Jun 16, 2021 - 02:07 pm CDT

Reuben Shannon Lovinggood, African-American educator, newspaper editor, speaker, and the first president of Samuel Huston College when the school officially opened, was born in 1864, in Walhalla, Oconee County, South Carolina. On his death certificate, his father’s name is listed simply as Lovinggood, while his mother’s name is listed as Leah Lay. A self-described “Mountain Black,” Lovinggood was born into poverty with few prospects for an education. He learned the alphabet in Sunday school at age twelve. In 1881, he enrolled at Clark University (now Clark Atlanta University) in Atlanta, Georgia, and in 1890, he graduated with a B. A. degree in Classics.

Portrait of Dr. Lovinggood

Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Huston-Tillotson University Archives

For a short time afterwards, Lovinggood was co-owner and editor of the Atlanta Times, a weekly newspaper. However, in December of 1891, he sold his share of the paper and moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where he accepted a principal’s position at Cameron Public School, an elementary school. In 1894, he married Lillie G. England of Birmingham, and in 1895, they moved to Marshall, Texas, where Lovinggood became chair of the Greek and Latin department at Wiley College. Their marriage was short-lived, however, and Lillie died in 1896, nineteen days after giving birth to their son, Reuben Penman Lovinggood. Despite this loss, Lovinggood remained at the college. He married Mattie Alice Townsend, also of Birmingham, on April 25, 1900. They had six children—Beulah, Burrows, Roosevelt, Madeline Alice, Clarissa, and Jessalyn.

Pictured: President Lovinggood and Family  Back row: Beulah; middle row: Burrows, Roosevelt; Front row: Madeline Alice, Jessalyn, Mattie, Reuben Shannon, Clarissa. Not pictured is Reuben Penman Lovinggood, R. S. Lovinggood’s first son, whose mother, Lilian England, died 19 days after his birth.

Pictured: President Lovinggood and Family

Back row: Beulah; middle row: Burrows, Roosevelt; Front row: Madeline Alice, Jessalyn, Mattie, Reuben Shannon, Clarissa. Not pictured is Reuben Penman Lovinggood, R. S. Lovinggood’s first son, whose mother, Lilian England, died 19 days after his birth. Courtesy of Huston-Tillotson University Archives

During this time and throughout his life, Lovinggood was a prominent leader in the (Colored) Methodist Episcopal Church. He was a member of that church’s general committee, a frequent representative of Texas to the church’s general conference, a representative of the Seventh Episcopal District on the church’s board of foreign missions, and a leader in the Texas Epworth League, an educational association for young Methodists. For many years he also served the church as secretary of the Freedman’s Aid Society and Southern Education Society.

In 1900, Lovinggood was elected by the aforementioned society to be the first president of Samuel Huston College, a Methodist Episcopal-affiliated school built for Blacks in Austin, Texas, that later merged with Tillotson College in 1952. When the college opened in the Fall of 1900, there was just one unfinished building with only four usable rooms, two teachers, no furniture, no kitchen or dishes, and the basement was being used to house livestock. However, eighty-three students were present on the first day of class, and half of them expected to board. When he later described those first days, Lovinggood recalled, “The students sat on trunks while I gave them a lecture and went out to beg chairs, dishes, beds, etc. We called upon the neighbors, both White and Black; all responded liberally. Our first meal was a jug of molasses and fourteen loaves of bread." 

Over the next sixteen years, Lovinggood and his wife, Mattie, worked to improve the school. In 1904, they opened the Eliza Dee Industrial Home for Girls on the campus; in 1910, Lovinggood organized a Classics department at Samuel Huston College. In February 1911, The Christian Educator magazine published an article celebrating the college’s tenth anniversary. There was substantial progress to report, as the college had grown to include five buildings, nineteen faculty members, and more than 500 students. The institution could also boast seventy-one graduates. Lovinggood was managing a campus with a property worth $87,000. The Christian Educator reported that “Samuel Huston College has grown in ten years to [be] one of the largest and best schools of our Church for colored youth in the South.” When Lovinggood saw the need to construct a new industrial building, he took it upon himself to raise $6,000 of the remaining $10,000 needed. Thanks to their early efforts, by 1927 Samuel Huston College made enough progress to be considered a Class A senior college.

Lovinggood served as president of the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas from 1905 to 1906, and he worked to institute uniform requirements for diplomas and degrees in Texas’s Black schools. On an interesting aside, while teaching at Huston College, Mrs. Lovinggood also attended classes at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Library Science. Although Black students were not allowed to attend since it was prior to integration, she was so fair-skinned that her racial background was not known to the administration.

Reuben Shannon Lovinggood enjoyed a distinguished career at Samuel Huston College and earned the respect of the students and staff as well as the confidence of Austin’s city officials. Unfortunately, he suffered from chronically poor health, and on December 17, 1916, Lovinggood died due to chronic nephritis. His funeral in Austin was well-attended. The Austin city council was present, and the mayor made a speech. Lovinggood was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. He was remembered by many for his fair criticisms of Jim Crow and a teaching philosophy that inspired Samuel Huston College’s school motto, “Strive always to treat others better than they treat you.”

 

Much thanks to Greg Farrar for this biography

Jun 16, 2021 - 01:06 pm CDT

Nancy Mahala Coleman Thomas does not have a grave marker in Oakwood Cemetery, but like everyone she has a story to tell. 

Nancy Coleman was born a slave in 1859 on the Meek Smith cotton plantation in Bastrop County. The exact month and day of her birth is unclear. Her father was John Coleman who died before she was born. Her mother Mary Clark was a cook on the Smith plantation. Nancy’s mother was brought to Texas by Meek Smith from Bowie County, Tennessee. In the narrative, Nancy says before her mother died, she wanted her children to remember where she was born and where she grew up. Mary Coleman was the mother of eleven children, two boys and nine girls. Nancy was a “house girl” during slavery, and became the special companion to the Meeks’ daughter, Polonia. Nancy considered herself sassy because she had heard that her father was independent and sassy. Nancy Mahala Coleman Thomas. 

In 1879, at the age of nineteen, Nancy Coleman married Jerry Thomas, who was born in 1842. Jerry had served in the United States Colored Infantry from 1865-1868. She was baptized and joined Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1883. 

In 1918, Nancy became President of the Home Woman’s Mission Society #4 in Austin and she was active in its work until 1930. Nancy and Jerry had three girls: Pearl, Ettie, and Bennie Eva. When her husband died in California in 1905, Nancy began receiving his military pension of $40.00 a month. 

In 1882, Nancy went to work for J. S. Hogg’s family as the cook. When he was elected governor, she lived in the governor’s mansion located at 1010 Colorado Street. In Nancy’s narrative, she talks about how fond she was of the Hogg family. Nancy owned her home at 1208 East 10th Street, Austin. 

She said that the Negroes of East Austin thought of her as their banker because she had a steady income. Whenever anyone needed a little money, he or she would go to Nancy. 

Nancy died December 12, 1938 at the age of 78 and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery on December 15th. The sexton’s record states she was buried in Section 4, Colored Grounds. 

Thinking about her life span is incredible – to be born a slave and live to be an independent woman with a family - and then living to see World War 1! 

Drawn portrait of Nancy Mahala Coleman Thomas
Photo source: Portal to Texas History website

Much thanks to Kay Boyd and Megan Spencer of Save Austin Cemeteries for this biography.

 

Jun 16, 2021 - 12:59 pm CDT

Connie Yerwood Connor was a  pioneer in public health in Texas and the first Black physician named to the Texas Public Health Service (now the Texas Department of Health). She was born in Victoria, Texas, in 1908. 

Both she and her sister, Joyce, would go along with their father, Dr. Charles R. Yerwood, when he made house calls in Gonzales County before they moved to Austin. Witnessing her father practice medicine was enough to put both women on their paths into the medical field. -----quotes from statesman?

Connor attended public school in Austin and graduated from the Samuel Huston College Academy in 1925 and received the bachelor of arts degree cum laude from Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson College). 

In 1933 she graduated cum laude from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, TN. She began her residency in pediatrics but became interested in public health and shifted the focus of her studies and earned a scholarship to study public health at the University of Michigan. She then returned to Texas in 1937, when she joined the Texas Public Health Service. 

In her early years with the state health agency, Connor was responsible for training midwives in East Texas and serving as a consultant for setting up health clinics that offered natal and prenatal services to the rural poor of Texas. She actually led the state's efforts in early periodic screening diagnosis, treatment, and chronic diseases for pregnancy and pediatrics.

Initially her duties were limited to work among the Black population in East Texas, but as the need for her knowledge and services grew, she eventually came to work all over Texas and within all culture groups.

Connor was president of the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association, secretary of the Charles H. Christian Medical Society, and a member of the Texas Medical Association. 

In 1977 she retired as the director of health services and received outstanding service awards from the Texas Department of Health (now the Texas Department of State Health Services), the commissioner of health, and the staff of the maternal and child health division. 

She was the first African American to be appointed to serve on the Human Relations Committee, the predecessor of the Human Rights Commission (a local group of the Texas Commission on Human Rights), and was appointed to the first board of trustees of the Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center of Austin and Travis County. She also served on the boards of the Austin Child Guidance Center, Austin Evaluation Center, Citizens Advisory Committee to the Juvenile Board of Travis County, Girl Scouts, YWCA, and Travis County Grand Jury Association. 

She became a trustee of Samuel Huston College and served for fifteen years and was one of the board members who signed the merger agreement of Huston-Tillotson College in 1952; continuing on as a trustee of the board after the merger. 

Her retirement from that position in 1991 marked the culmination of over fifty-four years of service to the college and at her retirement from the board of trustees she received its highest award, the Crystal Ram with Golden Horns (she was only the second person to receive this prestigious award). This was among several awards she received as an outstanding alumna from both Huston-Tillotson College and Meharry Medical College in addition to an honorary degree of doctor of sciences from Samuel Huston College.

Throughout her career Connor was also active in the Wesley United Methodist Church, where she served as chairman of the board of trustees. Even when she was traveling throughout the state as a young woman, she returned to Austin every weekend to teach a Sunday school class, making sure she was home by Saturday to ensure she didn’t miss it. She was a lay leader and received a distinguished service award from Church Women United for services in religious leadership. For fifteen years she served as grand treasurer in the Order of the Eastern Star. She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the Links, Incorporated, the American Association of University Women, the Community Welfare Association, and many other organizations. Connor died on June 11, 1991, in Austin, and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery near her family.

 

Jun 16, 2021 - 11:22 am CDT

Juanita Jewell Shanks Craft was born in 1902 in Round Rock. Both of her parents were teachers and her father became the high school principal in Columbus, Texas.

She and her mother moved to Austin where she attended Anderson High School until she had to put her education on hold when her mother was diagnosed  with tuberculosis but was unable to be admitted to the state sanitarium in San Angelo due to discriminatory policies. They lived in a tent near the hospital while Juanita pleaded with the staff to treat her, but her mother passed. At that point she went to live with her father in Columbus and graduated in 1919. 

 

She then attended Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M) where she earned her certificate in millinery and dressmaking. 

She returned to Austin and earned her teaching certificate at Sam Huston College, returning to Columbus to teach kindergarten. 

She moved to Dallas after divorcing her first husband, and she initially worked as a maid at the Adolphus Hotel and was later able to rent out her home to boarders. Working in the hotel let her meet famous people, one of the most notable being Eleanor Roosevelt. They became friends, and it was actually Eleanor who encouraged Juanita to become politically active. 

Remembering how her mother had been denied medical care drove her to ensure that others would have the rights they deserved.

In 1935 she joined the Dallas NAACP. She helped to sign up new members and was appointed membership chairman in 1942. As the Dallas branch had over 7,000 members by 1946, it’s easy to see how she impressed the state leaders and was appointed organizer for the entire state. 

This was also the same time she became the first African American woman in Dallas to vote in the Democratic primary and was the first African American woman in Texas to be deputized to collect poll taxes. 

She was also appointed advisor to the Dallas NAACP Youth Council. Her work with children to encourage their parents to register to vote became the model for the whole country.

The 1950s brought political and social changes for Dallas and Texas.  There was only one day that Black people were allowed to go to the State Fair  called Negro Achievement Day.  For twelve years, from 1955 to 1967, she  worked with Dallas youth to boycott that day and not attend the fair except to march and picket.  Eventually desegregation allowed them to attend the fair any day they wished. 

She took on school desegregation in 1956 where Thurgood Marshall was co-counsel. Joe L. Atkins wanted to attend college at North Texas State, but was denied and she encouraged him to file a suit.  While his case was in court, Joe became the first African American to attend college at Texas Western in El Paso.  Even though he won his lawsuit, he never attended North Texas State and continued his education at Texas Western.  

That same year, Texas NAACP’s very existence was threatened.  The Attorney General wanted to close it down, but was fought in court.  The trial was held in Tyler, about 100 miles from where Juanita was living. The issue was that there weren’t any hotels for their attorneys to stay in, as the hotels in Tyler were still segregated. So, she drove the NAACP attorneys back and forth to Tyler every day. 200 miles each day.  

She then worked through the 1960’s to help desegregate theaters, restaurants, city buses and even lunch counters by getting youth groups involved and picketing those places.

In 1963 she went to the White House to meet President Kennedy in order for him to acknowledge her work with the NAACP. She was invited back by President Johnson in 1966 for a civil rights conference and then in 1970 President Nixon invited her there for a third time to attend the White House Conference for Children.   

Juanita Craft was a Democratic precinct chairman from 1952 to 1975 and served two terms on the Dallas City Council between 1975 and 1979. She was a member of the Munger Avenue Baptist Church, the Democratic Women's Club, the YWCA, the League of Women Voters, and the National Council of Negro Women. She participated on numerous local, state, and national boards, including those of the Urban League of Greater Dallas, Goals for Dallas, Dallas United Nations, the Governor's Human Relations Committee, and the NAACP. During her fifty years of public service she received the Linz Award, Dallas's highest civic award, the NAACP Golden Heritage Life Membership Award. 

She became more involved in politics when she ran for the vacated seat in District 6 seat in Dallas City County at the age of 73, then the next year she ran and won a full term, serving until 1978. 

She received many honors in the last decade of her life. Dallas named the Juanita Jewel Craft Park & Recreation Center for her. She also received the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for public service.  

The Juanita Craft Foundation was created the last year of her life and when she passed in 1985 the foundation donated her small home on Warren Street to the Dallas Parks & Recreation Department. Then, ten years after her death, her house became part of the Wheatley Place Historic District and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985 the NAACP also recognized her fifty years of service to the organization.

 

Jun 15, 2021 - 11:11 am CDT

Norman Wilfred Scales, Sr. was a World War II African-American fighter pilot. He grew up in south and east Austin and graduated from L. C. Anderson High School and then Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University).

In 1940, he joined the United States Army and trained as a pilot to become one of the Tuskegee Airmen. He became the first Black pilot commissioned as a second lieutenant from Austin and would eventually become a captain. 

Norman Scales Sr. Military Photo

While serving, he flew seventy missions over enemy territory and even survived a plane crash. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Certificate of Valor in recognition of his exemplary wartime accomplishments. 

Norman Scales died in Austin on May 24, 1981. 

He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery next to his wife. 

In 1989 Scales was posthumously recognized with an Honors Award by the Texas Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. The ceremony was held in the state Capitol’s Senate Chamber. Then, in 1999 the Texas Senate adopted a resolution that praised Captain Scales’s wartime service to the United States. 

And most recently, Scales Street in Austin’s Mueller neighborhood was named for him in his honor.

Scales Headstone

Jun 08, 2021 - 01:13 pm CDT

Lee Lewis Campbell was born in 1866 near Baileyville, Milam County, Texas. Growing up he attended school at a one-teacher school where he began teaching other students by the time he was 15 or 16. He also spent some time teaching in Devilla before leaving to attend Bishop College in Marshall and later the University of Chicago. 

Sometime afterwards he returned to Texas and in 1887 married Ella Williams. They had three sons and one daughter together, William Bee, Cornelius, John Wesley, and Hattie Lee. 

Portrait of Lee Lewis Campbell

Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center

While teaching in Cameron, Texas, he developed an interest in religious work and was ordained to the Baptist ministry. 

In 1892 he became pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, a position he held for thirty-five years. He was also elected President of the General Baptist State Convention at this time, another long term position he held for twenty-four years. 

In 1902 he founded St. John's Institute and Orphanage in Austin and served as the Moderator of the St. John’s Association, which had more than 230,000 members all over Texas. 

He also served as the vice president of the National General Baptist Convention and as president of the St. John’s Encampment Colored Association, within which 10,000 African Americans came to Austin to discuss race relations. 

He founded the Austin Herald in 1889. It was published every Saturday by the Publication Board of the General Baptist Convention of Texas in Austin. 

Campbell was ill the last two years of his life and died at Seton Infirmary on August 9, 1927, after surgery. His funeral on August 14 was attended by over 5,000 people. 

Campbell Headstone Lee Lewis 1868-1927 Ella W. 1868-1957

And in 1939 L. L. Campbell Elementary School in Austin in his honor.

 

Jun 04, 2021 - 03:29 pm CDT

Ernest Mae Miller, known most often as Ernie, was born on February 7, 1927 in Austin, Texas and is the granddaughter of L.C. Anderson. 

Musically gifted from the beginning, Miller began playing the piano by ear after listening to her grandmother’s records on the family victrola and was discovered to be musically gifted by the age of five and took lessons from a teacher in Waco. 

Once she began high school, where there was no need for a piano player, she shifted to the saxophone. She also got the chance to see live performances of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and others when they were touring in Austin. 

Miller holding saxophone

Photo from Photo from ‘Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During WWII

She graduated from Anderson High School, named for her grandfather, in 1944 at age fourteen and attended Prairie View A & M University. There, she was invited to play the baritone saxophone with the Prairie View Co-Ed Jazz Band, one of several African American all-girl bands that were popular in the mid-1940s. 

She traveled with the sixteen-piece band and performed for servicemen at army camps and forts all over the United States. The Prairie View Co-Eds performed in Tuskegee, Alabama on the same show with Bob Hope, Vaughn Monroe, and Anita O’Day in New York City and at the Plantation Club in St. Louis with Billie Holliday. 

Miller singing and playing piano

Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center

She began a solo career as a jazz pianist and vocalist after returning to Austin and performed in clubs like the Dinty Moore restaurant and bar, the New Orleans Club, the Flamingo Lounge, and the Jade Room as well as the Driskill Hotel, the Commodore Perry, the Hyatt Regency, and the Radisson. She recorded two live albums at the New Orleans club and showed her range in vocal styles on “At the New Orleans” where she showcased her Billie Holiday style vocals to swinging Dixieland. Janis Joplin lived in Austin during the peak of Miller’s career and later covered “Little Girl Blue” from that album.

Ernest Mae Miller died at the age of 83 on December 9, 2010 after battling a long illness. She is buried in Oakwood Cemetery near her family. 

Headstone Ernest Mae Crafton Miller Sunrise Sunset Feb 7 1927 - Dec 8 2010 Until we meet again

Jun 03, 2021 - 03:21 pm CDT

Dr. Everett H. Givens was one of Austin’s first Black dentists and a World War I veteran. His work as a civic leader who pushed for equal rights and opportunities for African Americans here in Austin made him well known within the city. 

His fight for equity began in 1946 when he sued the University of Texas Board of Regents for denying him admission to the school for a dental course. He demanded that the board needed to actually build the Black college that had been approved back in 1882 because their failure to do so was technically a violation of the Texas Constitution’s Education Clause. Another technicality kept the case from going to the Texas Supreme Court, but the situation did prompt Texas lawmakers to establish the Texas Southern University for Negroes. Dr. Givens was even appointed to the board of directors in 1962. 

Dr. Givens looking at cup

Photo Courtesy of the Austin History Center

When it came to Austin he fought hard for playground equipment, better streets, parks, bus services, and bridges to connect East Austin across what is now I-35. He would go to county commissioner meetings and push for them to hire Black deputies and to get more equitable policing from the Austin Police Department in general, not to mention getting the city to hire its first Black firefighters. 

Adding to his civic involvement, he was a booster and local organizer for Thurgood Marshall's campaign to dismantle the state's “white primary laws.” These banned Black Texans from voting in the Democratic primaries, thereby limiting the chance of representation at the state level. 

Givens Recreation Center

To honor everything Dr. Givens did for the city of Austin, Oak Springs Park was renamed Givens Park. He passed away in 1962 and Oak Springs Park was renamed Givens Park in memory of his legacy. 

He died in 1962 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery next to his wife. 

Givens Family Headstone

 

Jun 02, 2021 - 02:59 pm CDT

We know very little about Police Officer John Gaines, who was shot and killed on Wednesday, Nov 19th, 1913.

He had been waiting for backup during the arrest of a drunk deputy constable, George Booth, at Sixth and Trinity streets.

At the time, white suspects could only be arrested by white officers and since Booth was a white deputy, Gaines had to call for assistance.

The situation was prompted when Gaines responded to Booth causing a disturbance in the area, and Booth shot Gaines while Gaines was telephoning the police station for help.

After he was shot, Gaines was able to give his account of the event to the Police Chief before dying at the City Hospital several hours later.

It seems that after he was shot, Gaines managed to raise himself up to a seated position and shot back.

Booth was charged and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.

Officer Gaines was the first African-American policeman in Austin and was survived by his wife.

He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery and a memorial to him is located on the corner of Sixth and Trinity.

In 2016, the city opened a park named for Officer John Gaines in the Mueller District area of Northeast Austin.

 

Headstone of JHS Gaines

May 27, 2021 - 10:38 am CDT

Born in Osaka, Japan, Isamu Taniguchi immigrated to the United States in 1914 at the age of sixteen, only returning to Japan to marry Sadayo Miyagi and bring her back to the US. 

Initially unable to own land, due to the state law in California prohibiting him due to his ancestry, he created a life for his family near Stockton. He spent twenty-two years farming and established a local farming cooperative called the Brentwood Produce Association, a group that organized the shipping of various crops all over California and to the East Coast. 

Isamu and Sadayo Miyagi Taniguchi standing black and white

Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center PICB-1211

This lasted until the executive order President Roosevelt issued that authorized the evacuation and relocation of all persons deemed a threat to national security after the US entered WWII. In March of 1942 Isamu was arrested and was accused of using the incinerator on his land to send smoke signals to the Japanese and of arranging muslin sheets (used to protect tomato plants from the spring frost) in arrow shapes that supposedly pointed to military installations. Though not officially charged with anything, he was deemed a dangerous enemy alien and he, his wife, and his younger son, Izumi, were sent to the Crystal City Internment Camp in South Texas - his older son, Alan, was away at university and was not arrested with the rest of the family.  

While in Crystal City, Isamu worked for the carpentry shop and in his spare time he planted and maintained gardens. These activities kept him busy, but didn’t distract from the situation. Communicating with the outside world was limited as internees were limited to writing two letters and one postcard per week and censors read incoming mail, cutting out anything that had to do with the war. Even comic books were confiscated out of concern for coded messages. 

When news came of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki many believed it to be propaganda as it was thought impossible that Japan had lost the war, and while he believed the news, Isamu continued to tend the gardens and his bonsai. “It was like watching the world come to an end,” he later wrote in an essay. “The radiation from atomic bombs, which started from Pika-don [the flash and sound of an explosion] over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, shines in every corner of our skulls, analyzing right and wrong, flying over our heads with the humming sound, becoming a god-whip to kill instantly, pressing us to act in repentance.”

When they were eventually released from Crystal City, Isamu and Sadayo hoped to begin their lives again in California. Unfortunately, there was still a great deal of hostility from local people who did not want anyone associated with “the enemy” living nearby, and this included Isamu and his family. 

So they instead decided to go to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Many of the Japanese farmers they had met while imprisoned had settled in this area, and had invited the family to join them there. Finding it to be much more welcoming than their old home in California, Isamu and Sadayo established a large vegetable and cotton farm and remained there until they retired in 1967 when they moved to Austin to be near their son, Alan, a professor of architecture at the University of Texas. 

Mr. Taniguchi and Mr. Robinson in the Japanese Garden sepia

Photo Courtesy of the Austin History Center PICA-25667

After moving, Isamu expressed a desire to build a Japanese garden dedicated to peace that would be open to visitors and the public, and he hoped Alan would help him find a location. Alan had made good connections with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, and the director suggested three acres of land that were part of Zilker Park. Isamu worked almost entirely on his own, without a contract, salary, or written plan to transform this space with intricate pathways, a miniature waterfall, ponds, stone arrangements, and lush plant-life (one pond even has a lotus he raised from a seed from Japan). 

Isamu Taniguchi by Garden black and white

Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center PICB-13330

Today, the Taniguchi Japanese Garden serves as an enduring symbol of peace and has 100,000 visitors every year. Inscribed on a plaque inside the garden’s teahouse are the words “When a man with such pure appreciation in his peaceful mind, tries to compose with stones, grass, and water in order to create one unified beauty—the formation is called a ‘garden.’ . . . It has been my wish that through the construction of this visible garden, I might provide a symbol of universal peace.” 

Isamu Taniguchi passed in 1992 after suffering from a stroke in 1990 and is buried next to his wife in Austin Memorial Park Cemetery. 

Taniguchi Headstone Isamu 1897-1992 Sadayo 1905-1983

 

 

Jun 16, 2021 - 01:06 pm CDT

Nancy Mahala Coleman Thomas does not have a grave marker in Oakwood Cemetery, but like everyone she has a story to tell. 

Nancy Coleman was born a slave in 1859 on the Meek Smith cotton plantation in Bastrop County. The exact month and day of her birth is unclear. Her father was John Coleman who died before she was born. Her mother Mary Clark was a cook on the Smith plantation. Nancy’s mother was brought to Texas by Meek Smith from Bowie County, Tennessee. In the narrative, Nancy says before her mother died, she wanted her children to remember where she was born and where she grew up. Mary Coleman was the mother of eleven children, two boys and nine girls. Nancy was a “house girl” during slavery, and became the special companion to the Meeks’ daughter, Polonia. Nancy considered herself sassy because she had heard that her father was independent and sassy. Nancy Mahala Coleman Thomas. 

In 1879, at the age of nineteen, Nancy Coleman married Jerry Thomas, who was born in 1842. Jerry had served in the United States Colored Infantry from 1865-1868. She was baptized and joined Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1883. 

In 1918, Nancy became President of the Home Woman’s Mission Society #4 in Austin and she was active in its work until 1930. Nancy and Jerry had three girls: Pearl, Ettie, and Bennie Eva. When her husband died in California in 1905, Nancy began receiving his military pension of $40.00 a month. 

In 1882, Nancy went to work for J. S. Hogg’s family as the cook. When he was elected governor, she lived in the governor’s mansion located at 1010 Colorado Street. In Nancy’s narrative, she talks about how fond she was of the Hogg family. Nancy owned her home at 1208 East 10th Street, Austin. 

She said that the Negroes of East Austin thought of her as their banker because she had a steady income. Whenever anyone needed a little money, he or she would go to Nancy. 

Nancy died December 12, 1938 at the age of 78 and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery on December 15th. The sexton’s record states she was buried in Section 4, Colored Grounds. 

Thinking about her life span is incredible – to be born a slave and live to be an independent woman with a family - and then living to see World War 1! 

Drawn portrait of Nancy Mahala Coleman Thomas
Photo source: Portal to Texas History website

Much thanks to Kay Boyd and Megan Spencer of Save Austin Cemeteries for this biography.

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jun 16, 2021 - 12:59 pm CDT

Connie Yerwood Connor was a  pioneer in public health in Texas and the first Black physician named to the Texas Public Health Service (now the Texas Department of Health). She was born in Victoria, Texas, in 1908. 

Both she and her sister, Joyce, would go along with their father, Dr. Charles R. Yerwood, when he made house calls in Gonzales County before they moved to Austin. Witnessing her father practice medicine was enough to put both women on their paths into the medical field. -----quotes from statesman?

Connor attended public school in Austin and graduated from the Samuel Huston College Academy in 1925 and received the bachelor of arts degree cum laude from Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson College). 

In 1933 she graduated cum laude from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, TN. She began her residency in pediatrics but became interested in public health and shifted the focus of her studies and earned a scholarship to study public health at the University of Michigan. She then returned to Texas in 1937, when she joined the Texas Public Health Service. 

In her early years with the state health agency, Connor was responsible for training midwives in East Texas and serving as a consultant for setting up health clinics that offered natal and prenatal services to the rural poor of Texas. She actually led the state's efforts in early periodic screening diagnosis, treatment, and chronic diseases for pregnancy and pediatrics.

Initially her duties were limited to work among the Black population in East Texas, but as the need for her knowledge and services grew, she eventually came to work all over Texas and within all culture groups.

Connor was president of the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association, secretary of the Charles H. Christian Medical Society, and a member of the Texas Medical Association. 

In 1977 she retired as the director of health services and received outstanding service awards from the Texas Department of Health (now the Texas Department of State Health Services), the commissioner of health, and the staff of the maternal and child health division. 

She was the first African American to be appointed to serve on the Human Relations Committee, the predecessor of the Human Rights Commission (a local group of the Texas Commission on Human Rights), and was appointed to the first board of trustees of the Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center of Austin and Travis County. She also served on the boards of the Austin Child Guidance Center, Austin Evaluation Center, Citizens Advisory Committee to the Juvenile Board of Travis County, Girl Scouts, YWCA, and Travis County Grand Jury Association. 

She became a trustee of Samuel Huston College and served for fifteen years and was one of the board members who signed the merger agreement of Huston-Tillotson College in 1952; continuing on as a trustee of the board after the merger. 

Her retirement from that position in 1991 marked the culmination of over fifty-four years of service to the college and at her retirement from the board of trustees she received its highest award, the Crystal Ram with Golden Horns (she was only the second person to receive this prestigious award). This was among several awards she received as an outstanding alumna from both Huston-Tillotson College and Meharry Medical College in addition to an honorary degree of doctor of sciences from Samuel Huston College.

Throughout her career Connor was also active in the Wesley United Methodist Church, where she served as chairman of the board of trustees. Even when she was traveling throughout the state as a young woman, she returned to Austin every weekend to teach a Sunday school class, making sure she was home by Saturday to ensure she didn’t miss it. She was a lay leader and received a distinguished service award from Church Women United for services in religious leadership. For fifteen years she served as grand treasurer in the Order of the Eastern Star. She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the Links, Incorporated, the American Association of University Women, the Community Welfare Association, and many other organizations. Connor died on June 11, 1991, in Austin, and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery near her family.

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jun 16, 2021 - 11:22 am CDT

Juanita Jewell Shanks Craft was born in 1902 in Round Rock. Both of her parents were teachers and her father became the high school principal in Columbus, Texas.

She and her mother moved to Austin where she attended Anderson High School until she had to put her education on hold when her mother was diagnosed  with tuberculosis but was unable to be admitted to the state sanitarium in San Angelo due to discriminatory policies. They lived in a tent near the hospital while Juanita pleaded with the staff to treat her, but her mother passed. At that point she went to live with her father in Columbus and graduated in 1919. 

 

She then attended Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M) where she earned her certificate in millinery and dressmaking. 

She returned to Austin and earned her teaching certificate at Sam Huston College, returning to Columbus to teach kindergarten. 

She moved to Dallas after divorcing her first husband, and she initially worked as a maid at the Adolphus Hotel and was later able to rent out her home to boarders. Working in the hotel let her meet famous people, one of the most notable being Eleanor Roosevelt. They became friends, and it was actually Eleanor who encouraged Juanita to become politically active. 

Remembering how her mother had been denied medical care drove her to ensure that others would have the rights they deserved.

In 1935 she joined the Dallas NAACP. She helped to sign up new members and was appointed membership chairman in 1942. As the Dallas branch had over 7,000 members by 1946, it’s easy to see how she impressed the state leaders and was appointed organizer for the entire state. 

This was also the same time she became the first African American woman in Dallas to vote in the Democratic primary and was the first African American woman in Texas to be deputized to collect poll taxes. 

She was also appointed advisor to the Dallas NAACP Youth Council. Her work with children to encourage their parents to register to vote became the model for the whole country.

The 1950s brought political and social changes for Dallas and Texas.  There was only one day that Black people were allowed to go to the State Fair  called Negro Achievement Day.  For twelve years, from 1955 to 1967, she  worked with Dallas youth to boycott that day and not attend the fair except to march and picket.  Eventually desegregation allowed them to attend the fair any day they wished. 

She took on school desegregation in 1956 where Thurgood Marshall was co-counsel. Joe L. Atkins wanted to attend college at North Texas State, but was denied and she encouraged him to file a suit.  While his case was in court, Joe became the first African American to attend college at Texas Western in El Paso.  Even though he won his lawsuit, he never attended North Texas State and continued his education at Texas Western.  

That same year, Texas NAACP’s very existence was threatened.  The Attorney General wanted to close it down, but was fought in court.  The trial was held in Tyler, about 100 miles from where Juanita was living. The issue was that there weren’t any hotels for their attorneys to stay in, as the hotels in Tyler were still segregated. So, she drove the NAACP attorneys back and forth to Tyler every day. 200 miles each day.  

She then worked through the 1960’s to help desegregate theaters, restaurants, city buses and even lunch counters by getting youth groups involved and picketing those places.

In 1963 she went to the White House to meet President Kennedy in order for him to acknowledge her work with the NAACP. She was invited back by President Johnson in 1966 for a civil rights conference and then in 1970 President Nixon invited her there for a third time to attend the White House Conference for Children.   

Juanita Craft was a Democratic precinct chairman from 1952 to 1975 and served two terms on the Dallas City Council between 1975 and 1979. She was a member of the Munger Avenue Baptist Church, the Democratic Women's Club, the YWCA, the League of Women Voters, and the National Council of Negro Women. She participated on numerous local, state, and national boards, including those of the Urban League of Greater Dallas, Goals for Dallas, Dallas United Nations, the Governor's Human Relations Committee, and the NAACP. During her fifty years of public service she received the Linz Award, Dallas's highest civic award, the NAACP Golden Heritage Life Membership Award. 

She became more involved in politics when she ran for the vacated seat in District 6 seat in Dallas City County at the age of 73, then the next year she ran and won a full term, serving until 1978. 

She received many honors in the last decade of her life. Dallas named the Juanita Jewel Craft Park & Recreation Center for her. She also received the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for public service.  

The Juanita Craft Foundation was created the last year of her life and when she passed in 1985 the foundation donated her small home on Warren Street to the Dallas Parks & Recreation Department. Then, ten years after her death, her house became part of the Wheatley Place Historic District and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985 the NAACP also recognized her fifty years of service to the organization.

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jun 15, 2021 - 11:11 am CDT

Norman Wilfred Scales, Sr. was a World War II African-American fighter pilot. He grew up in south and east Austin and graduated from L. C. Anderson High School and then Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University).

In 1940, he joined the United States Army and trained as a pilot to become one of the Tuskegee Airmen. He became the first Black pilot commissioned as a second lieutenant from Austin and would eventually become a captain. 

Norman Scales Sr. Military Photo

While serving, he flew seventy missions over enemy territory and even survived a plane crash. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Certificate of Valor in recognition of his exemplary wartime accomplishments. 

Norman Scales died in Austin on May 24, 1981. 

He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery next to his wife. 

In 1989 Scales was posthumously recognized with an Honors Award by the Texas Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. The ceremony was held in the state Capitol’s Senate Chamber. Then, in 1999 the Texas Senate adopted a resolution that praised Captain Scales’s wartime service to the United States. 

And most recently, Scales Street in Austin’s Mueller neighborhood was named for him in his honor.

Scales Headstone

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jun 08, 2021 - 01:13 pm CDT

Lee Lewis Campbell was born in 1866 near Baileyville, Milam County, Texas. Growing up he attended school at a one-teacher school where he began teaching other students by the time he was 15 or 16. He also spent some time teaching in Devilla before leaving to attend Bishop College in Marshall and later the University of Chicago. 

Sometime afterwards he returned to Texas and in 1887 married Ella Williams. They had three sons and one daughter together, William Bee, Cornelius, John Wesley, and Hattie Lee. 

Portrait of Lee Lewis Campbell

Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center

While teaching in Cameron, Texas, he developed an interest in religious work and was ordained to the Baptist ministry. 

In 1892 he became pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, a position he held for thirty-five years. He was also elected President of the General Baptist State Convention at this time, another long term position he held for twenty-four years. 

In 1902 he founded St. John's Institute and Orphanage in Austin and served as the Moderator of the St. John’s Association, which had more than 230,000 members all over Texas. 

He also served as the vice president of the National General Baptist Convention and as president of the St. John’s Encampment Colored Association, within which 10,000 African Americans came to Austin to discuss race relations. 

He founded the Austin Herald in 1889. It was published every Saturday by the Publication Board of the General Baptist Convention of Texas in Austin. 

Campbell was ill the last two years of his life and died at Seton Infirmary on August 9, 1927, after surgery. His funeral on August 14 was attended by over 5,000 people. 

Campbell Headstone Lee Lewis 1868-1927 Ella W. 1868-1957

And in 1939 L. L. Campbell Elementary School in Austin in his honor.

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jun 04, 2021 - 03:29 pm CDT

Ernest Mae Miller, known most often as Ernie, was born on February 7, 1927 in Austin, Texas and is the granddaughter of L.C. Anderson. 

Musically gifted from the beginning, Miller began playing the piano by ear after listening to her grandmother’s records on the family victrola and was discovered to be musically gifted by the age of five and took lessons from a teacher in Waco. 

Once she began high school, where there was no need for a piano player, she shifted to the saxophone. She also got the chance to see live performances of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and others when they were touring in Austin. 

Miller holding saxophone

Photo from Photo from ‘Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During WWII

She graduated from Anderson High School, named for her grandfather, in 1944 at age fourteen and attended Prairie View A & M University. There, she was invited to play the baritone saxophone with the Prairie View Co-Ed Jazz Band, one of several African American all-girl bands that were popular in the mid-1940s. 

She traveled with the sixteen-piece band and performed for servicemen at army camps and forts all over the United States. The Prairie View Co-Eds performed in Tuskegee, Alabama on the same show with Bob Hope, Vaughn Monroe, and Anita O’Day in New York City and at the Plantation Club in St. Louis with Billie Holliday. 

Miller singing and playing piano

Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center

She began a solo career as a jazz pianist and vocalist after returning to Austin and performed in clubs like the Dinty Moore restaurant and bar, the New Orleans Club, the Flamingo Lounge, and the Jade Room as well as the Driskill Hotel, the Commodore Perry, the Hyatt Regency, and the Radisson. She recorded two live albums at the New Orleans club and showed her range in vocal styles on “At the New Orleans” where she showcased her Billie Holiday style vocals to swinging Dixieland. Janis Joplin lived in Austin during the peak of Miller’s career and later covered “Little Girl Blue” from that album.

Ernest Mae Miller died at the age of 83 on December 9, 2010 after battling a long illness. She is buried in Oakwood Cemetery near her family. 

Headstone Ernest Mae Crafton Miller Sunrise Sunset Feb 7 1927 - Dec 8 2010 Until we meet again

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jun 03, 2021 - 03:21 pm CDT

Dr. Everett H. Givens was one of Austin’s first Black dentists and a World War I veteran. His work as a civic leader who pushed for equal rights and opportunities for African Americans here in Austin made him well known within the city. 

His fight for equity began in 1946 when he sued the University of Texas Board of Regents for denying him admission to the school for a dental course. He demanded that the board needed to actually build the Black college that had been approved back in 1882 because their failure to do so was technically a violation of the Texas Constitution’s Education Clause. Another technicality kept the case from going to the Texas Supreme Court, but the situation did prompt Texas lawmakers to establish the Texas Southern University for Negroes. Dr. Givens was even appointed to the board of directors in 1962. 

Dr. Givens looking at cup

Photo Courtesy of the Austin History Center

When it came to Austin he fought hard for playground equipment, better streets, parks, bus services, and bridges to connect East Austin across what is now I-35. He would go to county commissioner meetings and push for them to hire Black deputies and to get more equitable policing from the Austin Police Department in general, not to mention getting the city to hire its first Black firefighters. 

Adding to his civic involvement, he was a booster and local organizer for Thurgood Marshall's campaign to dismantle the state's “white primary laws.” These banned Black Texans from voting in the Democratic primaries, thereby limiting the chance of representation at the state level. 

Givens Recreation Center

To honor everything Dr. Givens did for the city of Austin, Oak Springs Park was renamed Givens Park. He passed away in 1962 and Oak Springs Park was renamed Givens Park in memory of his legacy. 

He died in 1962 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery next to his wife. 

Givens Family Headstone

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
Jun 02, 2021 - 02:59 pm CDT

We know very little about Police Officer John Gaines, who was shot and killed on Wednesday, Nov 19th, 1913.

He had been waiting for backup during the arrest of a drunk deputy constable, George Booth, at Sixth and Trinity streets.

At the time, white suspects could only be arrested by white officers and since Booth was a white deputy, Gaines had to call for assistance.

The situation was prompted when Gaines responded to Booth causing a disturbance in the area, and Booth shot Gaines while Gaines was telephoning the police station for help.

After he was shot, Gaines was able to give his account of the event to the Police Chief before dying at the City Hospital several hours later.

It seems that after he was shot, Gaines managed to raise himself up to a seated position and shot back.

Booth was charged and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.

Officer Gaines was the first African-American policeman in Austin and was survived by his wife.

He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery and a memorial to him is located on the corner of Sixth and Trinity.

In 2016, the city opened a park named for Officer John Gaines in the Mueller District area of Northeast Austin.

 

Headstone of JHS Gaines

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries
May 27, 2021 - 10:38 am CDT

Born in Osaka, Japan, Isamu Taniguchi immigrated to the United States in 1914 at the age of sixteen, only returning to Japan to marry Sadayo Miyagi and bring her back to the US. 

Initially unable to own land, due to the state law in California prohibiting him due to his ancestry, he created a life for his family near Stockton. He spent twenty-two years farming and established a local farming cooperative called the Brentwood Produce Association, a group that organized the shipping of various crops all over California and to the East Coast. 

Isamu and Sadayo Miyagi Taniguchi standing black and white

Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center PICB-1211

This lasted until the executive order President Roosevelt issued that authorized the evacuation and relocation of all persons deemed a threat to national security after the US entered WWII. In March of 1942 Isamu was arrested and was accused of using the incinerator on his land to send smoke signals to the Japanese and of arranging muslin sheets (used to protect tomato plants from the spring frost) in arrow shapes that supposedly pointed to military installations. Though not officially charged with anything, he was deemed a dangerous enemy alien and he, his wife, and his younger son, Izumi, were sent to the Crystal City Internment Camp in South Texas - his older son, Alan, was away at university and was not arrested with the rest of the family.  

While in Crystal City, Isamu worked for the carpentry shop and in his spare time he planted and maintained gardens. These activities kept him busy, but didn’t distract from the situation. Communicating with the outside world was limited as internees were limited to writing two letters and one postcard per week and censors read incoming mail, cutting out anything that had to do with the war. Even comic books were confiscated out of concern for coded messages. 

When news came of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki many believed it to be propaganda as it was thought impossible that Japan had lost the war, and while he believed the news, Isamu continued to tend the gardens and his bonsai. “It was like watching the world come to an end,” he later wrote in an essay. “The radiation from atomic bombs, which started from Pika-don [the flash and sound of an explosion] over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, shines in every corner of our skulls, analyzing right and wrong, flying over our heads with the humming sound, becoming a god-whip to kill instantly, pressing us to act in repentance.”

When they were eventually released from Crystal City, Isamu and Sadayo hoped to begin their lives again in California. Unfortunately, there was still a great deal of hostility from local people who did not want anyone associated with “the enemy” living nearby, and this included Isamu and his family. 

So they instead decided to go to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Many of the Japanese farmers they had met while imprisoned had settled in this area, and had invited the family to join them there. Finding it to be much more welcoming than their old home in California, Isamu and Sadayo established a large vegetable and cotton farm and remained there until they retired in 1967 when they moved to Austin to be near their son, Alan, a professor of architecture at the University of Texas. 

Mr. Taniguchi and Mr. Robinson in the Japanese Garden sepia

Photo Courtesy of the Austin History Center PICA-25667

After moving, Isamu expressed a desire to build a Japanese garden dedicated to peace that would be open to visitors and the public, and he hoped Alan would help him find a location. Alan had made good connections with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, and the director suggested three acres of land that were part of Zilker Park. Isamu worked almost entirely on his own, without a contract, salary, or written plan to transform this space with intricate pathways, a miniature waterfall, ponds, stone arrangements, and lush plant-life (one pond even has a lotus he raised from a seed from Japan). 

Isamu Taniguchi by Garden black and white

Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center PICB-13330

Today, the Taniguchi Japanese Garden serves as an enduring symbol of peace and has 100,000 visitors every year. Inscribed on a plaque inside the garden’s teahouse are the words “When a man with such pure appreciation in his peaceful mind, tries to compose with stones, grass, and water in order to create one unified beauty—the formation is called a ‘garden.’ . . . It has been my wish that through the construction of this visible garden, I might provide a symbol of universal peace.” 

Isamu Taniguchi passed in 1992 after suffering from a stroke in 1990 and is buried next to his wife in Austin Memorial Park Cemetery. 

Taniguchi Headstone Isamu 1897-1992 Sadayo 1905-1983

 

 

Historical Biographies of Austin Cemeteries