“Epistemic violence” is the term used to describe the act of purposefully removing or erasing a group’s contributions to history from textbooks, lesson plans and other educational vehicles. It is because of the long legacy of epistemic violence that both Black History Month and Women’s History Month were formed — to attempt to right this wrong. And Black women have been wronged and erased twice-over.
Thus the Defender seeks to spotlight some local history-making sisters in hopes of continuing a movement that allows them to receive their just due for their heroism and service. Here are a few of many.
CHRISTIA ADAIR (1893 – 1989)
Christia Adair, for whom Adair Park was named in 1977, was a NAACP leader and local champion of civil rights during the 1950s. Adair worked for women’s suffrage, only to find that Black women were still excluded from Texas primary elections. Adair, a longtime Sunnyside resident, continued to work for full suffrage and was one of the first Black women to vote in a Democratic primary after the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ white primary law in 1944.
As executive secretary of the Houston NAACP for 12 years, she and others desegregated the Houston airport, public libraries, city buses and department store dressing rooms. Despite official harassment, Adair and others rebuilt the Houston NAACP chapter, which grew to 10,000 members.
JULIA C. HESTER (ca.1881 – 1940)
Born in Dublin, Georgia, Julia Thomas married Alexander Z. Hester in 1892. Sometime between then and 1900, the couple moved to Houston where Julia worked as a school teacher.
But that was not the only work she did. She dedicated her life to both education and helping others.
Hester was a state leader of Heroines of Jericho, a woman’s auxiliary to the Negro Free and Accepted Masons of Texas; chairwoman of the Advisory Committee in Colored Girls’ Work during World War I; and member of the Emancipation Park advisory committee.
During their more than 40 years living in Houston’s Fifth Ward, Hester and her husband were leaders in the community and provided their home as a safe environment for adolescents to keep them off the streets. The couple were also active members of Houston’s Payne Chapel African Methodists Episcopal Church.
In 1943 the Houston Community Chest and Council established a neighborhood community center in the Fifth Ward, naming it the “Julia C. Hester House” to honor the life work of its namesake.
HOLLY HOGROBROOKS (1940 – 2016)
Hogrobrooks, was an alumna of Texas Southern University and a journalism professor until her retirement in 2000. More than a half a century earlier, Hogrobrooks, along with several other TSU students led a sit-in movement that changed Houston forever. As a founding member of the Progressive Youth Association, which was started by students on TSU’s campus in the 60s, Hogrobrooks, along with Eldrewey Stearns, John Bland, Pete Hogrobrooks, Otis King, Deanna Lot Burrell, Halcyon Sadberry Watkins and others helped organize Houston’s first sit-in on March 4, 1960. Her efforts helped pave the path to end segregation in Houston making her a bonafide civil rights pioneer.
“Holly was fearless, opinionated and strong because our parents taught us to standup to injustice,” said her sister Enid Hogrobrooks.
NELLYE JOYCE PUNCH (1921 – 2018)
A legend of Houston’s Fifth Ward, Punch was said to have elevated the consciousness and involvement that neighbor’s residents and organizations over several decades. Punch, a dedicated educator and activist, taught science at E. O. Smith Jr. High School for 36 years, chaired the science department and worked as a consultant for HISD prior to her retirement. Some of the students Punch mentored include the late congresspersons Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland, state legislators Harold Dutton and the late Al Edwards, and Dr. Ruth J. Simmons, the first Black president of an Ivy League institution and current president of Prairie View A&M University.
Outside of the classroom, Punch helped organize a new voting location where she served as precinct judge, became a history-making lay leader in the Presbyterian Church and was a member of Target Hunger’s first board of directors. Punch more than earned her title, the “unofficial congresswoman of Fifth Ward.”
“To live one’s life in a way that instructs without having to use a lesson plan or give a test is evidence aplenty of the extraordinary presence of Mrs. Punch, who became for so many a lodestar in a firmament of stars,” said Simmons in a statement. “Her example pushed thousands to aspire and achieve beyond their wildest dreams.”
When people discuss the founding of Houston’s Pleasantville, the first master-planned community for middle class Blacks in the United States, Judson Robinson Sr.’s critical role of marketing the new community of Blacks and selling homes is spotlighted. However, according to Mary Fontenot, president of the Pleasantville Historical Society, Robinson’s wife deserves much more credit than history has afforded her for her part in Pleasantville’s founding, growth and success. “Josie Robinson really had her hands in a lot of building and selling homes in Pleasantville, and a lot of people don’t know that,” stated Fontenot. “She was quiet but she was a darn good business woman.”
Josie Bell McCullough graduated from Prairie View State Normal School (now Prairie View A&M University) in 1929, the same year she married Judson Robinson Sr. The couple not only had three children, but came to be known as the “first family” of Pleasantville for their role as pillars and anchors of that historic community.
BEULAH SHEPARD (1921 – 2010)
Born in Plain Dealing, Louisiana, Shepard grew to become known for her “plain-dealing” and getting things done for the Acres Homes community.
Shepard worked with many Democratic city, county, state and national campaigns for more than 50 years and never missed the opportunity to vote. While holding various jobs over the years, including serving as constituent liaison for veteran Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner, E.A. “Squatty” Lyons, Shepard spearheaded countless voter registration drives and persistently fought for political and civic equality for Blacks, earning her local and national admiration. So much so, she received invitations from the White House and met presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton.
Shepard earned the moniker “Mayor of Acres Homes” as she was instrumental in lobbying and securing a swimming pool, library, better roads and parks, and many other infrastructure improvements for the underserved community. Shepard also helped organize the Acres Homes Health Council, and pushed for the construction of a neighborhood police station in 1996.
Shepard was a member of the Harris County Council of Organizations, board member on the Acres Homes Charter Schools and founding member of the Acres Home Citizens Chamber of Commerce. She was chosen Acres Homes Community “Woman of the Year,” and given the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats’ “Texas Living Legend Award” in 1987.
In 2004 the Acres Homes Center for Business and Economic Development was named in her honor. In 2012 the city of Houston officially named the Beulah Shepard-Acres Homes Neighborhood Library in her honor.
LULU WHITE (1900 – 1957)
According to BlackPast.org, Lulu Belle Madison White was a civil rights activist in the 1940s and 1950s who devoted most of her adult life to the struggle against Jim Crow in Texas by campaigning for the right to vote, for equal pay for equal work, and for desegregation of public facilities.
According to historian and TSU professor Dr. Merline Pitre, White was also the driving force behind the growth of the NAACP in Texas, the destruction of the all-white state democratic primary and several game-changing, landmark court cases.
Pitre, authored “In Struggle Against Jim Crow: Lulu B. White and the NAACP 1900 -1957” in part because she said so little was ever said of Blacks in Texas, particularly Black women, during the Civil Rights Movements of the 1940s and 60s.
“If you’re from Houston, you hear a lot about Christia Adair… but it was Lulu White who was out there organizing branches, who was out there saying we got go to the Supreme Court, we’ve got to get this money to go. She and her husband funded all of the [Texas all-] white primary cases. Therefore, not only did she stop that, but she pushed Black people to run for office. She was the one who got Heman Sweatt to go to the University of Texas. She was tough,” shared Pitre.