We have enjoyed a robust first quarter of outreach and programming. Our exhibit, Blacks at Rice: An Evolving Legacy, closed in February but not without first yielding a host of interesting programs. We welcomed Dr. Alex Byrd (Rice U) back for the first time in years with a capacity crowd. Dr. Byrd shared his experiences as both a high school student at the historic Jack Yates High School, as well as his undergraduate experience at Rice University. Dr. Byrd delighted the crowd with his easy, affable lecture style, and our patrons and guests hung on his every word! Beloved partner and friend of ours, Dr. Bernadette Pruitt (Sam Houston), delivered a rousing lecture on our 2019 Black History Month theme, “Black Migrations”, in which she explored Houston's civil rights movement, labor and community. Dr. Pruitt is easily one of the most dynamic speakers in our area.
In March, we welcomed Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson who delivered an informative lecture on the Jonestown Massacre. Jonestown is often understood through the lens of Jim Jones, the charismatic, yet troubled leader of the People’s Temple Settlement. However, Dr. Hutchinson reminded us that the movement - and subsequently, the victims - was really one comprised mostly of Black Women. Dr. Hutchinson peeled back the layers of the popular understanding and allowed us to explore the social, historical and political factors that influenced Black people’s involvement in the movement and their emigration to Jonestown. It was an outstanding presentation. We closed March with the Space City Poetry Slam featuring some of the area’s best young poets. Participants in the slam were competing for the opportunity to join the renowned Meta-Four Houston youth slam team. The judges had their work cut out because these young people shared poems that were clever, poignant and witty. The competition was sponsored by our partners at Writers in the Schools (WITS).
Various groups from around Houston invited us to visit and share what we do. We were delighted to visit Marshall Elementary School and participate in their Black History Cultural & Community Celebration in February. Parents, teachers and students all came together to put on a magnificent program. We also enjoyed a fantastic afternoon with Mrs. O’Neal’s 7th grade classes at KIPP Middle School. The students were so enthusiastic and had lots of questions, which made for a fun afternoon. Our next step will be getting them in for a tour! We closed out this first quarter’s outreach by accepting an invitation to exhibit at the Harris County Museum and Library Showcase. This was an amazing opportunity to get face-time with chairs and department heads of Social Studies and Language Arts programs across the county. We were not only able to engage with those in the schools, but also our sister institutions who are doing such important cultural and historic preservation.
Libraries and archives often maintain what they arcanely call “vertical files,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “a collection of articles (as pamphlets and clippings) that is maintained to answer brief questions or to provide points of information not easily located.”
Our Vertical Files is a continually growing collection of clippings from newspapers, journals and magazines relating to the history of African Americans in Texas. Vertical files are used as ready reference material to supplement other collections on topics not easily covered by conventional material such as books. These files contain information on events, organizations, people, and places.
The collection includes photocopies of newspaper articles, pamphlets, family histories and genealogies, ephemeral items such as brochures, flyers and event programs and other miscellaneous materials relating to persons, places, organizations, and topical subjects.
What can you discover in the Vertical Files?
What was slavery like in Texas?
What happened during the Houston Riot of 1917?
What was De-Ro-Loc?
What is the history of the Houston chapter of the NAACP?
Who organized the Lone Star State Medical, Dental & Pharmaceutical Association?
What was the PVIL?
Who was Felton Turner?
Who was involved in Houston’s Civil Rights Movement?
Did free Blacks live in Texas?
Which HISD schools were named for African Americans?
What is the history of Independence Heights?
How many Rosenwald Schools were in Texas?
The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in Houston’s African American community. Our oral history collection includes several interviews on local businesses and businesspeople.
One notable entrepreneur is Ms. Marketta Rodriguez, the owner of Serious Sounds, the oldest independent African American music store in Houston. Ms. Rodriguez grew up in the South Park community, and she was a talented pianist and athlete throughout her youth. Her love for music led her to open Serious Sounds in 1991. Serious Sounds has the distinction of remaining open for business through the ups and downs of the music industry. The popularity of streaming services has posed challenges for many music retailers, but through her wit and determination, Ms. Rodriguez has made Serious Sounds an integral part of Houston’s music scene.