The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Take a Tour through Black History in Waco

How Wacoans are honoring Black History Month

2 months ago

By Skylla Mumana & Avery Ballmann

Waco Has Black History Too 

Black History Month — also known as African American History Month — is a nationally recognized period of historical observance through month of February that honors and highlights the accomplishments of African Americans such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Former President Obama and countless more. But what does Black History Month mean for Wacoans? Adrienne Cain Darough, assistant director of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History, preserves the stories of Waco’s Black History: Dr. Mae Jackson, the first Black woman to become Mayor of Waco; the baseball career of Crush Holloway; Paul Quinn College; and the late McLennan County Commissioner Patricia Chisolm-Miller.

“When people think of Black history and Black History Month, we tend to think of national figures or Civil Rights — you think of Selma, Atlanta, Montgomery,” Cain Darough said. “When you think of the arts in Black history, you think Harlem, but Waco has Black history too. There’s local history for you to experience and for you to learn from, and that’s really what I want people to take away.”

For the past three years, Cain Darough and her colleague Stephen Sloan, director of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History, have hosted a walking tour that takes groups to various historical sites throughout downtown and East Waco. Their next walk is this Saturday at 10 a.m. and will meet in front of the McLennan County Courthouse, 500 Washington Ave.

“It’s a really cool endeavor,” Cain Darough said. “We find different ways that we’re able to promote local history, because Waco, as small as it is, has a very fascinating history. Every time we turn around, there’s something new about Waco.”

For Cain Darough, the most powerful moment on the tour is the corner of University Parks Drive and Washington Avenue at the newly renamed Lester Gibson Parkway. She said this spot stirs up emotions for her because of the recent passing of County Commissioner Patricia Chisolm-Miller. Commissioner Miller was the first woman to be elected to the McLennan County Commissioners Court and was a friend to Cain Darough. Miller also worked closely with Lester Gibson fighting for change in the East Waco and rural districts of McLennan County.

“For me as a Black woman, I’m like, ‘Wow, what is in Waco’s water?’ because women are really doing things here,” Cain Darough said. “But it also gives the opportunity for anyone. You could be Mayor of Waco, you could serve as commissioner, but more so what do these positions represent and how can you contribute to the betterment of your city and your county?”

It’s stories like these that will enable change and inspiration in the Waco community — that’s why this walk was created, to tell and preserve the history of past Wacoans.

To register for this Saturday’s walk visit this link.

“You can explore and experience Black History any time of the year,” Cain Darough said. “If you go to the Waco History app, there is a section that is called African American [History]. So even if you’re not able to make the walk on your own time, you can explore the app and see these different spaces on your own.”

Walking in Other People’s Shoes 

Sky’s Perspective 

As someone who is African American, I felt that this historic walk was curated with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. I enjoyed how this walk highlighted Waco’s monuments, historical sites and everyday street corners in the context of Black history.

When most people think of Black history, their minds instantly gravitate towards the Civil Rights Movement, and figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, etc. However, Black history is all around us.

It felt inspiring to participate in a historic walk that highlighted both the tragedies and triumphs of Waco’s Black historical figures. I also enjoyed finding out new information about the contributions and strides that Black Wacoans and residents made in the realms of history, education, politics, etc. For example, before this walk, I did not know who AJ Moore was. Alexander James Moore was an African American professor who, in 1875, out of concern for the lack of resources and education available for African American children in Waco, started teaching out of his home. Due to segregation and other racist legislation, African American children in Waco were left with little provisions and funding for schooling. Over time, his class sizes grew, and eventually, it led to the development of the first district African American school where he served as principal. Overall, it was very inspiring to hear stories such as this.

For many Black people, trailblazing or pioneering is not something that we’re strangers to. For years, we’ve had to fight and struggle for recognition in different spaces, even to this day.

A Trailblazer Today

Dr. Anthony Reddie is a trailblazer in his own right. Reddie is currently a professor of Black Theology at Oxford University, one of the world’s oldest research institutions. Reddie visited Baylor University last week to speak at Truett Seminary’s “Racism in the World Church”. Before Reddie’s start at Oxford, in the university’s 900-year history, they had never had a professor of Black Theology.

Black Theology, also known as Black Liberation Theology, is a theological perspective that originated from the early African American scholars and preachers in the United States and was established by African American theologian Rev. James H. Cone. According to Reddie, Black theology arises from the experience of Black suffering and oppression.

“They reinterpreted the Christian tradition through the lens of Black suffering,” Reddie said. “Their interpretation of Scriptures and particularly their view of Jesus tells them that Jesus was on their side, the side of the oppressed, and not the side of white supremacy.”

Alongside that, Reddie was the first Black person to ever receive an ‘A’ rating in theology and religious studies by the South African National Research Foundation. He also became the first Black director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture in 2019, a highly coveted position amongst scholars and theologians alike. For Reddie, the road was long and rough to obtain his position, and it’s something he still often thinks of as a miracle.

“Even now I still say it’s probably a miracle,” Reddie said. “One of the features of Oxford and Cambridge is that they’re very incestuous, in the sense that they tend to appoint people who had attended either Oxford or Cambridge before. So, if you studied in Oxford or Cambridge then that gives you a huge advantage. I studied at neither. So, when I applied, I was told that I was the only Black person and the only non-Oxford person who was interviewed.”

To Reddie, Black History Month is an important time to pay homage to the trailblazers before him and to recognize the numerous contributions that African Americans and Black people have made to society. He also encourages people of different ethnicities and races to be brave and willing to occupy spaces that they might otherwise feel discouraged to because of their skin color or origin.

“Sometimes as Black people, the pressure we put on ourselves is because we’re too aware of the weight of history,” Reddie said. “I know that when I show up to work in my college, I’m working in a space that was never intended for Black people to work in. So, when I show up, I’m showing up for all those unnamed people who never got to enter these spaces.”

Walking in Other People’s Shoes, Continued

Avery’s Perspective

As I walk the crooked sidewalks of my hometown, I am beginning to see it in an entirely new way. The McLennan County Courthouse is where my mom often practiced law, Austin Avenue is where I’d antique with my dad, the Dr Pepper Museum is where I had many class field trips. This was my history with Waco, but my experience alone cannot define Waco — it’s of those who came before me.

Waco History, an affiliate of the Institute for Oral History at Baylor University and the Texas Collection, led a group of students and Wacoans through downtown educating them on the rich Black History Waco is home to. My colleague and I joined in hopes to gain insight for this article.

I knew some of these historical sites and people such as Paul Quinn College, Jules Bledsoe, the lynching of Jesse Washington and Bridge Street, but I didn’t know — and didn’t try to explore — more of Waco’s Black History on my own. Through this tour, I realized that it is vital to incorporate local history into my life.

One of the most inspiring parts of the tour was learning about the College View Court-Hotel. This hotel was a safe haven for black travelers and offered amenities such as air-conditioned rooms and tiled bathrooms. After the tour, I went to the lot where the hotel once stood but all that was left was the teal blue, pink, white and black tiles that mapped the layout of the building. It was so disappointing to see this lot abandoned and unpreserved when it was a large part of Waco’s Black history. Had I not gone on this tour, I never would have known about the College View Court-Hotel and I wouldn’t have been able to share it with readers. This is why it is essential to know our local history so we can preserve these sites for future generations.

Now, when I drive through the familiar streets I’ve known my whole life, I see them differently — in a good way. I believe in the power of storytelling, that’s why I want to be a journalist, but for those of you who don’t want to go into the journalism field, there is something so empowering about knowing who comes before you. I encourage you to go on this tour whether it be by yourself, with Waco History or with a group you created.

 

Photos courtesy of Avery Ballmann