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

By Bernadette Pruitt | Go to book overview

FIVE
In “The Garden of Eden”
The Houston Renaissance, 1900–1941

Politics alone did not drive Houston’s “New Negro” Movement. Migrants also relied on coded expressions of protest, such as the use of literature, political satire, music, dance, visual arts, as well as sports, in their efforts to break free of White supremacy and embrace Blackness. Houston especially created a culture of expression for musical entertainers. Saxophonist Tom Archia, born Ernest Alvin Archie Jr., in November 1919, in Groveton, Texas, in Trinity County, just northeast of Huntsville and 120 miles northeast of Houston, learned a good deal about Black consciousness from his parents and grandparents. Both sets of families and grandparents, the McDades and Nathan and Virginia Archie, farmed in Waller County at the turn of the century, with the Archies owning a lucrative watermelon farm. Both sets of families taught their descendants to appreciate their past as well as plan for the future. Also important to the former slaves and landholders was education. Their children especially learned early on the value of a college education, with Archie’s parents becoming professional educators in the era of the “New Negro.”1

The “New Negro” Movement influenced the Archies in a variety of ways. Ernest Archie Jr.’s parents, for example, attended college, taught school, with his father, Ernest Archie Sr., graduating from Prairie View College in the early twentieth century. For the young couple, Henrietta and Ernest Archie Sr., teaching afforded them the opportunity to influence young people as well as share with others a level of social consciousness. According to Tom Archia biographers Robert L. Campbell, Leonard J. Bukowski, and Armin Büttner, Ernest A. Archie Sr. even aspired to a level of social consciousness that set him apart from members of his extended family. For example, the schoolteacher changed his surname from Archie to Archia in the early twentieth century, perhaps during college, suggesting his father,

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