One of our new Houston Jewish History Archive collections contains items related to the life and work of Norman Belasco. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 26, 1923. A veteran of World War II, he served his country in the Pacific theater for four years. Upon conclusion of his military service, he obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University. Belasco joined NASA in 1961. During his 20 year career, he helped to develop a flush toilet for zero gravity environments, shares a patent for inventing a medical subject monitoring system, and was Deputy Chief of Medical Operations. He passed in 2004.
Because of his work, he saved NASA-related items. At first, I thought these emblems were just unfinished patches, but they are potentially so much more. The emblems have actually been silkscreened onto glass fiber cloth, the same as the astronauts’ suits. Some of the silkscreened Apollo 11 emblems were brought on that historic voyage. It’s unclear if this one was, but it’s neat to imagine that they’ve been to the moon and back.
Belasco saved another neat treasure from his time at NASA, Snoopy-themed stickers.
Come one, come all to the Democratic Fun-Fest. The letter below sent to Billie Carr outlines logistics like how to name your booth, for example the Amy Carter Lemonade Stand. It would have been interesting to know what “fun” name Carr came up with for her fortune teller and fish pond booths.
Lately, the Billie Carr political papers have been getting some attention. In honor of the start of Women’s History Month, let’s shine a light on the woman and her work.
Billie McClain Carr (later known as “The Godmother” for her work on behalf of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party) was born in Houston, Texas, June 1, 1928. She grew up near downtown Houston, graduated from Sam Houston High School in 1946, and married three months later; she had three sons, and over the years took courses at South Texas College and the University of Houston.
Carr’s activities as a political organizer began in 1952, when political issues in Texas stirred her to run for Democratic chairman of her precinct and she unexpectedly won. Soon afterward she became a protégé of Frankie Randolph, a leader and benefactress of liberal causes who helped found the Harris County Democrats (a liberal precinct organization) in 1953. She taught Carr the art of grass roots political organizing, and over time Carr assumed a leadership role in Harris County Democrats and began to establish a statewide reputation as an organizer, convention strategist, and spokesperson for the statewide liberal coalition.
In 1954 Carr was elected a member from her precinct to the Harris County Democratic Executive Committee, serving in that capacity until 1972; she was also Harris County’s member on the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee from 1964 to 1966. She was a leader in efforts to achieve proportional liberal participation in presidential conventions and became nationally known in the Democratic Party for taking a rump delegation to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, an action which helped initiate a party-wide set of reforms abolishing the use of the unit rule by which conservative Democrats had been able to minimize the election of liberals as delegates to presidential conventions.
As a liberal activist and strategist, Carr also fought for civil rights. She protested the Vietnam War and fought for women’s rights in the 1970s, and for gay rights in the 1980s. She helped organize the 1966 campaign leading to the election of Barbara Jordan, the first black woman elected to the Texas Senate, and was later described by U. S. Rep. Mickey Leland as “the grand old lady of liberal politics” for her efforts in helping a number of minority candidates (including himself) win political office. She later established a business, Billie Carr & Associates, specializing in campaign and other political services.
In 1972 Carr was elected to serve as a member of the Democratic National Committee (a position she held until 2000); there she was elected “whip” for the progressive-reform caucus and in June 1981 was elected chair of the newly-formed Progressive-Liberal Caucus. At various periods she also served on the Credentials Committee, the Platform Advisory Committee on Older Citizens, and the Executive Committee. She passed away in 2003.
If you’d like to hear more from Carr, check out her oral history conducted by Rice’s own Dr. Chandler Davidson from 1974.
Published in 1915, The Red Book of Houston: A Compendium of Social, Professional, Religious, Educational and Industrial Interests of Houston’s Colored Population is quite rare. According to WorldCat, there are two versions of this book held in libraries across the United States. One is at Rice and the other is Prairie View A&M University. This isn’t the full story, though.
While Rice does have a version, ours is quite inferior. It’s simply a photocopy. According to their catalog, it looks like Prairie View’s is, too. If you’d like to see it in it’s actual glory, then please visit the Internet Archive’s version. They have digitized a version owned by the Library of Congress, whose version is not listed on WorldCat.
Back to the actual book, the book is written by and for Black people. It acts both as a piece of information about Black Houston for outsiders, like a promotional book, and as a way to praise the strides made by those featured.
What follows are noteworthy images and sections from the book. If you have never seen this book in all of its glory, you should check it out. Also, for those thinking about connections to The Negro Motorist Green Book, it was first published much later in 1936 by a man named Green. I did a search to see if there might be other “Red Books” and couldn’t find anything. If anyone has any more information, please share in the comments.
Sections of the book include schools with listings and addresses of each employee, as well as a focus on churches and their pastors. There is even a listing of clubs and lodges and all of the Black-owned businesses.
The man who took all or most of the images in the book was C.G. Harris.
There are many images spread out of prominent African-Americans and images of their homes.
In a section called “Social Calendar,” there’s a listing of the mostly married women, their address, phone numbers, and short and long bios. Mrs. Annie Hagan above posing with her house is featured.
Throughout the book, there are profiles of notable African-American men.
While many of the homes profiled in the book are gone. Here is one that still exists and has an historical marker.
Finally, one of the most harrowing images is of former slaves, living in Houston. Some of the ages are off, but it makes sense why some would not have known their years of birth.
In case you haven’t seen it, there are quite a few articles about the Woodson’s various projects and collection in the most recent issue of News from Fondren. They include information on the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) archive, the Reginald Moore Convict Leasing research collection, the Shepherd School digitization project, the Houston Folk Music Archive’s Homecoming concert, and the Wilson Collection of Historical Cartography and Geography.
For those keeping up with the new Houston Jewish History Archive, we wanted to alert you to the new blog. It highlights items from the collection, but also tells the story of Houston’s Jewish community.
The family of Peter Gardner had a large trove of over 100 reel-to-reels that they wanted to digitize. We worked with them to send the reels to The Media Preserve and now the music on the reels is alive once again.
A little background on Peter Gardner. He arrived in Houston in 1963 with his then wife and musical partner Isabelle. She now goes by Isabelle Ganz, expect an oral history from her in the coming months. The Gardners traveled the U.S. and Europe performing unique arrangements of traditional folk songs from all over the world. In 1963, Peter became the Director of Adult Activities at the Jewish Community Center. He started the radio program “The Sampler” on KRBE in 1965, which he recorded in his home. Peter also hosted pickin’ parties there in the mid-1960s, which is where Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt met.
The reels themselves shine a light on the early days of Houston’s folk scene and also provide a glimpse into the programming at the JCC. Live performers include Frank Davis, Kay (K.T.) Oslin, Ed Badeaux, Carolyn Terry, Sara Wiggins, John Lomax, Jr., Jerry Jeff Walker, perhaps the first recording of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and other surprising discoveries like The Gospel Mellowtones.
Image courtesy of The Media Preserve
It will be a few months until the items are reading room ready, but we wanted to give everyone a sneak peek of what is to come.