The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941

By Bernadette Pruitt | Go to book overview

TWO
Building a City
Migrant Settlements in Houston, 1900–1941

Unlike most Texas African Americans, Georgia Orviss and Joshua Houston Jr. grew up in prominent Huntsville families, far removed from the mudsills of East Texas poverty. Georgia Orviss, the multiracial daughter of a prominent biracial Virginia minister and a mixed-race mother—Rev. George B. and Mary Orviss—graduated from Mary Allen Seminary in Crockett, Texas, in the 1890s, ultimately becoming an educator. Joshua Houston’s father was a civic leader and business owner, Joshua Houston Sr. Once the literate slave of the legendary Sam Houston, he took his former master’s name following Emancipation and became the leading spokesperson for people of color in his community. He especially tailored his talks and ambitions toward young people, briefly opening Bishop Ward College for students. His offspring, not surprisingly, soared. Youngest son, Samuel Walker Houston, founded the community’s first African American high school, the Houstonian Normal Institute (later the Samuel Houston Industrial and Training School) in 1906. Joshua Houston Jr. also attended school for a period, enrolling in industrial education classes at Prairie View State and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) and eventually opening his own blacksmithing shop (fig. 7).1

Initially, Joshua and Georgia Houston welcomed the idea of raising their daughters—Constance and Hortense—in Huntsville. Huntsville, in their estimation, seemed like a good place to bring up children—even African American children (fig. 8). Racism, according to the Houstons, would not stand in the way of their daughters’ success. Early on, they attempted to shield Constance and Hortense from racial bigotry. As the girls got older, the Houstons taught them to ignore taunts and racial epithets. Their parents educated them on the quiet but effective ways to resist bigotry. For example, civil rights and women’s rights supporter Georgia Houston, who

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