PALESTINE — African-American life in Palestine and Anderson County dating as far back as the mid-1800s is displayed in the black history room of the Museum for East Texas Culture.
Besides having the year-round black history room exhibit, the museum features a black artist in its upstairs gallery during February in observance of National African American History Month.
Currently being shown are original hand-sewn quilts made by Mildred Thibodeaux, an African-American quilter/fiber artist, who comes from a family that has a 150-year tradition of quilting and who committed herself to create fiber art about 25 years ago.
“Occasionally, some people say that my cultural origins are reflected through my work or that a particular quilt has a mystical quality,” Ms. Thibodeaux stated in a written piece for the museum. “I’ve remained committed to using the structure of the traditional hand sewn quilt, hoping to create meaning within its lines and spaces.”
Upon leaving the art gallery and entering the black history room, museum visitors find a wealth of historical information about the black community – schools, businesses, leaders, politicians, educators, artists, churches, everyday citizens, social organizations, outstanding athletes and black life in general for more than a century.
Samuel T. Williamson Sr. was Palestine’s first black postal carrier and continued for 30 years, according to a display in the black history room.
“His first route was in a poor white section of town. Some refused to take mail from (his) hands. Postal authorities refused to deliver mail to them at all (and) they had to pick it up at the post office. Some whites discussed lynching Samuel,” the display states.
“Later he delivered mail on the wealthier side of town where he was well-received. He and his family moved to Chicago in 1925.”
In the black shopping plaza were a bank, a drug store, doctor and dentist offices, a dry goods store, a restaurant, an undertaking parlor, a notary public, an insurance office, a cab company, a barber shop, a cleaning and pressing shop, a ladies hat shop, a meeting hall, soda fountain and other businesses.
H.L Price, founder of Farmer and Citizens Bank in McKnight Plaza, which is now the site of First National Bank, had large acreages of land and could probably be called the first black real estate agent in the Anderson County area, according to the exhibit.
“He was a family man, a church leader and a pillar in his community. He was a voice for his people at a time when it was not acceptable to speak out against unjust laws imposed on the people,” states information attached to the exhibit.
An exhibit on railroad history displays a white linen serving jacket worn by Willie Myers when working as a waiter on a railroad dining car.
“He became a cook and waiter exclusively on Private Car No. 20, which was furnished for the general manager of the Gulf Coast Division and his staff. When the era of dining cars ended, Mr. Myers worked briefly as a porter,” the exhibit information states.
At the beginning of his career in 1942, passenger trains had steam engines but were diesel operated when before his retirement in 1962, the exhibit states.
Also displayed is a stocking jacket worn when getting grocery supplies from the commissary at Union Station in Houston to restock the dining car.
Baptist missionaries began working in Texas as far back as 1830, according to an exhibit on historical black churches and congregations.
One of the early churches in Palestine was Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, organized in 1856. Other early black churches in Palestine included Beulah Missionary Baptist Church, organized in 1861, Mount Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, started in 1873; and Pilgrim Hill Baptist Church, organized in 1880.
The black history room contains information about present-day leaders and contemporary outstanding blacks.
A display about outstanding black athletes contains a newspaper article reporting that Adrian Petersen was named the NFL’s top rookie in 2008 and honored with a parade through Palestine. Another athlete featured is Keith Crawford, who broke 10 school records at Howard Payne University.
An exhibit on blacks in the military notes that Air Force Major General John Phillips was appointed by President Clinton as deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics in August 1995. It points out that Lucy L. Tyler, a resident of New York City, was born and educated in Palestine and had a wide and varied army career on the home front and overseas in Europe.
The Rev. Kenneth Earl Henry, also born in Palestine, earned a divinity degree from Yale University and became a published author. His lectures appeared in publications such as the Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History.
Palestine artist Alma Pennell Gunter exhibited her art work throughout Texas. Her works were significant in development of the folk art tradition, art critics stated in the exhibit.
The black history room contains history of many other people, black institutions, such as Lincoln High School, and developments such as, challenges to the validity of the apportionment of Anderson County into election precincts in the 1970s on the grounds that it diluted black voting strength. Judge William Wayne Justice ruled on behalf of the plaintiffs, according to documents in the exhibit.