This Week in Texas Methodist History January 3
African American Methodists in Houston Hold Fundraising Fair for New Building
January 8, 1859
The following interesting item ran in the January 5, 1859, issue of the Weekly Telegraph,
The members of the Affrican (sic) Methodist E. Church are notified that there will be a Fair at Mr. W. R. Baker’s building on Saturday, the 8th inst., for the purpose of raising funds for the new church building.
Ladies and children are most respectfully solicited to attend in the afternoon, and gentlemen in the evening as it will be inconvenient for them to leave their business, in day time, as many as can will receive the heartful thanks of their humble servants.
There are several points of interest in this short notice.
1. The “Affrican Methodist E. Church” is not the A.M. E. Church. That denomination did not enter Texas until after emancipation. The church in the notice is the African American congregation formed from Shearn MECS (later First Methodist Houston). One can tell from the notice that they were a strong enough congregation to build their own structure for worship. As a matter of fact, when the Shearn Church building fell into disrepair, Shearn used the African American Church building.
2. The printing of the notice in the Weekly Telegraph offers evidence that at least some African Americans in Houston in 1859 were literate—in spite of restrictions on teaching African Americans in the era and a lack of schools.
3. The reader is struck by the use of the terms “ladies” and “gentlemen.” Later in the dark, regressive days of Jim Crow, it became a Southern journalistic convention, to strip African American of the dignity of being called “Mister,” “Miss,” or :”Mrs.” --much less “Ladies” and “Gentlemen.”
4. Who was W. R. Baker? William R. Robinson Baker (1820-1890) was one of the most prominent Houstonians of the 19th century. He came to Texas from New York with A. C. Allen in 1837 when the Allen Brothers founded Houston. Baker worked for the Houston Town Company. He kept a store, was County Clerk, and in 1859 was Secretary of the Houston and Texas Central Rail Line. He later was president of that Railroad, a State Senator and 3-term mayor of Houston.