 1829 to 1864. It is well documented that Mr. Brown often corresponded with the renowned White 19th century landscape designer and gardener, Andrew Jackson Downing. Once Black Americans were able to own land, gardens became conscious, and integral, components of Black towns and settlements in all regions of the United States. The Tuskegee Institute 1899-1900 catalog listed courses in the Agriculture Division for men and women. Separate courses were listed for “Horticulture” and “Market Gardening”, while “Floriculture and Landscape Gardening” were combined into a single course. All were offered in a progressive sequence over two years of study. The women’s second year, fall term, “Floriculture and Landscape Gardening” course description reads as follows:
Systematic botany, bouquet making, harmony of color, form and size of
flowers, laying out of private and public grounds, road, parks, walks, and
streets; entomology of the flower garden.
These and four other courses provided classroom and field training that addressed topics ranging from proper use of tools to sustainable practices and techniques.
Across the United States the presence of historic architecture is being used too often as the singular measure of the importance of a settlement or town. Some argue that a limited number, or absence, of styled buildings in a settlement or town indicates that there is not much important value or substance in the civic and cultural life of the community. Some use the current locations of architecture, buildings that follow academic design styles, to define the most important area to preserve in a community. Without a doubt, architecture is an important source and expression of American culture, but it is not the only authentic asset or legitimate historical reference.
The advertisement for Mound Bayou, Mississippi in the adjacent frame appeared in the 1912 edition of the Negro Yearbook published by Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Alabama. It is telling to note the number of land related words, such as real estate, town, and acres, that appear in the copy. The words town and community are also emphasized. It is clear that the land and community were Mound Bayou’s most important resources. …MORE
Mayors of five of America’s most historic Black towns have formed an alliance to protect and preserve for future generations the heritage, history and cultural traditions of Alliance members such that those who follow will have the ability to assume active stewardship to understand, interpret and appreciate these historic places through the lenses of their inhabitants.
Tuskegee, Macon County, Alabama – settled c.1833; incorporated 1843 - 181 years
Grambling, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana – settled c.1865; incorporated 1953 – 149 years
Hobson City, Calhoun County, Alabama – settled c.1865; incorporated 1899 – 149 yrs
Mound Bayou, Bolivar County, Mississippi – settled c.1887; incorporated 1898 – 116 years
The mayors have engaged Everett L. Fly to provide a comprehensive scope of planning and historic preservation expertise as their principal consultant and advocate for the precedent setting project….. MORE
March 2, 1836 is the date recognized as the Texas declaration of independence from Mexico. Many are not aware that Samuel McCulloch, Jr. (1810-1893), a free Black man, was seriously wounded on October 9, 1835 fighting for Texas independence in Goliad, Goliad County,Texas. Many historians acknowledge him as the first casualty of the Texas Revolution for independence from Mexico.
Mr. McCulloch survived his wounds. As a veteran of the war he was entitled to a land grant for service. However, the Republic of Texas constitution, adopted in 1836, prohibited “Africans (and) the descendants of Africans or Indians” from citizenship – civil rights. McCulloch had the courage to petition the Republic of Texas Congress for his right to own property. The McCulloch petition was signed into law in 1837 by the President of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston (1793-1863). McCulloch was not the first, or only, Black person to chip away at the discriminatory laws prior to, or after, Texas statehood (1845).
McCulloch used the land to farm and raise cattle in south Bexar County, near San Antonio. He donated land for a church, Medina Baptist. The congregation evolved to be composed of Tejanos, Blacks and Whites. He also dedicated land for a school since Texas state laws prohibited the use of public funds for Black school land or buildings. Sam McCulloch, and other Black Texans, were active, not passive participants in the process of claiming and exercising civil rights for all residents of the state. The grave of Samuel McCulloch, Jr., some of his relatives, and a number of his neighbors is extant in south Bexar County, Texas.
Working with Trinity University history professor, and History Department Chair, Dr. Carey Latimore, Ph.D., and his students this semester has provided opportunities for field research in the San Antonio and south Texas region. We recently visited the Sweet Home African American settlement less than forty five minutes from downtown San Antonio. Mr. James Ussery, Mrs. Connie Quarles, and Mrs. Betty Young were gracious hosts at the Sweet Home Rosenwald School. Each shared personal memories of days growing up in the community. Each offered amazing details regarding the school band, softball team, girls gardening class, boys gardening class, mattress making in the girls home
economics class, and the produce canning plant. They described various ways that families and members of the settlement shared resources, skills, knowledge, and practical wisdom to maintain the community. Sustainable practices such as harvesting rain water from the school roof and use of local materials were part of everyday life. All retain vivid recollections of attending the Rosenwald School. They explained that the school served African American families from miles around, and outside the county. This made it necessary for a number of the male students to find room and board with nearby families and girls to stay in the dormitory across the road. Mr. Ussery also took time to guide
the students to the original Sweet Home Cemetery and point out the original church site, initially known as Elm Creek Baptist Church. The church name was changed to Sweet Home Baptist Church after a storm damaged the first structure and the congregation moved to its present site in 1906. The initial settlement formed around the Elm Creek Church beginning in 1864, and was one of the charter members of the Guadalupe Baptist District Association which formed in 1873. At one point the association covered more than a dozen counties, and more than 3,500 square miles. A number of San Antonio’s African American churches, such as Mt. Zion First Baptist, were active association members. Though many Sweet Home descendants eventually moved to the city of San Antonio and beyond, significant physical and cultural traces of the community remain.