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History Hits Close to Home

“No man is an island,” the old saying goes. This adage held true for the men and women of Independence Heights as national and world events affected their lives. Two events that greatly impacted the community were the Great Depression and World War II.

_____Vivian Seals completed high school in 1933, at the peak of the Great Depression. Financial difficulties abounded, and she remembers, “I had no idea how I was going to go to college, but I was determined to go.” The congregation at Concord Baptist Church awarded her the fifty dollars necessary to register for her first semester at Houston Colored Junior College. Furthering her good fortune, during Mrs. Seals’ first semester as a college student, “President Roosevelt started a program called NYA, National Youth Administration.” This program paid college tuition for students who worked in exchange for the funds. Mrs. Seals worked in the college’s registrar’s office, as part of the work study program funded by the NYA. These opportunities and her own hard work enabled her to earn her college education.

_____Mary Lee Taylor, on the other hand, does not remember the Great Depression having a tremendous impact on her family because they were so self-sufficient. “My mom did everything,” say Mrs. Taylor, referring to the garden and animals her mother kept, as well as her ability to fix things around the house.

_____Both Mrs. Seals’ and Mrs. Taylor’s stories about the Great Depression mirror broader trends across Texas. For Houston area African Americans, the effects of the Depression were magnified because services to African American communities were reduced, and additionally, whites began staffing jobs typically filled by blacks.

_____The residents of Independence Heights, as in most American cities, were shocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Helena Allen remembers that when the attack occurred, “Nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was.” She and other residents such as Lota McCullough Charles quickly learned Pearl Harbor’s location along with many other places in the Pacific. One of Mrs. Charles’ brothers joined the Navy and was stationed in the Pacific while her other brother served with the Army in Europe. World War II took Mrs. Allen’s loved ones away as well. She explains that she and her husband “married on a Monday and he left that Wednesday night, which was Thanksgiving eve, and it was twenty-seven months before I saw him again.”

_____Despite the sadness caused by WWII, Mrs. Allen remembers the outcome having positive effects on many African Americans. “[The service] gave a lot of people a chance to get the things they wanted out of life.” She goes on, “They would go back to school and get decent jobs and come back here and pay on a home.” Moreover, World War II provided many African Americans with the will to fight for their civil rights. After fighting to make the world safe for democracy, former soldiers returned to the United States and fought to receive equal rights at home.

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