Black History Month celebrated in Cleveland

NFL player Kevin Strong, a native of Cleveland, Texas, and a defensive end for the Tennessee Titans, is pictured with Dinah Wilridge Cochran, who spearheaded the Black History Parade on Saturday, Feb. 18, in Cleveland.

Douglas School Gym in Cleveland was the ideal location for a Black History Month celebration on Saturday, Feb. 18. Adjacent to the historic Frederick Douglas School, which before integration in 1967 was an all-black campus, the gym today is used for community gatherings and for youth basketball leagues.

The presentation on Cleveland’s black history followed a downtown parade with Kevin Strong, defensive end for the Tennessee Titans, acting as the parade marshal. Strong, a native of Cleveland, also spoke at the Douglas School Gym event, where he encouraged youths to pursue their dreams and to keep their faith in God.

Providing the history of the black community in Cleveland was Lafreda Carroll, who attended Douglas School at the time of integration. She recalled two important teachers in her life – Mrs. Frances Hall and Mrs. Betty Belt – for making a great impact on her live. Belt was a white teacher who, she says, taught her proper grammar and enunciation, and Hall encouraged her to participate in a science fair.

“Mrs. Hall took me to Northside School in 1967 as the first black to enter a science project. We placed third for [a project on] stalactites and stalagmites,” Carroll.

Speaking about the vibrancy of the black business community in the late 1960s, it was easy to visualize how the city appeared back then. Carroll explained that she wanted to take everyone on a little journey of the community.

“It starts off at the famous Junction Avenue prior to integration. People built rooms on the sides of their houses, or wherever they could, to accommodate people in the neighborhood,” Carroll said, speaking of the railroad passengers that debarked at Junction Avenue, where an old rail station once stood.

The area near the rail station also had rooming houses where people could see accommodations before continuing their journey. The area also had an ice cream parlor, wading pool and a theater where dozens of black entertainers performed.

Lafreda Carroll provided a history of black-owned businesses that once existed in Cleveland.

“The theater was one of my favorite places to go. Prior to the Ed Sullivan Show, we weren’t on TV,” said Carroll. “You didn’t see many black people on TV.”

A short distance from the theater was a cafe and a barbecue restaurant owned by the senior Roscoe Warrick. Grocery stories also dotted the community, including those owned by “Ms. Betty” and Clyde and Rachel B. Scott.

“[The Scotts] had their own empire. They had a gas station, cab station and apartments,” Carroll said, adding that the community also had its own dry cleaners. “Before integration, we had our own businesses right here in our neighborhood.”

She told everyone gathered at the event that it is up to the elders in the community to educate the younger generations so they know their history.

“It’s up to us to leave them with the stories. We have to paint a picture of what life used to be,” she said.

Another teacher and pillar of the Cleveland community was remembered during the event. Clydie B. Scott Williams, the daughter of Clyde and Rachel B. Scott, was an educator who supported and inspired children in the community.

“The impact that my aunt made on my life and in the lives of others was tremendous,” said Ericka Carlock. “She supported several college students financially each month, just to help them obtain a higher education. She spent countless hours on the job and after hours helped students with admission packets, teaching them and giving words of wisdom and counsel. She did not know the meaning of working 8 to 5.”

Carlock said she witnessed her Aunt Clydie purchasing clothing for school children in need and says she spent the majority of her Saturdays sitting at her dining room table tutoring college students who needed a little extra help.

“She would help write essays, research papers and book reports, whatever she could do. The way I see it my aunt was a light at the schoolhouse. My aunt was a gap filler. My aunt was a bridge to help many others get to where they needed to be in life. She helped bring heaven down to earth,” Carlock said.

Other notable persons in the community recognized during the event were Jewel Franklin, Pauline McGowen, Pecolia Carter, Elton Williams, Leneal Wilridge Sr. and Bernest Mitchell Sr.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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