Born in to Slavery

Oral Histories:

Memories of Marshall and Carver Schools and Desegregation in Georgetown

Listed here are supplemental materials related to the individual interviews about Marshall and Carver Schools and desegregation in Georgetown. They are part of an oral history project sponsored by the Georgetown Public Library.

Narratives from the Georgetown's Yesteryears Book

A special thanks to The Georgetown Heritage Society and Martha Mitten Allen for letting us post these wonderful first person stories.

see Foreword and Preface

Bill Pickett, the Cowboy

Little is publicly known about the many African-Americans who have made valuable contributions to Williamson County communities. Their stories, uncovered, reveal a wealth of history. Bill Pickett of Taylor represents one of the more colorful and dynamic of these individuals.

Pickett was born to former slaves, Thomas Jefferson and Mary Virginia Elizabeth (Gilbert) Pickett, in 1870. The second of thirteen children, he completed the fifth grade and became a cowboy. Bill remains most famous for inventing “bulldogging”, or the biting of the upper lip of steers to subdue them. Pickett discovered this act while watching herding dogs subdue cattle in this manner. He took his talents on the road as the “Dusky Deamon” performing in numerous rodeos across the country and in Canada, Mexico, and England as well. As an African-American, Pickett could not compete against whites in rodeo competitions. Therefore, he would often be billed as Indian or remain unidentified to enable him to compete. After years of traveling and performing, Pickett finally settled in with his family at the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma. In 1932, Pickett died when a horse kicked him in the head. Bill Pickett is honored in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and in the Pro-rodeo Hall of fame and Museum of the American Cowboy at Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Bill Pickett represents just one of many accomplished and dynamic individuals in Williamson County’s African-American community. These individuals are responsible for the creating of churches, and groups to assist and benefit the African-American community. To learn more about these amazing individuals, visit the African-American photograph exhibit on display at the museum February 7 – 25.

View page on Bill Picket

Narratives from the Georgetown's Yesteryears Book

A special thanks to The Georgetown Heritage Society and Martha Mitten Allen for letting the us post these wonderful first person stories.

see Foreword and Preface

BORN IN SLAVERY Woodie J. Givens: Chris fanning, Interviewer

The original Van Hooses from whom I am descended on the maternal side, were born and reared, I suppose, in Alabama. My grandfather, a circuit-riding minister, Reverend Mac Henry Van Hoose, owned a farm in Alabama. I understand with what my mother and he told me that he was born in slavery, but was a little boy when the Emancipation Proclamation became known in Alabama.

The name Van Hoose was picked up from his [second] owners who were two old maids. I can recall vividly that my grandfather said that the other person who owned him was treating him unkindly, and that these two old maids came along and decided that, there's a nice lad. Perhaps they could tell by his eyes that he had a certain amount of intelligence, and they said, "We would like to buy him." He became, after that time, the surrey boy. He rode on the footsteps of the surrey and jumped down to help them a-light.

When slavery was ended in Alabama, I don't know if you were given a plot of land to begin with; you recall there used to be something about forty acres and a mule. I don't know whether this land came in forty acres and a mule or not, but I do know that he added to this land until he had more than two hundred acres. Then he had aunts to die who left him ninety acres. So he was a fairly well-off Black man in Alabama.

In Alabama, there were nine children born to Laura and Mac Henry Van Hoose.

My mother used to say it with a sort of bragging spirit that none of us were born closer than three years apart. At that time and until she died, she would shake her head when she saw people having children one year and one the next, and one the next. She'd always say, "No Van Hoose was born nearer than three years apart."

[My grandfather] had a half-sister living in Georgetown whose last name was Blair.

The Blairs were writing telling [him] "Come West, young man The Land of Opportunity." He decided to come west and regretted it until his death.

They came to Georgetown on the train] having gone in a boat over the Mississippi River.

He brought three or four grown sons and their families, and his younger family, which was my mother. My mother said that they had always had wells and spring water, and they were not accustomed to faucets, and the young ones just ran all over the train and almost tore it up turning on the water faucets because it was a novelty to them.

When they got here, they had paid all of these grown people's way on the train.

They did have some money, but not a lot. They looked around for a short while to find land that was rich like the land in Alabama, but I don't think they found that, especially in the western part of George-town, and, no doubt, the black land out toward Jonah was too expensive. They weren't able to pay for a two hundred acre black land farm and they didn't like the farm on the San Gabriel River, the rocky farm. They sharecropped with Judge Hughes for awhile, for maybe a year.

After a year, they moved over in Georgetown and bought several lots of two-and-a-half lots each on 15th Street and on 14th Street. When I was born, there were no Black people on either street other than Van Hooses. As I came up, Mrs. Kelly, the Gahagans, the Solomons, and the Fontaines lived there. The Fontaine house still stands, the Gahagan house still stands. On 14th Street Uncle Henry bought up to the Purl house [it is not there any more]. Old Man Purl was the sheriff. The Gahagans were optometrists. The Fontaines, the man, was the mail carrier. Old Man Solomon was foreman at the gin mill and so was Old Man Kelly. But when I remember Old Man Kelly, he had had a mishap and his leg was cut off, so he was at home. I was reared there, went to school down on the Ridge, where most of the Black kids went to school.

But I never had any feeling of being put upon by any race. I never had any resentment toward white people or Mexican people or any other kind of people. I guess it was because, when my birthday came, Mrs. Solomon and Mrs. Gahagan came, "Well, we brought you a birthday present." They were our neighbors, so I didn't know the difference.

Martha Clara Tanksley - Interviewer: Lisa R. Martin

My parents, Hattie Tanksley and Elijah Tanksley, had thirteen children, twins and triplets. My mother went to Paul Quinn College. My father and his brothers had to help their mother work the ranch about nine miles west on 29, so he didn't get more than a third grade education. My father raised Hereford cattle, hogs, chickens. But I never stayed one night in the country myself. My father would get up and go to work on the ranch. My mother wouldn't live on the ranch; we had to be near the school.

My father planted a garden every year. My mother would can. He'd have a hog butchered and he'd kill a calf. There was a home economics teacher at the school, and my mother would help her every year, sort of like the home demonstration agent, make jelly and preserves. They would can the beef. My grandfather had a molasses mill.

Now I can't say we had all fine foods, or anything like that, but we had plenty. The only thing that we had to buy would be coffee, sugar and flour. Of course, now the corn meal; my father would grow corn and take it to Old Man Bowen, a white man, to have it ground. Mr. Bowen would grind the meal on halvers.

My mother used to sell butter and eggs. My brothers used to pick the green beans in number three tubs, at a time, and we would have the Irish potatoes and drag them up under the house to keep them. We had the black molasses and my mother would make jelly out of wild plums. We'd go pick apples or peaches from some-one else and she'd can them.

My father bought two pressure cookers and when the canner came out he bought a canner for my mother. I never can remember a day in my life when I was hungry. If I was hungry, I didn't want to eat what we had.

Martin Aleman - Interviewer: Norma J. Salas

I did not drink a cup of coffee in a restaurant in Georgetown until I went to Germany [World War II] and come back. They wouldn't serve us in the restaurants, they wouldn't serve us in fountain, drug store fountain. I never did drink a Coke in Georgetown in my life. They wouldn't serve us. I have a friend who worked as a delivery boy for a drug store and he couldn't drink a Coke in the front, he had to go to the kitchen. All restaurants, you want to eat there. . . . And it just gets you so. We were afraid to do anything about it.
In Liberty Hill, they used to run me all over the pasture on the way home, and they used to take my clothes off and make me climb a cedar tree, some Americanos. This was after school.

Here in Georgetown, they had a Spanish school up till the fourth grade. After fourth grade, you could go to the other school.

Irvin "Shorty" Mitchell - Interviewer: Laurie Rothhammer

I remember when they built the L and M. You had to order your stuff and you had to go in the door and pick it up, but you couldn't go in and sit down and eat. Every place in town was like that. Anybody could go in a store, but most restaurants had a little side window and some of them had a place in the back of the cafe. When Mr. Daniels had a cafe here where the Spanish place is now [Makemson Hotel Building], the white people went in the front; the black people had to go down the alley to the back door. And it was nice. They had tables and a long bar. Most of the black people knew where they could go. This way I don't think they had problems, because they knew they had to stay in their own place.

When the changes came, the cafes took a little longer, or maybe, it was just the idea that we just didn't go. See, the problem came up, if a guy's down town, he's got to grab a hamburger or some fries or whatever, he's got to go all the way down here [where he lived] to get it when he could go right there and pick it up, but that wasn't done, unless you went to the back door and got it, and you never would get out of there in time. So most of them would carry lunch or go to some window where they had maybe two cooks. A lot of people it bothered, some it didn't. I know very few black people frowned on it.

Even Peaslee's market, a meat market and grocery store, with a little cafe in the back; white people had the bar and the black people had only one table in the back

Woodie J. Givens: Chris Janning, Interviewer

I went to school down on the Ridge, where most of the black kids went to school. I passed, almost literally, by the school that Miss Annie Purl was principal of. I went from 15th street, down Hart Street and then across town until I got down on the Ridge and went down to the end of the Ridge almost to the Blue Hole, and there was the Black School.

At that time, cotton was king. There were very few black, whites, or any children in Georgetown who didn't pick cot-ton. All of them picked cotton. And I wanted to pick cot-ton. At that time, my father, Reverend Walter James Green, who was a minister and a teacher, had died, and I was the only child. I suppose that is the reason I am named Woodie James Green instead of Mary or something. I was named after my father, Reverend Walter James Green. When my father died and my mother was alone, she had a phobia that something would happen to me. And as a result, she didn't mean to tell a story, but she would tell me, "Yes, Woodie, you can pick cotton as soon as it gets a little cooler." She knew that school would start in September. Many times I've been the only child in my class at school until the others got through picking cotton about October and came in. Sometimes there were two of us. And I have been there alone.

My family was not aloof but clannish. I have even had an uncle take me to school. This teacher from Victoria roomed in his house and he drove us to school. She saw a black cat go across the path and she said, "Oh, Mr. Van Hoose, turn around, you're going to have bad luck. There's a black cat." Well, Turner said nothing they didn't do a lot of talking but he came back and he told Mamma, "I don't want Woodie to be taught by that woman. She's too ignorant. Anybody who is afraid of a black cat is too ignorant to teach Woodie."

We didn't call it prejudice, because that was the status quo. Black children went to black schools. Mexican children went down in Grasshopper to a Mexican school. The Mexicans did go to High School, but very, very few of them finished. I can recall when it was just a seven day wonder for a Mexican to finish high school. I remember one Mexican girl who finished high school. Later, Southwestern gave a theology course and a Mexican boy came here to go to school to get his bachelor of theology. This girl was possibly the only Mexican girl that he could relate to, who had 12 years of schooling, and they married.

The Black School was a school like all schools, because it was the only school I knew. It was a white stone building. I first went to a little school for two years, off from there, a little frame building. I don't remember that too well. I went there in the first and second grade. This new school was built when I was in the third grade, I went there. It was a stone school. I think that must have gone from the first to the third grades. Behind that was fourth, fifth, and sixth, no doubt. Across the hall was home economics, the whole side. It was better than any of the homes that we lived in, because it had hardwood floors. There were very few hard-wood floors among the blacks' houses in Georgetown when I was born, and not too many among the whites. A few [houses] on University Avenue had hardwood floors.

Tommye B. Jefferson: Mike Lade, Interviewer

We had kerosene lamps. We had chimneys, the globes that were put on them. We had to clean them because they became sooty. We'd wash them and clean them so the light would be bright. Sometimes we'd have to carry an oil lamp to different rooms if we didn't have enough lamps. We had learned to accept whatever. We had to have light and that was our main light.

We didn't have washing machines at first. We had the old tub and the washboard, and we had an iron pot. (My sister has Mama's now, in San Marcos.) We heated our water set up on bricks, over a wood fire. We would dip the water out of the pot into the tub and wash on a washboard. We didn't have all these different types of detergents that we have now. We made soap that was called lye soap and we made it in that old iron pot.
When we ironed, we used what was called a smoothing iron and heated it on the coals. We had a furnace, we burned soft coal, and it burned down until it was just coals and we put the iron on top of that and let it heat. Some people had stoves that they could heat it on the grates and iron that way.

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  • contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs Divisions of the Library of Congress and includes more than 200 photographs from the Prints and Photographs Division that are now made available to the public for the first time. Born in Slavery was made possible by a major gift from the Citigroup Foundation.