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

By Bernadette Pruitt | Go to book overview

SIX
The Black Economy at Work
Wage Earners, Professionals, Economic Crisis, and the
Origins of the Second Great Migration, 1900–1941

Regardless of their political views, cultural preferences, or birth homes, African American migrants settled in Houston primarily for jobs. Tillie Stullivan grew up in New Caney, Texas, a farm and sawmill town thirty miles northeast of Houston, in the late nineteenth century The offspring of former slaves, he and his eleven brothers and sisters grew up poor and never finished school. Instead, they raised cotton on the John Robertson plantation in eastern Montgomery County. Tillie and his brothers also drove cattle some fifteen miles from the fork of the San Jacinto River to New Caney.1

Isam Stullivan, Tillie’s father, ultimately bought a small farm in the neighboring community of Willis—probably before the Panic of 1893. Although he passed away before paying off the note, his children stepped in and helped their widowed mother Lucinda pay off the mortgage in the twentieth century. This milestone motivated other family members to work toward owning their farms, but most of the offspring lived their lives as sharecroppers, seeing landownership as a lifelong inconsequential impossibility.2

An ambitious young man, Tillie Stullivan would avoid tenant farming altogether. A generation removed from slavery, he knew he had other options, especially in cities. Houston seemed a good place to start over. Tillie appreciated the city’s booming economy—one that provided work to industrious African Americans. A childhood friend of Stullivan’s father recommended that the young man apply for an entry-level job at Houston’s SP Railroad, one of the city’s largest employers in 1900. He put in an application and the railroad hired him immediately.3

The new century ushered in unprecedented industrial growth, especially in the area of transportation. Railroads, the largest employer in the

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