Black History Month


Here is just a sampling of the many noted black Houstonians and institutions that have made indelible marks on the city.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner, born Sept. 27, 1954, is currently serving as mayor of Houston. A Democrat, Turner was also a member of the Texas House of Representatives 1989-2016. Houston's second African-American mayor attended the University of Houston and Harvard Law School. He ran for mayor in 1991, losing in the runoff to Bob Lanier. He lost again in 2003, falling in third place and thus missing out on the runoff. On Feb. 20, 2015, Turner again announced his candidacy, earning the Houston Chronicle's endorsement. On Dec. 12, 2015, he won the runoff election against Bill King by 4,082 votes — the closest mayoral election by percentage in Houston history.

Mayor Lee Brown

Lee Patrick Brown, born Oct. 4, 1937, is a criminologist, public administrator, politician and businessman. In 1997, he became the first African-American mayor of Houston. He was reelected twice and served the maximum three terms from 1998 to 2004. Brown has had a long career in law enforcement and academia, leading police departments in Atlanta, Houston and New York over nearly four decades. With practical experience and a doctorate from University of California Berkeley, he has combined research and operations in his career. After serving as public safety commissioner of Atlanta, he was appointed in 1982 as Houston's first African-American police chief where he implemented community policing to reduce crime.

Rev. William Lawson

The Rev. William Lawson is a retired Houston pastor. He was born June 28, 1928, in St. Louis to Walter and Clarisse Lawson. Raised in Kansas City, Kansas, Lawson attended Summer High School and graduated with a B.A. from Tennessee A&I State University in 1950. While at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, he married Audrey Lawson. In 1955, he received his master of theology and bachelor of divinity degrees, majoring in New Testament Interpretation while holding an appointment as a teaching fellow in Homiletics.

From 1960 to 1970, Lawson served as the director of the Baptist Student Union and a professor of Bible at Texas Southern University. While at TSU, Lawson helped build the first Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Houston and taught classes in sociology and the Black Church. His involvement with the civil rights movement began when 14 TSU students held a sit-in protesting segregation at a lunch counter. After founding the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, Lawson invited the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at the church in 1963. Lawson served as a pastor there for over 30 years.

Through the nonprofit William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity, Lawson brought attention to the oldest African-American cemetery in Houston, helped created The Main Street Coalition, and founded the WALIPP Preparatory Academy for boys — the first charter school in the U.S. for boys in grades 6-8. The Institute also houses a residence for independent-living seniors.

Lawson headed the Houston chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for over three decades. In 1968, he received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Howard Payne University, and in 1993 received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the University of Houston. For his outstanding work with the Boy Scouts and his organization of the area's largest scouting program, in 1991 Lawson was given the Silver Beaver Award. Lawson is also the author of "Lawson's Leaves of Love: Daily Meditations," published in 2004.

Antioch Baptist Church of Houston
(Under The Rev. Jack Yates, the first African-American church in Houston, )

In January 1866, seven months after slaves were freed in Texas on June 19, 1865, a small group of former slaves organized the first African-American Baptist Church in Houston. They were assisted by the First Baptist Church and missionaries. After first holding worship services at the First Baptist Church and the German Baptist Church, they began worship services in a brush arbor on Buffalo Bayou. Later, they moved to Baptist Hill, near the intersection of Rusk and Bagby, until the present site was purchased. Services were conducted by traveling ministers.

In 1868, Antioch member Jack Yates became the church's first pastor after being ordained at the first association meeting for African-American Baptist Churches — the first National Baptist Convention. As the congregation grew and additional space was needed, Rev. Yates led the church in purchasing its present site where a brick structure was erected. At the time, the church was in the center of Freedman's Town, a hub of activity for the African-American community. It was the first brick structure built and owned by African-Americans in Houston. The church provided former slaves with opportunities to learn about God and provided ministries to help them develop educationally, economically and socially.

With the help of two missionaries, Rev. Yates began the Baptist Academy, the first educational opportunity for freed African-Americans in Houston. The academy taught fundamentals such as reading, writing, and arithmetic along with trades, enabling men and women to start their own businesses. The Baptist Academy later became Houston College — the forerunner of Texas Southern University.

Jack Yates

John Henry "Jack" Yates (July 11, 1828 - December 22, 1897) was an African-American slave and, later, a highly influential pastor in Houston's African-American community. Yates was born in Gloucester County, Virginia, and he moved with his family to Houston in 1865. He later purchased land in the Freedmen's Town area of the Fourth Ward. In 1868, Yates became pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Houston's first black Baptist church. According to the church, many original pews, made by hand, are still in use.

Yates also established the Houston Academy, a school for African-American children. Yates High School in Houston was named in his honor.

The house Yates occupied in the Fourth Ward was later moved to Sam Houston Park in Downtown Houston, where it was opened to the public in, 1996.

Texas Southern University

Texas Southern University, a historically black university, is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The university was established in 1927 as the Houston Colored Junior College. Later, it became the four-year Houston Colored College, and the state declared it to be the first state university in Houston in 1947. It was renamed Texas State University for Negroes, but in 1951 the name was changed to Texas Southern University.

TSU is one of the largest and most comprehensive historically black universities in the nation and one of just four independent public universities in Texas. It's also the only historically black universities in Texas recognized among America's Top Colleges by Forbes magazine. TSU ranks fourth in the nation for awarding doctoral and professional degrees to African-Americans and Hispanics. It's also a member-school of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

(Inset: "Looking Glass" studio interior)

Radio Station KCOH is one of the oldest in Texas and the southern portion of the U.S. Established in 1953, KCOH began broadcasting from the M&M building downtown. In 1963, a new studio was built in Houston's historic Third Ward, which has been the station's home ever since. Recognized as a forerunner in black radio stations for more than 50 years, KCOH was the first in the field to include talk show programs, gospel and other shows with urban listeners in mind.

Simone Biles - Olympic Gymnast

Simone Arianne Biles (born March 14, 1997) is the 2016 Olympic individual all-around, vault, and floor gold medalist. She was part of the gold medal-winning team dubbed the "Final Five" at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She also won the bronze medal for the balance beam during the games. Biles is a three-time world all-around champion (2013-15), three-time world floor champion (2013-15), two-time world balance beam champion (2014, 2015), four-time United States national all-around champion (2013-16), and a member of the gold medal-winning American teams at the 2014 and 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

Having won a combined total of 19 Olympic and World Championship medals, Biles is the most decorated American gymnast, taking over from Shannon Miller, who had held the record since 1996. With her win in Rio, Biles became the sixth woman to have won an individual all-around title at both the World Championships and the Olympic Games. With four Olympic gold medals, Biles set an American record for most gold medals in women's gymnastics at a single games.

Simone Manuel - Olympic Swimmer

Simone Manuel was born in Sugar Land Aug. 2, 1996. She has two older brothers, one of whom played basketball for Southern Methodist University. Her parents encouraged competitive sports in the three children, and Manuel was introduced to swimming through her brothers, who swam summer league competition. She asked to join the swimming team at four, and she was enrolled in swimming lessons. She was swimming with her local club, First Colony Swim Team, by age 11, and there she swam under head coach Alison Beebe, whom Manuel cited as a significant teacher. She graduated from Fort Bend Austin High School in 2014 and started attending Stanford University the same year.

Manuel specializes in sprint freestyle. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she won two gold and two silver medals: gold in the 100-meter freestyle and the 4x100-meter medley, and silver in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. In winning the 100-meter freestyle, tied with Penny Oleksiak of Canada, Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming and set an Olympic record and an American record.

Manuel also holds three world records as a member of a relay team, and she is a two-time individual National Collegiate Athletic Association champion, becoming one of the first three African-American women to place in the top three spots in the 100-yard freestyle event in any Division I NCAA Swimming Championship. She continues to attend Stanford, where she swims for the Cardinals.

Origins of Black History Month

Each February, the United States of America honors and salutes those who have made an impact in the community. Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.

The event grew out of "Negro History Week," the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.


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