Some of the broad shoulders of black history in Fort Worth

Posted Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Leonard Pitts' column in the Feb. 7 Star-Telegram told the stories of 10 influential black people in America and reminded me of some blacks in Fort Worth worthy of attention. These are men and women on whose shoulders we stand.

The Rev. L. K. Williams and his congregation built the imposing Mount Gilead Baptist Church that stands downtown as a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of a leader. The church has the largest pipe organ west of the Mississippi and still today has an indoor swimming pool

Lenora Rolla, who set the Democratic Party and the Disciples of Christ church on their ears from time to time, founded the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. She also established the East Hattie Street Neighborhood Haven.

Rolla, my mentor, was associated with many religious and political leaders, including President Lyndon B. Johnson, Mary McCloud Bethune and Alex Haley.

A woman whose mark can be seen in diverse sections of our city was Hazel Harvey Peace. Although a diminutive figure, she ruled with a gloved hand but an iron fist as vice principal of the historic I. M. Terrell High School and dean at Bishop College.

The dedication of Isaiah Milligan Terrell (for whom the high school is named) and his wife to young people under their charge is legendary. In 1882, he became head of the first free public school for African-Americans in Fort Worth. The sacrifices the Terrells made should be a part of all history books for Texas school children.

James E. Guinn was principal of the first brick school for "colored" children, built by the Sanguinet & Staats architectural firm. The school was later named for him because of his devotion to Fort Worth's young minds. His educational legacy survives.

The Rev. R. E. Ranger's sermons were broadcast all over Texas. He was revered by the black populace for his messages and teaching style. He founded the Wayside Church of God in Christ, which today is considered a historical site.

Levi and Maud Cooper worked as a team to perfect their entrepreneurship in the form of The Jim Hotel in downtown Fort Worth, the Greenleaf Cafe and Cooper cab stands. Their son, Lonnell, became one of the city's first black police officers in modern times.

Dr. R.A. Ransom established the Ethel Ransom Memorial Hospital in Fort Worth at a time when many black doctors and patients were not accepted in mainstream hospitals. An activist before the word was used, his wife, Ethel, raised $1 million to draw attention to atrocities like lynching of blacks.

The NAACP's name and work was safeguarded by Dr. George Flemmings, the organization's longtime president (1938 to 1975) in Tarrant County. He served at a time when many feared reprisals from white employers if they joined the civil rights group.

Perry Hollins, a railroad brakeman, was a confidant of A. Phillip Randolph, organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, who came to Fort Worth often on layovers to discuss ways to improve his workers' plight.

William "Gooseneck Bill" McDonald, an entrepreneur extraordinaire, led the "Black & Tan" faction of the Republican Party in Texas and was a Republican stalwart. He also served as secretary to railroad magnate H.L. Green, was an organizer of the Colored State Fair of Texas, founded the Fraternal Bank & Trust and was a mentor to young black businessmen.

Many of these pioneers have been immortalized on "The Wall" of the Intermodal Transportation Center building in downtown Fort Worth. Their influence helped shape the community.

Opal Lee is a founding member of the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society and board chair of the Community Food Bank.

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