Some black history facts
Jan. 31, 2011 at 11 p.m.
Updated Jan. 30, 2011 at 7:31 p.m.
Victoria has been home to substantial history in the black community from nationally known leaders visiting to local residents making their mark in history.
To kick off Black History Month, here are 10 little-known pieces of black history from the Crossroads area.
1. Dorothy Harris: First black president of the Licensed Vocational Nurses Association of Texas
Bloomington native Dorothy Harris, octogenarian, became the first black president of the Licensed Vocational Nurses Association of Texas in 1970. For more than 25 years, Harris worked as a licensed vocational nurse, with the majority of her employment being at the Devereux Foundation. Throughout her career, Harris also received numerous other honors including appointments as the vice president of the National Association of Vocational Nurse Education and Service, a Silver-Haired Legislator on the Alzheimer's disease committee and membership to the Board of Nurse Examiners. Today, Harris is retired and spends her days volunteering and being active in her church, Palestine Baptist Church.
2. Thurgood Marshall Visits Victoria:
On Oct. 21, 1955, Thurgood Marshall came to Victoria as part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People state conference. Marshall, who worked as the constitutional lawyer and general counsel of the NAACP at the time, along with Gloster Current, the national director of branches for the NAACP, served as keynote speakers. The year's conference theme was "Complete Desegregation in Public Schools by 1956."
3. One of Victoria's first sit-ins:
One of the first sit-ins in Victoria was in the spring of 1955 at Ferguson's Pharmacy, which was in the strip center at the corner of Airline Road and Laurent Street. Organized by the NAACP, members of the group gathered at the pharmacy's soda fountain. The sit-in went off without major incident. The sit-in strategically took place the same day Dorothy Hobbs became the first black student to register for classes at Victoria College.
4. Willie Hill: Victoria's first black police officer
The Victoria Police Department employed Willie Hill, the first black sergeant in the state. His badge is in the Rangers Hall of Fame in Waco.
In the 1950s, he signed on as a city police officer. In 1962, when Hill was promoted to sergeant, he became the highest ranking black officer in the state, according to newspaper reports. Hill spent 18 years on the city police force. After his retirement, Hill worked for 15 years as a bailiff for the county courts. He died in 1991 at the age of 87. His portrait hangs in the Victoria County Courthouse.
5. Conrad O. Johnson : World renown musician
Johnson, known by many as "Prof," gained national attention as a jazz saxophonist and music educator before his death in 2008 at the age of 92. Born in Victoria, Johnson moved to Houston at the age of 9. After graduating from Yates High School, Johnson attended Houston College for Negroes before eventually graduating from Wiley College. He later became well-known for his ability to meld the musical genres of jazz, funk, R&B and rock into original compositions. Johnson began his 37-year-long career in music education in 1941. Later, Johnson made his lasting contribution to music by forming the Kashmere Stage Band, a renowned school band that won a number of awards during its decade-long run. Known for their wardrobe of platform shoes and matching crushed-velvet suits, as well as their carefully coordinated choreography, the band won 42 out of 46 contests entered between 1969 and 1977, recorded eight albums featuring more than 20 original compositions by Johnson and traveled throughout Europe, Japan and the United States. Johnson was a proficient musician and, at one point, played with Count Basie. He was inducted into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame in 2000. The Conrad O. Johnson School of Fine Arts at Kashmere High School is named after him.
6. The Townsend-Wilkins House
The Townsend-Wilkins House is associated with prominent black physicians in Victoria. Located at 106 N. Navarro St., it was initially the home of Dr. G.R. Townsend, who practiced there until the late 1880s. He then established a medical office at 108 W. Santa Rosa St. He was a prominent member of the black community until 1904, when he moved to Los Angeles.
Dr. John H. Wilkins, who established the Lone Star Medical Association, took over Townsend's medical practice and maintained both his home and offices in this house.
His son, Dr. George Wilkins, eventually took over the practice, working as a physician for 52 years until his death in 1969.
Located in Goliad County on U.S. Highway 59 near the Victoria County line, Cologne was established in 1877 by former slaves Joseph Smith and George Washington. Smith and Washington, who operated a freighting and passenger business from Indianola westward, bought 500 acres at the site on Perdido Creek. In 1870, the first families began moving into the settlement, initially called the Colony and later Perdido Community. The name Centerville was adopted after Jim Hall noted that the site was halfway between Goliad and Victoria. The town excluded all white settlers until after the railroad was built. In 1889 the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway established a depot at Centerville but named the stop Ira Station, the name by which the community was known for about 10 years. Hall exchanged land for the depot for a lifetime job as station agent and the guarantee that the railroad would not abandon the station. The railroad ran from Rosenberg to Beeville under the rail line, which later became known as Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1896, the railroad built a depot with two rooms - one for freight and one as a waiting room - at the town's stop. The people of Cologne donated land for the railroad. According to former resident, Frederick Douglas Young in 1970 from his book about Cologne - From These Roots, "There were never separate waiting rooms there. All passengers - Negro, white and German - occupied the same waiting room." For 10 years, the village had the only integrated railroad depot in Texas. The town became a cattle slaughtering and shipping center, reportedly with a hog rendering plant, as well. In 1898, a post office was established under the name of Cologne through the efforts of William Young. The new name was adopted because the abattoirs made the community "such a sweet-smelling place." However, it is suggested the word Cologne was given to the community to combat the smell from the town's hog slaughtering plant. A Methodist church was established in Cologne in 1880, then a Baptist, though both were destroyed in the 1930s. The Methodist church was rebuilt, but the Baptists began commuting to nearby Fannin. A one-room school served as the recreational center, and a permanent racetrack and a baseball team provided sport. In 1914, about 35 people were living in Cologne. The post office was discontinued in 1925, and the population declined to 25 by 1940. Thirty-five residents were recorded from 1970 through 1986. The railroad station and cattle pens no longer exist, though part of the original town is now the location of a large power plant. The town was mentioned in John F. Kennedy's June 1963 speech in Cologne, Germany, where the president said, "I bring you greetings from the cities of America, including the citizens of Cologne, Minnesota, Cologne, New Jersey, and even Cologne, Texas." In 1990 the population was 85.
8. Dr. Charles Dudley: Player in the Negro Baseball League
Charles Arthur Dudley Jr. was most widely known as a physician in Victoria.
Before practicing medicine, however, Dudley became one of the first black Texans to play baseball in the Negro Major Leagues. Born in Waskom, Texas, on Jan. 10, 1894, Dudley attended Bishop College in Dallas, where he excelled in football and baseball, and later on Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. He financed his education by working as a pullman porter and playing summer baseball in the Negro Professional League with such stars as Satchel Paige. Throughout his time in the league, Dudley played for the St. Louis Giants from 1920 to 1921 and for the St. Louis Stars from 1922 to 1923.
In 1923, upon completing his medical training, Dudley received a license to practice medicine in Texas. He moved to Victoria on Jan. 1, 1924, and assumed the practice of his cousin, C. A. Whittier, who moved to San Antonio. Dudley was a longtime supporter of public education for black children in Victoria. Working with teachers at the black F. W. Gross High School, he helped furnish equipment not supplied by the school board. On Jan. 17, 1940, he organized an athletic council that consisted primarily of black citizens. The council provided a fence, shrubs, grass and cement walkways for the school. The school board later named an elementary school for Dudley. He led a fundraising drive to establish the George Washington Carver Civic Council, or Carver Center, for the recreational and cultural development of black youths. He was a member of the American Legion Citizens Committee, the Victoria Chapter of the State Progressive League, and the NAACP. During the struggle to secure voting rights for blacks, he worked closely with NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, a future United States Supreme Court associate justice. He died on Jan. 24, 1975.
9. The TSU Five
On May 16, 1967, more than 300 people, most of whom were students at Texas Southern University, held a demonstration to protest against the city of Houston. The students were upset that Wheeler Street, one of the main roadways of black Houston, was constantly filled with heavy traffic that flowed straight through the campus of TSU.
A riot broke out, and a white police officer was shot. Five people known as the TSU 5 were charged with his death. Charles Freeman was the only one of the five to stand trial.
The case transferred to Victoria because of all of the intense publicity of the case. It was believed that no blacks would be available to show support for the TSU 5 and scare a not guilty verdict out of jurors, but at least 12 buses filled with blacks from Houston packed the Victoria courtroom during the case. Freeman's trial ended in a mistrial. In November 1970, a judge dismissed all charges against all five students because the bullet that killed the officer was from one of his colleagues.
Freeman went on to become a lawyer in Harris County.
10. Pete Rydolph: First Black millionaire in Victoria County
Born on April 19, 1888, in McFaddin, Pete Rydolph became what many people have said to be the first black millionaire in Victoria. A prominent cattle rancher, Rydolph's ranch was located on the Bloomington Highway. Rydolph gained national attention in May 1954 when he was kidnapped by three men and a woman who made him pose for nude pictures with the woman and forced him to pay $30,000 to keep the pictures from being used in a fictitious rape story. The people involved were found guilty and served prison time. Rydolph was a veteran of World War I and a member of numerous ranching and civil organizations, including the NAACP, the Victoria County Farm Bureau and the Texas and Southwestern Cattlemen's Association. Rydolph died in 1980 at the age of 92.
Goliad County Historical Commission, The History and Heritage of Goliad County , ed. Jakie L. Pruett and Everett B. Cole (Austin: Eakin Press, 1983).
Frank X. Tolbert, "Tolbert's Texas" Scrapbook, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.
African American Historic Places By Beth L. Savage, National Register of Historic Places
Victoria Advocate archives
Biographical File, Victoria Public Library. Victoria Advocate, Jan. 25, 1975.
(www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdu60), accessed Jan. 13, 2011.
Lawson, P.M. (1983). Calf Roping with Rufus Green. Austin, TX: Eakin Press