For those of you that have been following the Bell Family in Texas City and their effort to preserve the history of the early Black settlers of this area I would like to share a great find with you.
Frank Bell Jr. was born in 1893 and was a very successful business man during his lifetime. The Bell home on Bell Drive belonged to his father Frank Bell Sr. Many had wondered how Sr. had acquired so much land and where he had been employed to earn money to buy property.
In my research about Henry Martyn Stringfellow I found out that he paid his Black workers $1 per day when other employers were only paying fifty cents per day. I never could find a Black family or anyone that knew relatives that worked for Mr. Stringfellow in the 1880's and early 1890's. I ordered one of the books written by Mr. Stringfellow (The New Horticulture) this summer, but had not started reading it. Wednesday night, I decided to open it up to read some of it because I knew Mr. Stringfellow had connections to Professor Thomas L. Brunk at what was then known as "Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College". As I finished the first two chapters I started to go to bed, but decided to read Chapter III. To my surprise towards the end of page ten was the name Frank Bell.
I have attached a copy of four pages from the book.
Mr. Stringfellow makes reference to Mr. Bell on pages 10 & 12. I began to cry. Not tears of pain, but tears of joy, I finally had a name and a family to connect to the dollar a day story. When Black men were making only fifty cents a day at most places, Frank Bell Sr. was making $1 per day working at Stringfellow Orchards. This had a huge impact on his ability to take care of his family and to buy property. It also had a great impact on the African American community as a whole for years to come. Frank Bell Jr. went on to do great things in the community.
Mr. Stringfellow's willingness to pay what he thought was a fair wage is still having a ripple effect today. I have spent many days in Carver Park as a child and an adult. I actually learned to swim in the pool at Carver Park. The land for the park was donated by Frank Bell Jr. and some of his business partners. It is amazing to me how all of these things have come together. GOD willing, next year at the Stringfellow Orchards 2008 Juneteenth celebration I would like to honor the Bell Family.
Today I spent over two hours visiting with the granddaughter of Frank Bell Sr., Vera Bell Gary. She shared so much with me about her Father and family. She did not know this information about her grandfather and I felt honored to share it with her. Christmas has come early for her and me. I have so much to be thankful for this year (it is also great that the Cowboys and Aggies won this week too...WHOOOP!).
Frank Bell Sr. was a young man when he was working for Mr. Stringfellow and it is amazing that Mr. Stringfellow included his name in his book. I knew that if Mr. Stringfellow had paid his men twice as much as everyone else, then there had to be evidence of the impact of this on the Black community. Now I have proof. I cried also when I read it, because as an African American Father and Husband I can relate to the desire to want the best for your family in an environment that does not always reward your efforts. I know that most men of any race want the best for their families, but when I think about the challenges that former slaves faced while just trying to make a living I feel their pain. When I think about the servant quarters that were built behind the Stringfellow home, I think about the prayers of those servants wanting a better life for their children. When I think about the impact of Mr. Stringfellow's generosity at a time when most others accused him of driving up wages, I am overcome by the emotion. When I think about the sacrifices that were made by men like Frank Bell Sr. and the current condition of young black males, I am overcome by emotion. When I think about the men and women that were referred to as colored boys and colored girls, the tears began to flow. I am not angry, I am disappointed in mankind and the lack of compassion shown to those human beings.
Like Barack Obama I am filled with the AUDACITY OF HOPE. The hope that one day, on the grounds of Stringfellow Orchards thousands of citizens of all races will be able to come together and celebrate not just Juneteenth, but other events. In the small town of Hitchcock I have been unable to pull the community as a whole together, but I do believe that one day it will happen. Blacks on the east side of town and Whites on the west. Our home sits right in the middle of town and I believe it will the the center of change, not only in Hitchcock, but in all of Galveston County. Doris and I have faced so many challenges with our restoration project. When I think of men like Frank Bell and those that had to endure so much pain and suffering. I am reminded of the price that was paid so that we would have an opportunity to own this property. I am also encouraged that there are men and women today like Mr. Stringfellow who are important people in the movement for change and equality.
Enjoy the holidays and mark your calendars for Juneteenth 2008 at Stringfellow Orchards. GOD willing it will be the best one yet. Tentative dates are June 14th and June 21st. The local Hitchcock Juneteenth group will celebrate on June 14th and I am working with the Buffalo Soldier Museum from Houston to host an event on June 21st.
Sam Collins, III