A Black History of Smithville, Texas

Requirement for a Multicultural College Course- Spring, 1981

by Nancy Gosch

"The town of Smithville was organized around 1895 with its main livelihood being the railroad. As in most areas, the black and white people were segregated with the whites holding the more prestigious jobs and the blacks getting the more menial jobs. Although integration has relived some of the prejudice, there still remains much. As one black man said, 'Things haven't changed much in the four generations I have lived here.'

One of the most well-know black persons in Smithville was Dr. Charles Clinton Owens, a native of Akins, South Carolina. He graduated from MeHarry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. in May, 1910 and began medical practice in Lawton, Oklahoma in June, 1910. While in Lawton he married Mary E. Baker who was an elementary teacher for twelve years at Douglas High School. In April, 1912 they moved to Smithville and set up his medical practice in the C. C. Mize and McDade Drug Store building on Main Street. He was a family physician who delivered babies, treated general ailments, and did minor surgeries. He was patronized by both the blacks and whites. Both knew him to be a honest , kind, and caring person and doctor. Dr. Owens died Feb. 10, 1958 and was buried in Lawton, Ok. His wife still lives in their home at 201 Harris St. in Smithville. Their four children all graduated from the Smithville Colored High School. Both of their sons graduated from MeHarry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. and became doctors. Dr. E. A. Owens practiced in Lawton, Ok. until his death in 1979. A Civic Center was built and named after him in Lawton. Dr. Emory R. Owens still practices medicine in Prairie View, Tex. at Owens and Franklin Hospital which was named after him. Emory's daughter is married to a doctor. Both of Dr. and Mrs. C. C. Owens daughters became teachers. Charlesetta McPeters, who is Emory's twin sister, graduated from Fish University in Nashville and was a teacher at Douglas Elem. in Lawton from 1934 until 1979 when she retired. She had one daughter who also married a doctor. Janelle Lacey graduated from Sam Huston College in Austin and is currently teaching at Roosevelt High School in Washington, D. C.

Another prominent Smithville Negro was Tom Pendergrass, Sr. who was born near Smithville in 1875. He was always in some type of business for himself. He owned a grocery store, cafe, barber shop, wood yard, funeral home and burial association. In 1916 he purchased a building on West First St. to use in his various enterprises. In 1921 he organized the Pendergrass Funeral Home at 109 W. First St. where it still stands today. He also organized the Neighbor's Aid Burial Association which operated for several years. His motto was 'Honesty is the best policy; truth and right will prevail.' Mr. Pendergrass was married to Delilah Glenn. He died on April 16, 1962 and she passed away in 1970.

Another funeral home, The Peoples Funeral Home, was founded by Sterling Drisdale and Columbus Powell at 305 W. Third. Both are deceased. In 1956 Thomas Pendergrass, Jr. and his wife, Iva Smith Deary bought this funeral home. In 1960 they took over the Pendergrass business from his father and merged the two into the present Pendergrass-Peoples Mortuary. For many years Lee Thomas was the funeral director but is now deceased. For a time Mack Henderson was the funeral director and Rev. James Morris was the chaplain and funeral director. Mr. Henderson has since moved to Corpus Christi and Rev. Morris in now in Mexia. Phillip Baker and Gus Branger come from Austin to do the embalming at present.

Thomas Pendergrass Jr. is a mortician and funeral director. He graduated from Warsham School of Mortuary Science in Chicago. He and his wife lived in Austin before coming back to Smithville in 1956. In 1974 he received his 50 year plaque for being a mortician. Mrs. Iva Pendergrass, whose parents were both born in Bastrop County, is co-owner of the mortuary and is also an insurance agent. She has been a very active member of the Red Cross Chapter for the past sixteen years. She has helped bring servicemen home when hardship made their presence necessary at home. Her daughter, Mrs. Clinton Wright, who went to Temple High School and Tillotson College (in Austin), is a top Civil Service worker in Washington, D. C. at the Dept. of Labor. Mrs. Delores Jackson is a housewife in San Diego, Cal and Lavell T. Pendergrass works for an airplane company in Las Angeles.

In addition to the mortuary, the Pendergrasses also own the cafe next to the mortuary. It is presently rented to Lucille Torres and is known as Lucille's Taco House. The building next to the cafe is rented and is called William's Disco. Six rent houses in Smithville also belong to them. Tom Sr. and then Tom Jr. owned West End Park, a recreation center for blacks where baseball games were played. Also located in the Park were barbecue pits and a biergarten. A Liquor Store located on Hwy. 95 that leads into the park was managed by Bud Powell. Afterwards T. Pot Shirocky ran the Liquor Store. Currently that store is called West End Barbecue and belongs to Johnny Ray Thomas. Several years ago the Pendergrasses sold the Park.

Other places of business were and are found around Smithville. From the early sixties until 1970, Charlie Harris owned Charlie's Cleaning and Pressing Shop. In 1970 that business burned. Emmy Howell had a High School eating pace for Mary A. Brown students. This business was located at 5th and Walker St. Choice Atkins, Jr. ran a Debinaire in the sixties for teenagers. The Texas Lounge, a dance hall, is currently operating and a grocery store is nearby. J. B. Culberson has a Barber Shop in the Masonic Lodge Hall on Third St. A Snack Bar is found there too.

A fraternal organization, the Joseph D. Sayers Masonic Lodge #235, was organized in 1906 and is located at 203 Lee St. The purpose of it is to unite men in brotherhood. Wishful Master, the highest position obtained, was held by William J. Bell, Sr. from 1959-61. In earlier days a dental office was located at 205 Lee St. Dr. Boyd Hall and then Dr. Cobb practiced there. Later the office closed. Mr. Bell's house is now located where the dental office was.

Religion is important to many of the blacks. Their primary faiths are Baptist and Methodist. Most of them have Sunday School and Worship Services at least twice a month. A list of the churches (taken form the Bastrop County Times) with their pastors, secretaries, locations, and service times are given below:

Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church
Rev. W. H. Carrington
Sec. Willie Charles Oliver
400 Walker
Sunday services 11 A.M.

New Flower Hill Baptist Church
Rev. H. C. Abbott
Bunte Town
Sun. School 9:45 each Sun.; 2nd & 4th Sun. 11 A.M. and 6 P.M.

Live Oak Grove Baptist Church
Rev. A. H. Brown
Sec. Mrs. Arnie
400 Washington
2nd & 4th Sun. 11:30 A.M.

Sweet Hill Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. R.C. Brown
Sec. Mae Harris
300 Washington
2nd & 4th Sun. 11 A.M.

Sweet Home Primitive Baptist Church
Rev. R.L. Simpson
Sec. Martha Grant
104 Gazley
Bible Class every Sun. 10:30 A.M.
2nd & 4th Sun. 11 A.M.

Friendship Baptist Church
Rev. M.L. Williams
Sec. Mildred Rogers
Bunte Town
2nd Sun. 11 A.M. & 2 P.M.

Center Union Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. Young
Sec. T. J. Jefferson
Sun. School 10 A.M.
1st & 3rd Sun. 11 A.M.
Missionary Meeting 4th Sun. 11 A.M.

Church of God in Christ
Rev. J. Phillips
Sec. Amanda Wormley
600 Walker
Sun. School every Sun. 9:30 A. M.
2nd & 4th Sun.

St. Phillip Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. C. A. Abbott
Sec. Ida M. Haywood
Peach Creek area

St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church
Rev. Florence Denman
Sec. I. T. Harper
Lee St.
Sun. Worship 11 A.M.

Center Union AME Methodist Church
Rev. F. E. Denmon
Sec. Larcenia Willis
Sun. School 9:30 A.M.
Sun. Worship 11 A.M.

Hart's Chapel United Methodist Church
Rev. Joel Harris
Sec. Naomi Thompson
207 Prima
2nd & 4th Sun. 11:30 A.M.

The latter church was the Methodist Episcopal Church organized in 1887 on the banks of the Colorado River. In 1921 this church was moved to 207 Prima and was later named the Hart's Chapel United Methodist Church. Milton's Furniture, Inc. purchased the former church location in later years and the store is located there today.

The history of the Smithville Colored Schools is quite interesting. The first school was built in 1896 after the land was purchased in Aug. 1896. It was a two room wooden frame building. In 1912, two more rooms were added. The teachers in 1907 were Mrs. Allen Jackson and Professor William Anderson. The highest grade you could go to then was the eight.

In 1924 the wooden frame building was torn down and part of the lumber was used in the Rosenwald building. Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), a white man and president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., gave millions of dollars to education and charity. His fund, established in 1917 and discontinued in 1948, originally was to be used to build schools for underprivileged children. It was later expanded to include support for projects that would improve opportunities and living conditions for disadvantaged groups, particularly blacks. The building had a porch in the front, a large auditorium in the center, and classrooms surrounding it.

According to the SISD (Smithville Independent School District) school board minutes from Vol. I, May 18, 1925, E. L. Mellous (the blacks called him Mr. Mellon) was paid $1,000 per year for being principal at the Colored School and Mrs. Mellous was hired as a teacher for $75 per month. In July 1925, Miss F.E.C. Smith and Miss Jack Zela Stanton were added; in Aug. Lula Belle Jackson and in Sept. Fannie Lavender were hired as teachers at $75 per month. Mr. William Anderson served as principal 1927-28 and resigned in July 1928. That Sept. Mr. Marshall M. Thomas became the principal and also was the agriculture teacher. He served as principal until May 1950.

Children who lived in the country had neighborhood black schools to go to . Those who lived on the Yeger Hill farm and surrounding area went to the Colored Lake School. In Upton the children went to Sweet Hill School. Center Union and Longview both had schools and Crafts Prairie was the school at Alum Creek. When the children finished the seventh grade, they would then attend the high school in town. Their parents would find a relative or some other family for them to live with and would pay for their room and board. Sometimes the children would go to a larger city to live with relatives and would finish school there. In later years these country children finally rode in old cars to school since they weren't allowed to ride the white school bus. According to the SISD school board minutes from Sept. 1953, a Time-Warrant loan was to be negotiated to borrow the amount of $500 from E.E. Bollier to purchase a second hand 42 passenger International bus for the Alum Creek Negro pupils and $100 to repair the bus and put it in shape to meet state requirements. Mr. Shep Matthews drove the bus.

Up until 1932, pupils would graduate when they completed the tenth grade. In 1932 it was changed to eleven grades. The graduating class of 1932 was the first class to wear caps and gowns. Naomi Johnson Thompson, who was a member of this class, said that they learned the basic subjects in High School. They were taught Algebra in grades 8 and 9, plane geometry in grades 10, and solid geometry 1/2 of the 11th grade with mental arithmetic the last semester. The problems in the latter class were in a little red book and they couldn't use any pencil or paper! English was taught every year and included the memorization of poems and discussion of feelings in the poems. Latin was the foreign language in grades 8, 9, and 10. Early European history, physical geography, agriculture, and household physics were also taught.

The textbooks the blacks used were the used books from the white school. It wasn't until the mid-fifties that the blacks received new books of their own. As late as Aug. 1955 the SISD school board spent $2500 for 15 new typewriters, 5 new desks and 5 new chairs. They the assigned 10 of the presently owned typewriters and desks to the Negro School.

In the fifties and sixties the 'separate but equal' policy gave way to integration. During this time three black men served as principals. Mr. E.E. Simpson was principal from Sept. 1950 to May 1953 and then went back to teaching agriculture. William A. Gordon served next as principal from 1953-1956. Then Sherrell E. Moore, Sr. took over from 1956 until his death from a pipeline explosion in May 1966. Afterwards Doyle Fogers was appointed principal from 1966 until 1968 when Mary A. Brown closed.

In 1950 the colored school and agriculture buildings were tied in to the new sewer system. In May 1951, the SISD school board let a new eight room colored school building to Walter Droemer for the bid of $71,076. On July 3, 1952 the board decided to insure the new Negro school building for $40,000 and divide this insurance between the four agencies in town. This building was built on the land in front of the Rosenwald building. The new building was used for grades 6-12 and the older one for the grades 1-5. Then one Oct. Sat. afternoon the old Rosenwald building burned to the ground. The primary grades were then taught in two churches and two houses. Since the auditorium had burned, the class of 1955 and maybe 1956 graduated in Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church. At the SISD school board meeting on Feb. 3, 1955 the Educational Advisory Committee stated that the colored school was in need of a new four classroom elementary building and gym and should be built in one or two years. After this building was built where the Rosenwald one had stood, the school was renamed from Smithville Colored School to Mary A. Brown School. This was done through a contest. There were people representing different deceased teachers from the Colored School here. The sponsors of Mary A. Brown, an elementary teacher here until her death in the summer of 1954, collected the most money and won the contest. Later the Class of 1954 presented a large picture of Mary A. Brown to the school and it still hangs in the building.

The colored school always enjoyed athletics. Football games were played on the large area behind the school buildings. In Sept. 1954 the school board allowed for football goal posts to be set up. One bus was approved to transport colored school athletes with the regular school driver as driver. In Jan. 1955 board minutes was that the white coaches and officials were directed to refuse to participate in games where Negroes were on the opposing team. It was in the fall of 1965 that the Mary A. Brown High School Leopard team won state championship.

In 1964 the subject of integration was taken up by the SISD school board. The following came from the board minutes on Aug. 6, 1964:

School Enrollment of Negro Students
That Negro students on the Mary A. Brown High School may enroll in the top 3 grades (10, 11, and 12) of the Smithville High School on a volunteer basis, by making application for transfer through the M.A.B. School principal (or leaving application at the superintendent's office in case there is no one at the M.A.B. school to accept the transfer) on or before 8/25/64. (Hereafter on or before 8/15.)
In case there are more applications than can be handled because of crowded conditions, the applicant would be considered on scholastic standing in arts and sciences, and also on adaptability of fitting in to the H.S. schedule.
When a transfer is made the student cannot transfer back unless he is granted one after a hearing before the Board of Education.

At this same meeting the board decided to allow the SHS (Smithville High School) and MAB (Mary A. Brown) students to take auto mechanics and building trades during the same classes.

The following shows what was said on the integration policy from the board minutes on Feb. 11, 1965:

Item VII. Colored students in grades 7, 8, 9 will have free choice of attending MAB Colored School or Sam Houston Jr. High School if there is sufficient room, beginning with the 65-66 school year. Grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 will have free choice beginning with the 66-67 school year with the same restrictions as the previous year. This resolution shall complete total integration in the Smithville schools.

After 1968 the buildings were then used by the Head Start and Combined Community Action programs. Around 1974 the Smithville kindergarten was also housed in the Mary A. Brown schools. In the summer of 1980, more than $200,000 was spent to repair and renovate the MAB Schools and gym. In the fall of 1980 Head Start and the CCA programs moved to Central School and grades 1, 2, and 3 moved to Mary A. Brown. Kindergarten and the Special Education classes are also located at Mary A. Brown.

There has been a broad spectrum of black graduates who have made a nitch in the world for themselves as teachers, professors, registered nurses, real estate brokers, government workers, legal secretaries, actors, doctors and professional ball players. Many have become successful in businesses of their own."


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