This object is a photographic print of Richard Allen (1830-1901) a political leader in Texas. Richard Allen was born a slave in Richmond, Virginia on June 10, 1830. He was brought to Harris County in Texas, where he was owned until emancipation in 1865. While a slave he became skilled in carpentry and designed the mansion of Houston mayor Joseph R. Morris.
After emancipation Richard Allen became a contractor and bridge builder. The first bridge to be built over Buffalo Bayou is said to have been Allen’s work. Allen first entered the political scene when he became a voter registrar, in charge of distributing and accepting voter registrations. He later became an agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands or more popularly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau was established by the War Department in 1865 after the end of the American Civil War. The Freedmen’s Bureau was created to help former black slaves and poor whites in the American south. After the war many communities were left in ruins. The Bureau provided food, housing, medical aid, established schools, and offered legal assistance. The people who worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau were essentially social workers. Each district would send out assistant agents to communities in the south. However, once there they were exposed to ridicule and violence from whites which included terror organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.
The Ku Klux Klan or KKK for short was an organization founded in 1866 and in almost every southern state. The group largely rejected President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policies. The group ran a campaign of violence against Republicans, both black and white, hoping to reverse reconstruction and return to white supremacy in the South. 10% of black legislators who were elected during the 1867-1868 constitutional conventions were victims of violence from the KKK and some lost their lives. Due to the violence being spewed toward blacks, a movement to leave the south and head west toward Kansas became a popular.
The movement was led by a man named Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, and the goal was to find a better life somewhere other than the south. Singleton was born a slave near Nashville, Tennessee. He was skilled in carpentry but never learned how to read or write. After attempting to escape from slavery several times he was finally successful in 1846 and headed north to Detroit using the Underground Railroad. Singleton witnessed the inequality that freedmen were facing and realized they would never get equality in the south. In 1874 Singleton founded a real estate company in the hopes of helping African Americans get land in Tennessee. This failed as many white land owners refused to bargain and sold the land for high prices. Singleton then turned his eye to Kansas, and after a few setbacks, the first wave of exodusters migrated to Kansas in 1879.
As for Richard Allen, after he led the short lived exodus movement he served as a delegate for the National Colored Men’s Convention. He also served as chairmen for black state conventions where African Americans voiced their concerns about civil rights, education, and economic issues. He became Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons once they organized in Texas. Richard Allen passed away on May 16, 1909. [Joscelynn Garcia]
Cimbala, Paul A., and Randall M. Miller. The Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction. New York: Fordham University Press, 1999. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=16387>.
Don’t miss the Voices from the Invisible Diamonds lecture this Saturday! Former members of Negro League baseball teams in Texas will be sharing their stories. Joining the players are Damian Thomas, sports curator of the Smithsonian African American Cultural and History Museum in Washington, D.C.; and Layton Revel, founder and director of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research in Carollton, Texas, who also played a role in opening the Negro League Museum in Birmingham, Alabama.
Find out more HERE!
This item is a quilt from ca. 1950 obtained from the estate of an African-American family living in the San Antonio area. An appraiser from the Antiques Roadshow verified the date and ethnic origin of the quilt by its style, construction, and materials. The quilt appears to have been made using a “strip construction” technique. Strip construction uses strips of fabric cut and sewn together in bands. This method, combined with the improvisational style, is consistent with African American quilts from the 1950’s.
The origin of quilting in African-American culture is a greatly debated topic. Researchers are unsure what influenced the quilts style. They also question what purpose and function they were made for. The answers are hard to pin down because few quilts from before, during, and shortly after the Civil War survive today. Some scholars suggest that African-American quilts were influenced by traditional African weaving and textile production. In West Africa, men were traditionally the main producers of textiles. However, when enslaved Africans were transported to the United States, women became the principal makers of quilts. Some scholars point to the use of bright colors combined with pattern improvisation, asymmetrical design, and strip banding as proof of African influence in African-American quilting. They claim that strip banding in particular is similar to African weaving. They also suggest that slaves may have hid African designs and religious symbols in the quilts they created in order to preserve their African heritage. However, other scholars say those theories are the result of speculation. Instead, they believe that the time periods as well as the regions the quilts were produced in were the major influences on the design and construction of African-American quilts.
Another controversial topic is whether African-American quilts were used during the Civil War to conceal secret communications. Two historians, Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard, suggest that a “quilt code” may have been used to assist slaves in navigating the Underground Railroad. According to their theory, a slave seamstress would sew a quilt that contained several patterns for other slaves to memorize. The seamstress would then display different quilts using those patterns to provide information to help people trying to escape. The patterns displayed may have included designs such as a wrench pattern directing them to gather tools, a wagon pattern indicating the need to pack, and a bear claw pattern directing slaves north over the Appalachian Mountains. But no verified “code quilts” exist to this day. Additionally, Tobin and Dobard obtained their information about the quilt code from only one source: an individual descended from slaves. The claims have yet to be corroborated by other individuals or oral histories.
Some of what we do know about early African-American quilting culture was obtained by the WPA during the 1930’s. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal program created to provide work relief. The WPA started the Folklore Project in order to employ out of work writers. They would gather stories from Americans who lived during major historical periods, including former slaves. In the oral histories, prior slaves could recall female family members piecing together quilts out of old clothes and scraps. More information on early African-American quilting can be found in documents about slave life. Both the WPA and written records verify that slaves made quilts for both their masters’ use as well as out of necessity for their own families. What does seem to be apparent about early quilting practices is the importance of quilting parties, or frolics. Quilting parties were integral in allowing slaves to socialize. Informally, female slaves would gather in the evening or on Saturday afternoons to quilt and sew. After the Civil War, quilts were made from scraps of discarded clothing and feed sacks. During the 1920’s, more and more people moved to northern cities to find work in jobs created by increased industrialization. As the years passed, African-American women were able to create quilts for enjoyment as well as need.
In 1966 a group of African-American women in Alabama established the Freedom Quilting Bee, a quilting cooperative. The group began as a way for poor women to provide for their families. It began with 150 quilters who learned their craft from their mothers and grandmothers. They would auction off their work and split the proceeds with their members. The group also provided a support network for the women of their cooperative. Their group is credited with revitalizing the popularity of quilts in American home decor during the 1960’s.
Today, African-American quilts are artistic as well as functional and can be found in both homes and museums. A list of museums that exhibit African-American quilts can be found here. Despite the controversy of its origins and influences, what is clear about the African-American quilting tradition is that it is a mix of cultural influences and traditions that can be seen in quilts made today. [Ashton Meade, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Diana Ross and the Supremes with the Temptations
This object is a 33-rpm record album stored in the original record jacket for T.C.B. featuring music from the television special of the same name. T.C.B. stands for ‘Taking Care of Business’ and aired December 9, 1968 on NBC. This was the first of two television specials that starred Diana Ross and the Supremes with the Temptations. The broadcast was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Electronic Production. The record of the original soundtrack knocked the Beatles out of the number #1 LP sales slot.
Diana Ross (born Diane Earle), Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard met while living in Detroit’s Brewster housing project. Due to segregation, African-Americans were obligated to live in separate parts of the city from Anglo-American citizens, often in unsafe conditions. In response to the need for safer housing, Brewster Homes broke ground in 1933 as the first federally funded housing project for African-Americans. The original property featured several town-homes. Eventually in the 1950’s the homes were converted into six towers called the Frederick-Douglass Towers with 14 stories each. The initial process to approve residency was highly selective. Residents were required to meet a number of requirements like income standards and marital status. However, as early as the 1960’s the process became less rigid. As more people moved to the suburbs and as racial tensions increased, the Brewster projects fell into decline. They experienced high levels of drug and criminal activity. The buildings themselves started to fall apart. By 2008 the towers were no longer occupied by any residents and in 2014 the buildings were torn down.
After meeting, the girls formed a quartet, first including Betty McGlown and then Barbara Martin as teenagers. The group was named The Primettes because they started as a sister act to The Primes. Two members of The Primes, Eddie Kendrichs and Paul Williams, later formed the Temptations. Originally, Florence Ballard was the lead singer of the Primettes. However, as time moved on, it was Diana Ross who eventually became the leader the group.
The girls had their big break in January of 1961 when the group signed with an all black-owned record label, Motown Records. They changed their name to the Supremes, and by 1964, they had received 7 gold records. Their tenth release “Where Did Our Love Go?” sold 2 million copies and became their first number one hit in the summer of 1964. The same year, they topped the charts with their songs “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me”. In fact, the group had 5 U.S. number one hits in a row between 1964 and 1965.
The Supremes were the most commercially successful female group and among the top 5 pop/rock/soul acts of the 1960’s. They were the first group to have 5 consecutive records reach the top of the bestseller charts. During this decade the Civil Rights Movement was at its height and the Supremes were embraced as a symbol of African American achievement. They appeared multiple times on mainstream TV with guest appearances on the Tonight Show. In 1967 the group released “Reflections,” the first song to be credited with the groups new name, Diana Ross and the Supremes.
In 1969, Diana Ross left to start her solo career. She starred in several films, including Lady Sings the Blues in 1972, Mahogany in 1974, and the Wiz in 1984. In 1972, she won a Grammy for Top Female Singer and later was named female entertainer of the year. The Supremes last top 40 single after Ross left was “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking” in 1976. Diana Ross and the Supremes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. No Motown act matched their success and Diana Ross and the Supremes were the second most successful singing group of their decade, next to the Beatles. [Ashton Meade, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
This artifact at the Institute of Texan Cultures is a sharecropper’s cabin. Constructed out of simple materials around 1900, the cabin most likely served as a residence for a tenant farmer and his or her family. It’s a simple home with two rooms, windows with no glass, a tin roof and a front porch. While in the past it was someone’s home, today it stands as an example of a practice that flourished in the American South for decades.
What is sharecropping?
Sharecropping is an agricultural system where a landowner allows a farm worker (also known as a tenant farmer) to rent and use the land in exchange for a share of the expected crop production. This system of agriculture became a standard in the American South after the American Civil War. The large, newly freed African American population, were suddenly in need of employment and landowners (often former plantation-owners) were in need of employees to farm their lands.
In the Reconstruction Era that followed the American Civil War, many freedmen and their families migrated into the northern United States and Canada in hope of a better life. However, for those who remained in the South, the business of rebuilding after a devastating war was fraught with uncertainty. Usually unable to read or write, many former slaves chose to return to the work that they had practiced before the Civil War—manual labor in agriculture—in order to provide for themselves and their families.
How does sharecropping work?
A landowner or landlord and the tenant farmer come to an agreement. The landowner allows the farmer to work and grow crops—usually cotton— on their property, and in exchange the landowner claims a portion of the crop that has been produced (usually a third or half of the yearly yield). For their hard work, the tenant farmer would usually be able to live on the property and receive their own portion of the crop for their use as they saw fit. The landowner provides the tenant farmer with initial supplies: seeds, farming equipment such as a plow, etc. The farmer tends to the fields, and at the end of the year the crop is divided between the two parties.
This system doesn’t sound like a bad deal! Is it fair?
While the system sounds fair, in a majority of cases the tenant farmers were at a large disadvantage. Landowners often took advantage of the tenant farmers in various ways. One popular method involved providing the necessary agricultural supplies at a cost to the farmer. If the farmer could not afford to pay for the start-up supplies, they were given on a line of credit with high interest rates. At the end of the year, the landowners would not only take their portion of the crops but also collect on the interest. If the interest was very high and the tenant farmer could not pay it back, he had to work extra hard to cover the costs for years to come. This often trapped the tenant farmer in a cycle of poverty as they worked to pay the landowner back. Sharecroppers of all races and backgrounds were at the mercy of the landowner. Sometimes, the tenant farmers even had to pay rent on the homes they lived in― this sharecropper’s cabin at the Institute of Texan Cultures reflects one of the many styles of housing used as a sharecropper’s home.
Was sharecropping a big deal in Texas?
After the American Civil War, many recently freed men migrated to Texas hoping to settle their own land. With the majority of its farmland intact, Texas became the de facto leader in cotton production of the United States. East Texas had a very good climate for cotton and by the turn of the 20th century some figures estimate that Texas cotton produced almost one third of America’s cotton supply. To meet the employment needs, many African Americans and Hispanic Americans flocked to the East Texas area where cotton production was at its peak.
In the 1920’s, four brothers named Clarence, Steve, Tom and Harry Moore bought land near the Navasota area slightly north of Houston, Texas. In the process of constructing a thriving cotton business, the Moore brothers used a sharecropping system that employed African Americans, prison labor, and even German prisoners of war during World War II. After years of successful operations, Thomas Moore donated the cabin to the Institute of Texan Cultures and it was moved to its current location in 1979. Though it’s unknown as to whether the Moore Brothers constructed the cabin or if the cabin came with the property when they purchased it, this little house stands today as a testament to a large chapter in American agricultural history. [Caira Spenrath, Edited by Jennifer McPhail]
Byres, Terence J. 1983. Sharecropping and sharecroppers. London [etc.]: Frank Cass.
Materials: Felt, leather, brass
This item is an 1889 model of a Buffalo Soldier forage cap. It has an attached 1872 model brass cavalry insignia that shows two crossed swords. Above the swords is the regimental number 9, and below the swords is the troop letter, F. Buffalo Soldiers belonged to one of two regiments, the Ninth United States Cavalry or the Tenth United States Cavalry. The regimental number 9 means that this cap was used for the Ninth United States Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Edward Hatch of Iowa. The two regiments were divided into a number of smaller troops. The troop letter F means that this cap was used by a soldier in Troop F, led by Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt in Fort Davis, Texas.
In 1866, the United States Congress authorized two regiments of African American cavalry, the Ninth United States Cavalry and the Tenth United States Cavalry, to be added to the United States army. For the first time in the history of the United States, African Americans were able to join the army during peacetime. The term ‘Buffalo Soldier’ was given to these two cavalry regiments by the Plains Indians since the hair of these soldiers appeared similar to a bison’s curly black hair. The term caught on with the soldiers themselves, and they eventually added a bison to their regimental crest.
Following the Civil War many African American men joined the army, seeing it as an opportunity for advancement. As soldiers they were fed, clothed, sheltered and earned $13 per month. Initially, white officers were reluctant to lead a regiment of African American men, believing that they would be obstinate and difficult to manage. Once the white officers were in place, they soon found that their fears were misplaced. The degree of drunkenness and desertion of African American regiments was far lower than white units.
The Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at a variety of posts in Texas from 1866 to 1890. The Ninth United States Calvary was ordered to western and southwestern Texas in 1867 to protect the area between the Rio Grande and Concho Rivers from Native American attacks. Troop F, along with troops C, D, G, H and I, were under Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt in Fort Davis. Fort Davis was situated on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail. Its location allowed for greater ease in controlling activities on the Mescalero Apache war trails and the Great Comanche war trail during the American Indian Wars, a period when Native Americans were being forcibly removed from their land.
The motto of the Ninth United States Cavalry was, “We Can, We Will.” This motto truly guided the regiment as they carried out a variety of assignments. The soldiers protected the frontier, recovering livestock, capturing horse thieves and serving justice. They restored a number of forts, built roads, hung thousands of miles of telegraph lines and escorted stagecoaches, wagons, mail parties, survey parties, railroad trains and railroad crews. The soldiers even partook in frontier campaigns. Perhaps most importantly, the Buffalo Soldiers of the Ninth United States Calvary overcame prejudice on the frontier and were greatly respected for their hard work and contributions. [Lauren Thompson, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Hendrick Arnold at the Siege of Bexar
M. A. Emanuel
Date: ca. 1980
Materials: Paper & paint
This watercolor painting was created by M.A. Emanuel and shows an image of Hendrick Arnold at the Siege of Bexar during the Texas Revolution. Hendrick Arnold, a “free” African American, was a spy and a guide during the Texas Revolution. During a hunting expedition he came across Stephen F. Austin’s encampment at Salado Creek. He offered his services to Stephen F. Austin as a guide and later took part in the Battle of Concepcion. During the siege of Bexar, Arnold served as the guide for Benjamin R. Milam.
The Siege of Bexar developed into one of the first major campaigns of the Texas Revolution when a group of Texas volunteers laid siege to the Mexican army stationed in San Antonio de Bexar from October to December 1835. Benjamin R. Milan and Francis W. Johnson and approximately 300 volunteers entered Bexar on December 5th. Conflict continued until General Cos of the Mexican Army surrendered on December 9th. During the Siege of Bexar, Texas suffered approximately 30 casualties while Mexico suffered approximately 150 casualties.
Arnold was acknowledged for his important service during the siege of Bexar in the official report written by Francis W. Johnson. Arnold continued to serve the Texas Revolution after the siege of Bexar ended and Texas gained control of the San Antonio area. He received land in Bandera, TX as compensation for his service during the Revolution and operated a gristmill in San Antonio after the revolution ended. He passed away during a cholera epidemic in San Antonio in 1849. [Catherine Sword, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
The following video gives and in depth discussion of historic cholera epidemics.
Kay Musical Instrument Company
Date: ca. 1951
Materials: Wood, plastic & metal
This semi-acoustic guitar was formerly owned by Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins and originally manufactured by Kay Musical Instrument Company during the early 1950s. The guitar model is hollow-bodied with six-strings and designed for right-handed players. Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins was a renowned blues singer and guitarist born in 1911 in Centerville, Texas. Sam was introduced to music at a young age. He and his friends Lee Gabriel and Lorine Washington would often go square dancing on Saturday nights. It was here that he learned to listen to the music’s soul and dance with it. His father was a preacher at the local church and the entire family helped participate by singing every Sunday. He gained an interest in music and made his first instrument, a cigar-box guitar, during his early childhood. His older brothers John Henry and Joel taught him how to play the guitar; unbeknownst to any of them, it was then that a star had been born.
In the early 1940s, Sam moved to Houston to continue his career in music. He found his home in the Third Ward, which at that time was teeming with upper class culture and nightlife. Competing with the other musicians determined to make a living as a performer, Sam took any job he could to help pay the bills. He was often seen playing on the streets for whatever tips he could accrue. By a stroke of luck, music manager Lola Ann Cullum for Aladdin Recording Company happened to be attended the very same nightclub Sam had been performing at one night. She enjoyed his vocals and thought he had what it took to make it big. In 1946 he earned a recording session with Aladdin Recordings in Los Angeles, where he met Wilson “Thunder” Smith and (by some accounts) earned the nickname “Lightnin.” There are a number of stories about how Mr. Hopkins came by his nickname. Others have said it was blues guitarist Blind Lemon who said Sam “electrified” people. Decades later, he claimed to have invented the name himself, inspired from being struck by lightning on his front porch.
Listen to “Ain’t No Cadillac” by Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins in the following video.
Over the length of his career Hopkins recorded his music with nearly twenty different recording labels and recorded over 85 albums, but did not gain recognition outside of the African-American community until he began working with the producer Sam Charters. He became a significant figure in the folk-blues revival during the 1960s as he toured the United States and Europe. Hopkins often wrote impromptu songs, autobiographical songs, or songs centering on legends. Some of his biggest hints included: “Shotgun Blues,” “Mojo Hand,” and “Penitentiary Blues.” Many of his songs caused him to be recognized as a musical spokesman for the under-recognized southern African-American community and the injustices felt by minorities during the Civil Rights movement.
Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins was recognized for his talent and influence by his induction into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980, but died shortly thereafter of cancer in 1982. His burial can be found in Forest Park Cemetery in Houston, Texas and his legacy is honored by a park and a memorial statue in Crockett, Texas and a historical marker in Houston, Texas. [Catherine Sword and Jordan Kinnally, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]