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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 six ~ The Black Economy at Work Wage Earners, Professionals, Economic Crisis, and the Origins of the Second Great Migration, 1900–1941 Chapter Six 214 city before World War I, employed over two thousand workers, including hundreds of African Americans, and paid out several million dollars annually in wages and salaries in the early 1900s. With eighteen railway lines, the city grew into a major railroad hub by 1920. The job at the SP Railroad’s Englewood Shop particularly appealed to Tillie because of its close proximity to African American neighborhoods in Fifth Ward, the working-class district in northeast Houston, not far from the city’s eastern manufacturing and shipping district. The railroad shop’s location on Liberty Road in Fifth Ward made it possible for SP Railroad employees to commute to and from their jobs.4 Tillie and other unskilled Afro-American shop workers did menial tasks as maintenance crew, sextons, and porters. The semiskilled and skilled jobs generally went to White males prior to the mass migration of southern Louisiana African American Creoles in the 1920s. Even then, SP classified and paid these artisans as “helpers” and not specified skilled wage earners. Stullivan’s entry into Houston’s unskilled workforce nevertheless signified a major departure for thousands of rural and small-town African Americans living in Texas and Louisiana. On migrating to Houston, newcomers usually found stable, low-end wage-earning jobs—at least through the onset of the Great Depression—assuring the economic survival of their families and communities.5 The workplace remembrances of Tillie Stullivan and other internal migrants help scholars better understand Houston’s Afro-American community in the four decades preceding World War II. Railroads between the turn of the century and World War I propelled unprecedented internal migration into the city, and Houston’s wartime and postwar economic booms following World War I stimulated even greater migratory streams thereafter. African Americans, like others in previous decades, permanently moved into the urban, industrial-commercial wage-earning sector. They secured jobs as sextons, compress workers, teamsters, chauffeurs, landscapers , servants, stevedores, porters, unskilled industrial laborers, domestics, laundresses, and artisans. Although most migrants labored as unskilled laborers, a select few found work in other circles as teachers, nurses, physicians , and civil servants. A smaller pool of migrants created their own business enterprises within the African American community, often providing stable jobs to others.6 Even while African-descent laborers earned more money and better provided for their families, they faced serious challenges to their financial the black economy at work 215 well-being. Both employers and White unionists discriminated against African American workers with impunity. Moreover, people of Mexican origin, who comprised 5 percent of the city’s overall population in 1940, increasingly competed with African Americans for low-skilled...


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