On August 30, Houston will mark its 185th birthday. But what significance does such a day have for Houston’s Black residents?
The Defender spoke with historian extraordinaire, Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of history at the University of Houston, to get answers.
DEFENDER: In a very general sense, does this 185th anniversary of Houston’s founding have any significance at all for Black people?
GERALD HORNE: Well, in so far as we recognize that Houston, and indeed Texas, were begun as slave holding enterprises. That is to say that our ancestors were exploited shamelessly in this part of North America, that our ancestors were essential to the construction of this part of North America. Therefore, this birthday reminds us of how much we’re owed. And it reminds the current descendants (of the enslaved) to keep pressing for reparations.
DEFENDER: Are there are specific, touchtone events in Houston’s history with the most significance for Houston residence? You mentioned our enslavement.
HORNE: I would say that during that period (enslavement), not only in Houston, but in Texas generally, there were numerous uprisings. Also, I think that given the fact that Galveston and Houston have been coupled, that we should also be aware of the history of Galveston as well. I’m doing a book right now, Texas. And one of the things that I’m for to try to rewrite is the history of Juneteenth, which is associated with Galveston understandably. But it’s been sort of mangled over the years because Juneteenth was about more than just apprising the enslaved on June 19, 1865 that they were free. This was part of a larger struggle in so far as Mexico had been taken over by France. The Confederates would surrender in April 1865, many of them were headed to Mexico where they plan to continue enslavement. In fact, some made it to Mexico with some of our ancestors in tow who descendants might still be living there. And what happens is that General Granger was accompanied by thousands of African troops, Negro troops. And it was part of an effort to keep the Confederates from continuing slavery south of the border, which was the plan, and continuing to wage war against the United States from Mexico. And our ancestors who were armed helped to squash that particular plan. In fact, I’m going to argue in this book that it’s not only June 19, 1865, that we should mark, but also June 19, 1867, because that’s when the French leader Maximillian was killed, which marks the end of the attempt to continue our enslavement in Mexico. So, Houston and Texas have a very complicated history and it’s a history that I would urge others to investigate.
DEFENDER: What’s the name of that book and when is it coming out?
HORNE: The title is The Second Counter Revolution: Texas Slavery, Jim Crow and the Origins of US Fascism. It’s coming out late next year.
DEFENDER: What’s the least known piece of Black Houston history?
HORNE: Probably Camp Logan, which also needs further investigation. And if not Camp Logan, the desegregation of Houston in the early 1960s, spearheaded by students at Texas Southern University, by the way, and the conspiracy by the mainstream press to take the wind out of their sails by not reporting on it. Now, that’s a matter of public record. In fact, that’s a part of a documentary film that was done on that period (The Strange Demise of Jim Crow). And I’ve mentioned that because it points up the role of your journalism and your newspaper, for example.
DEFENDER: Where can those who are interested in learning more about Black folks story within the Houston story go?
HORNE: There’s a documentary on YouTube about the Camp Logan mutiny (Mutiny on the Bayou). There was a documentary done about the desegregation of Houston in the early 1960s (The Strange Demise of Jim Crow). There are books by, I’m happy to say, University of Houston alumni such as Bernadette Pruitt at Sam Houston State (The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941) and Dwight Watson who teachers at Texas State University (Race and the Houston Police Department, 1930-1990: A Change Did Come) and Amilcar Shabazz who teaches at the University of Massachusetts (Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas). I think UH Black alumni have done quite well helping to rewrite the history of Houston.
EVENTS ON OR NEAR HOUSTON’S 185th BIRTHDAY
Texas – Louisiana Zydeco Fest
Saturday, August 28
Noon – 2am
14149 Player St.
Houston, TX 77045
A Different World LIVE – Houston Edition
Saturday, August 28
2pm – 7pm
207 Gray St.
Houston, TX 77002
March On For Voting Rights
Saturday, August 28
10am – 12noon
1500 McKinney St.
Houston, TX 77010
The Heritage Society presents Happy Birthday Houston Tours & Cupcakes
Saturday, August 28, 90-minute tours at 10am, 11:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm
The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park 1100 Bagby St. Houston, TX 77002