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The Other Great Migration

The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941

Bernadette Pruitt

Publication Year: 2013

The twentieth century has seen two great waves of African American migration from rural areas into the city, changing not only the country’s demographics but also black culture. In her thorough study of migration to Houston, Bernadette Pruitt portrays the move from rural to urban homes in Jim Crow Houston as a form of black activism and resistance to racism.

Between 1900 and 1950 nearly fifty thousand blacks left their rural communities and small towns in Texas and Louisiana for Houston. Jim Crow proscription, disfranchisement, acts of violence and brutality, and rural poverty pushed them from their homes; the lure of social advancement and prosperity based on urban-industrial development drew them. Houston’s close proximity to basic minerals, innovations in transportation, increased trade, augmented economic revenue, and industrial development prompted white families, commercial businesses, and industries near the Houston Ship Channel to recruit blacks and other immigrants to the city as domestic laborers and wage earners.

Using census data, manuscript collections, government records, and oral history interviews, Pruitt details who the migrants were, why they embarked on their journeys to Houston, the migration networks on which they relied, the jobs they held, the neighborhoods into which they settled, the culture and institutions they transplanted into the city, and the communities and people they transformed in Houston.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

For sixteen years the Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life has featured books that present readers with a composite of views pertaining to East Texas and the surrounding regions, revealing the complexities inherent in the history, culture, and people of the area. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to...

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pp. xi-xxi

Familial bonds and friendships largely inspired this study on the Great Migration to Houston, Texas. Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1970s and early 1980s, I heard countless stories from family about the South. My earliest recollections of conversations on southern life came...

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pp. 1-14

In 1899, Edward Wilbur Hayes left his home, Big Sandy in Upshur County, Texas, to attend Wiley College, walking sixty-two miles to Marshall, the location of the Methodist Episcopal school. His parents, former slaves and sharecroppers, rarely had enough money to feed and clothe their family....

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Chapter One. Pulling Up the Stakes: The Great Migration to Houston, 1900–1930

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pp. 15-54

Sudden changes in fortunes or circumstances certainly compelled the decision to migrate. Jefferson E. and Ella Collins moved to Houston in 1920 from Trinity, Texas. Like most African Americans in rural East Texas, they rented land as sharecroppers. Although economic challenges prompted...

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Chapter Two. Building a City: Migrant Settlements in Houston, 1900–1941

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pp. 55-93

Unlike most Texas African Americans, Georgia Orviss and Joshua Houston Jr. grew up in prominent Huntsville families, far removed from the mudsills of East Texas poverty. Georgia Orviss, the multiracial daughter of a prominent biracial Virginia minister and a mixed-race mother—....

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Chapter Three. Beautiful People: Agency in Houston, 1900–1941

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pp. 95-139

Born in 1881, in the town of Clinton, a tiny farm community west of the Guadalupe River, just ninety miles north of the Gulf Sea in DeWitt County, Texas, Jennie Belle Murphy—known to friends and family as Ladybelle—was raised by relatives, sometime after the death of her mother,...

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Chapter Four. “That Was Their Protection and Safeguard”: Houston’s “New Negro,” 1917–1941

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pp. 141-185

Against the wishes of local Whites, commissioned officers, military officials, and African American troops themselves, the United States Army ordered the segregated Third Battalion—Companies I, K, L, and M of the Twenty-fourth Infantry—to Houston for a tour of guard duty at the construction...

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Chapter Five. In “The Garden of Eden”: The Houston Renaissance, 1900–1941

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pp. 187-212

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...

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

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pp. 213-276

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...

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Conclusion: New Beginnings, New Institutions, New Migrations

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pp. 277-290

Born in Carthage, Texas, a small community in Panola County just south of Marshall, in 1891, Anna Johnson, the eldest of six children, lived a typical East Texas life as the daughter of African-descent wage earners. The family moved in 1904 to Galveston, where Anna, a domestic, met her...


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pp. 291-385


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pp. 387-429


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pp. 431-453

Back Cover

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p. 482-482

E-ISBN-13: 9781623490034
E-ISBN-10: 1623490030
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603449489

Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2013