Friday, June 19, 2015

Women Celebrating Juneteenth

Every year around Juneteenth, I see this photo getting shared on Pinterest and elsewhere on the web. I've long wondered who these women in the buggy were and what was their story.

I was quickly able to find other sources for this image, each with a similar caption:
Martha and Pinkie Yates in a buggy decorated for the annual Juneteenth celebration in front 319 Robin St. in the Fourth Ward (c.1895-1905). Courtesy of Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

Buggy driven by Martha Yates Jones and Pinky Yates decorated for 1908 Juneteenth parade, MSS 0281-037, Rev. Jack Yates Family and Antioch Baptist Church Collection.
There was also this very similar image, showing these two same women in their beautiful white dresses and the same decorated buggy, this time in front of a brick building, with this caption:
Martha Yates Jones & Pinkie Yates at Antioch Baptist Church in a buggy decorated for the annual Juneteenth celebration (c. 1895- 1905). Courtesy of Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
So, who were Martha Yates Jones and Pinkie Yates? How did they live? What did the do? Were they related, as their shared name implies?

The next step in my research was to do searches for both of their names, Rev. Jack Yates, the address 319 Robin Street in the Fourth Ward, and for the Antioch Baptist Church.

Some of these searches came up with very little, and some gave me quite a bit of information about the place and people around these women, but not much about either of them directly.

Rev. Jack Yates was an influential pastor who founded the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, in 1866. He was born a slave, on July 11, 1828 in Gloucester County, Virginia. He was married to Harriet Wilson, a slave on a neighboring plantation. His owners were relatively enlightened, in that they taught him how to read and write and enabled him to learn carpentry. And, when Harriet's owners sold her to a farmer in Texas, his owners gave him permission to join them.

After emancipation he moved his family to Houston where it took little time for him to establish himself as a hard worker with the determination to create a better world for his community. He worked as a drayman during the day and a Baptist preacher at night and on Sundays.

Realizing the importance of a permanent structure and land ownership, he set about purchasing property for his family. By 1869, not even five years after emancipation, he was a homeowner. He also quickly set a goal of building a new church on church-owned land. On May 15, 1875, the cornerstone for the new church was laid. And in 1872, with his guidance and through a collaoration between Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, Emancipation Park was purchased for use by the African American community.

Yates was determined to use this new platform to achieve his goals, creating a church that would serve the community in more than simply a spiritual manner. As more African American men and women moved to Houston, they gravitated toward the Antioch Baptist Church, where at his Baptist Academy, they learned fundamental skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as important trades. The Baptist Academy became Houston College, which was the forerunner of Texas Southern University.

Nor was his idea of education limited to boys or men. Women attended the Baptist Academy, and each of his daughters, as well as his sons, were given the opportunity to attend college, with the expectation that they would, in turn, do something worthwhile with their education.
Sallie was among the first women from this part of the state to enter Bishop College in Marshall, Texas; Rutherford also attended Bishop College; Pinkie and Nannie graduated from Spelman Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia; and Nannie also attended Bishop. Pinkie taught school all her life, in Washington, D. C., as well as in Houston and other areas of Texas. Nannie taught for a time and later served as housemother at Prairie View A & M and the Houston Negro College of Nursing. Rutherford and his brother, Paul, operated a successful printing business in Houston.
(source: Yates House History)
So... Martha Yates Jones and Pinkie Yates were sisters, both daughters of Jack Yates and his first wife Harriet Wilson. Small wonder they would be so dressed up for Juneteenth celebrations, being the children of parents who had been slaves and had witnessed Emancipation in Texas first hand.

Interestingly, this is one of the first times during my research that I was able to find any information about Pinkie or Martha, the two women who started this dive into the the Internet. Well, about Pinkie, at least. As for Martha, the only information I have been able to find is the information associated with her death certificate and grave record, which indicates that she was born September 3, 1868, in Glocester County, Virginia. That information does not match up with the information about her parents' whereabouts during that time (already established in Houston), and is likely inaccurate as to birth place. If the date is accurate, that would have made her 39 years old when this photo was taken in 1908, which could be the case.

It also jibes with the note included in her grave record.
"Endeared herself to the builders of the new Antioch church by cooking for the bricklayers, carpenters, and laborers during its construction."
(source: Find A Grave)
The church was built between 1875 and 1879, and she would have been a young girl between 8 and 13 years old, which would have been her act of service during the construction of her father's church. Sadly, I have not been able to locate much more about her through internet searches. I'm hoping that some of the books I've ordered through inter-library loan may have some more information.

Fortunately, more of Pinkie Yates' life has been recorded. Born March 26, 1884, she would have been 24 years old when the Juneteenth photo was taken. After graduating from Spellman Seminary, she spent her life as a teacher, carrying on her father's mission to build up the African American community in Houston through education.
Young black women had a more difficult time getting an education. We had a colored high school here, but there were people like Reverend Jack Yates who wanted his children to have more education than that. He had a daughter named Pinky Yates that you see here. He sent her to Spellman in Atlanta where she got the equivalent of her high school education. And this shows her with her class that she was teaching at Colored High School. But an interesting thing which says, again, how much women yearned for education—over the next 30 years, Pinky Yates went to Prairie View A&M and finally got her college diploma after that long period of time. But these were women who were very involved.
(source: The Heritage Society)
Houston schoolteacher, Pinkie Yates, the daughter of freedman and community agent Rev. Jack Yates, played a pivotal role in the art of community agency at the opening of the twentieth century. This photograph of Ms. Yates holding a book, exemplifies her lifelong pledge to Black educational empowerment.
(source: Houston History Magazine)
As a teacher, she joined the ranks of amazing African American women educators like Mary McLeod Bethune, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and so many others. Undoubtedly her influence on the community was enormous. I am happy I was able to find some pretty good information about her via the internet, but I am still unsatisfied. I have requested a few historical books from the library, so there is some hope that I may be able to learn more.

Also, the history nerd in me totally geeked out over this Masters thesis by Amy Lynn Stell, M.A., Integrating African American House Types into Historic Villages: Three Historic Texas Houses and Their Respective Museums. She has done quite a bit of research on the Yates Family House (pictured above), and that, in turn, gives us a peek into the Yates family itself. Not a huge look, of course, but still, it's an interesting perspective.

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WHM - María Rebecca Latigo de Hernández
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  1. I just spent eight years living in Texas and never even heard of Juneteenth, even as someone who is obviously concerned with social justice matters. Which says a lot, very sadly, about how little of African American history is promoted in any reasonable way there.

    So I'm glad you educated me today! Thank you!

  2. Martha Yates married William Jones from Florida in 1882. William Jones was a city Policeman in the 1910 census and a city detective in the 1920 census. Martha was born in 1857 and died in 1946.