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A lecture on Houston and the Great Migration - The Galveston County Daily News : Guest Columns

November 27, 2014

Guest column A lecture on Houston and the Great Migration

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Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 12:05 am | Updated: 12:21 am, Wed Mar 26, 2014.

Dr. Bernadette Pruitt, professor of history at Sam Houston State University, will be speaking at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston at 2:30 p.m. Saturday as part of the Galveston Reads 2014 program.

Dr. Pruitt will speak about the mass migration of African-Americans from the South in the mid-20th century, which is the subject of Isabel Wilkerson’s book “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.”

Wilkerson’s book, this year’s selection for Galveston Reads, won the National Book Award and is a lively and suspenseful account of three people’s life stories. About 6 million African-Americans headed north and west during this period, often with little more than a dream of living in peace away from the injustices of the Jim Crow system.

Dr. Pruitt recently published “The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941,” covering the movement of African-Americans from East Texas and Louisiana to Houston, which helped make the city the thriving economic center it is today.

Dr. Pruitt is a granddaughter of native Kentuckians who migrated to Detroit and were part of the more recent wave of African-Americans who have returned to the South in the last 20 to 30 years.

As a third generation Houstonian, I was unaware of the Houston Riot of 1917. African-American soldiers from the North and Midwest were stationed at Camp Logan (today it is Memorial Park) during World War I in the middle of a predominantly white area and were resented by the white populace.

The soldiers, in turn, were offended at how the local African-Americans were being treated by white Houstonians and spontaneously rioted one night, killing 16 whites and Hispanics. I had always heard about rioting in Watts, Chicago and New York City during the turbulent ’60s, but instinctively knew that wouldn’t happen in Houston as everyone down here tried to get along. It’s hard to believe that this did occur back in 1917. 

The story of Independence Heights and how it developed and got absorbed by Houston much later is fascinating. The local struggles of both the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement in Houston to promote minority rights and integrate are also something of which I was unaware. Houston had lunchroom counter sit-ins and difficulties in trying to organize the NAACP. Some people accused them of being “Reds.” 

“The Other Great Migration” covers it all with compelling stories and historical photos of both ordinary and well-known Houstonians. Pruitt’s book complements and expands upon the history of the great migrations of the 20th century detailed in “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

This lecture is free and open to the public. Come hear Dr. Pruitt discuss this little-known aspect of our local history. So many of us have family in both places, Galveston and Houston. The movement back and forth between the two cities is constant.

Her talk and slide presentation will draw from both Wilkerson’s book and her own and will conclude with a question-and-answer period.