Synopses & Reviews
Amarillo became a town in 1887 when merchants opened stores to cater to railroad workers. The first African Americans in the area were Jerry Callaway, who came to the area in 1888 with a white family, and Mathew "Bones" Hooks, a highly respected cowboy who moved to Amarillo in 1900 and later worked for the railroad. By 1908, five African American families had moved to Amarillo. The black community grew and people established churches, businesses, and schools. With the 1950s and 1960s, Amarillo citizens participated in ending segregation and bringing about equality. Today African Americans in Amarillo are still bound together by their churches but have access to many opportunities both locally and nationally. They are justifiably proud of their rich heritage.
Title: Black leaders' history lengthy
Author - Jon Mark Beilue
Publisher: Amarillo Globe-News
"Bones" Hooks is a common name to most people in Amarillo. But what about Marvell White, Silas Patten or Jerry Calloway? What about Jesse Parrish? What about the many other African-Americans who made their mark in Amarillo?
"There are a lot of wonderful people who have been leaders in this community who have been doing wonderful things here for a very long time," said Jean Stuntz.
Stuntz, a history professor at West Texas A&M University, and sociology professor Claudia Stuart collaborated last year on the significant, but sometimes overlooked, effect of black leaders and pioneers in Amarillo. "Images of America: African Americans in Amarillo" is an encompassing pictorial history from 19th-century cowboy Hooks to Ziggy Hood, the former Palo Duro High School football standout selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the NFL draft in April.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday is a time to recognize the late civil rights leader and the struggles he led for racial progress. But in their own way, own time and own city, Amarillo has a long history of those who have endured, built and continue to build upon the dream that King championed. And many came before King.
"One of the things that was so meaningful to me was taking the oral history from individuals still living and sharing with us the past and how proud they were, of what their families had gone through to be where they are today," Stuart said. "We're all here on the shoulders of someone else, and the shoulders in the African-American community are very strong."
Those first shoulders belonged to Hooks and Calloway. A park in north Amarillo has long been named for Hooks. His knack for breaking down racial barriers and relating to whites led to some of the first real progress for blacks in Amarillo. He persuaded white landowners in 1926 to dedicate a large parcel of land in the north part of the city so blacks could have a place to live. It became North Heights.
Hooks, the son of slaves, arrived in Amarillo in 1900, about 13 years after Calloway. Calloway was the first black in Amarillo in 1888, just one year after the town was established. The tall, brawny Calloway was instrumental in starting the first black church, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
"He was known to protect women against white men who would harass them, by using a whip if he had to," Stuart said. "He was probably the bravest man in Amarillo."
Silas Patten moved his family from Houston and started the Johnson Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1928. An educator, he donated his home that later became Patten School.
"What kept the African-American community together at that time were the schools and churches," Stuart said. "The focal point for families was the church, not just for worship, but there were no community centers at that time."
But those would come. Marvell White, the first black woman to earn a master's degree from West Texas State, helped start the Black Historical Cultural Center. Charles Warford, a prominent funeral director and a giant of a man, was one of the founders of the Amarillo United Citizens Forum.
"Those are two of many who had a pulse on the community and helped bring it together," said Stuart.
So many, though, just wanted to improve their lives, further their education, provide for their families and receive the same rights as whites, those such as Cecil Jackson, the first black grocery store manager in Amarillo, and Jesse Parrish, who became the first black salesman for Zales Jewelry in 1967.
Helen Neal became the first black woman to graduate from West Texas State in 1962. In her determined way, she paved the way for others. Former Potter County commissioners Iris Lawrence and Elisha Demerson, and former Amarillo school board president James Allen of the respected Allen family are a few of more than 100 who are chronicled.
"Those in the book have opened up a lot of opportunities for people today, by working in various businesses, holding offices, being chosen to represent Amarillo in a number of ways," Stuntz said. "This city has a rich history of African-American community builders."
Title: Area black history painted in novel
Author - Barb Amrhein
Publisher: Amarillo Globe-News
Mathew "Bones" Hooks was not the first black man to live in Amarillo.
That honor belongs to Jerry Calloway, who came to the city from Georgia a year after Amarillo was officially settled in 1887. Hooks didn't arrive until 1900.
This fact about the African-American history of Amarillo can be learned in the recently published book, "African Americans in Amarillo" by West Texas A&M professors Claudia Stuart and Jean Stuntz, available at Hastings and Barnes and Noble Booksellers and online at arcadiapublishing.com for $21.99.
Stuart and Stuntz, both faculty members at WT teamed to produce the pictorial history book that was very much needed, according to senior members within the community.
"Everyone kept saying 'we need to write our history'," said Helen Neal, who appears in the book and is the widow of Nathaniel "Nat" Neal, whose memory is honored with the naming of the Nathanial J. "Nat" Neal Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division.
"Obviously, the book couldn't contain everything, but it is a good start," Neal said. "So many people don't know the history (of Amarillo's African-Americans) and it needs to be told."
Willetta Jackson has been a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church for 60 years and also saw the need for preserving history in a written or pictorial form.
"I'm excited to see the book because we haven't done anything like this before," Jackson said. "Our kids don't know history, and they need to. We had several of us go to St. Andrew's (Episcopal) School a couple of years ago to do a freedom bus ride and help them learn history, and the kids asked all kinds of questions."
Stuart said she also saw a need for preserving the African-American community's history in a method other than oral.
"I'd been thinking there was no history written except (about) Mathew 'Bones' Hooks," Stuart said. "I thought we needed written history of schools, churches, the first settlers and the present."
Arcadia publishes a series, "Images of America," that are community-centered books. Stuntz met the publishers at a conference and liked their concept of publishing local histories.
"We (Stuntz and Stuart) got to talking and worked out a plan with them," she said.
Stuart agreed the book was long overdue and necessary, and the two began working on it last summer.
"I thought this would be a great opportunity to combine the history of Amarillo with knowledge of the community network," Stuart said. "I can't say how grateful I am that people of the community wanted to share their stories and find a venue to get them out to people.
"Their excitement is really what spurred Jean and me to do the book."
And the community members who dug through archives of pictures said they are also pleased the general public will have a chance to know more about African-American roots in the city.
"People need to know their history, both good and bad," Neal said. "When I went to school, there wasn't much black history. The children of Amarillo need to know the history of our people so they can have a better self image."
About the Author
Churches, the Black Historical Cultural Center, fraternal organizations, and area families preserved their history in photographs. Claudia Stuart and Jean Stuntz, professors at nearby West Texas A&M University, gratefully acknowledge the contributions of both the pioneer families and the modern-day Amarillo citizens who have created and sustained this community.