Memories of Black History Month 2022 in the Brazos Valley


Each February, in celebration of Black History month, Brazos Valley residents have the opportunity to meet, know, and learn about many of our residents who were instrumental in African American community historic preservation. In 1999, area residents Mr. and Mrs. Willie (Mell) Pruitt had the idea for an African American Heritage Museum. The photo below is courtesy of the BVAAM from a prior gathering.

Mr. and Mrs. Pruitt were beloved educators of many years here. Mrs. Pruitt preceded her husband in death in 2009, and Mr. Pruitt, a former Asst. Principal at Bryan High, died earlier this week on February 21st.

On July 22, 2006, the Museum’s doors opened to the public, thanks to the generous donations from across our community—individuals, churches, and civic leaders. Today, the Museum is built on the original site of the first school for people of color in the Brazos Valley, founded in 1886, which later burned. In 1930, the school was reopened as Washington Elementary School and stood until, again, a fire burned it down. The school’s final principal while standing was O. W. Sadberry, Sr.

Coincidentally, that same evening as Mr. Pruitt passed, Bryan ISD Trustees revealed that the third Bryan ISD Intermediate School under construction will be named in honor of educator O. W. Sadberry, Sr. Most fitting, this naming opportunity for his father was the dream of longtime area educator and civic leader, Oliver Wayne Sadberry, Jr. The new Maintenance and Transportation facility will also be named in honor of the late BISD driver, Ms. Ruby Halliburton.

The unanimous decision was announced just 47 days after Wayne’s passing, at the age of 78. Poignantly the announcement would come just a few short days after we held his Life Celebration and Home Going in our Funeral Center last month.

Completing the circle, last night, on February 26, the Annual Appreciation Banquet was held at the Brazos Valley African American Museum, and the historian’s torch passed forward onto O.W.’s great-granddaughter, BISD student Miss Jaden Eleiz Twitty, as she spoke on the occasion of the family. In her remarks she noted the impact that her grand-father and great-grand-father had made in the Brazos Valley, as educators, historians, role models and encouragers, which are individuals that younger people need most. Miss Twitty noted that it’s important for younger persons her age take an interest in who their family members are, where they came from geographically and personally, and only by learning their stories can this generation relate to what it was like “back then.” Dr. Albert Broussard, a close friend of Wayne Sadberry’s through the years, also spoke about his excellent contributions to the Brazos Valley African American Museum.

The full program from Saturday’s Fund-Raising Event is shown next. Reviewing the list of organizers and participants, you’ll see the neighbors and friends who volunteered their time to make this appreciation event happen, even with the recent passing of two local icons.

Among the many elements of preserving history, the oral interview is one of the most important. Really, it’s the only way we have to keep track of our history as a community are in the words and photographs of those who will take the time to curate the collection with their stories throughout the generations. At Texas Christian University, there is a “Portal to Texas History” that includes an Oral History Interview with Wayne Sadberry, July 8, 2015.

Many resources now exist, including one by Asst. Professor Andrea Roberts of the College of Architecture’s Urban Planning Department. Known as the Texas Freedom Colonies Project, the goal is to “help African-American Texans reclaim their unrecognized and unrecorded heritage. The mission of the project is two-fold: to help African-American Texans reclaim their unrecognized and unrecorded heritage and empower city planners to plan and preserve communities with unprecedented knowledge about the freedom colonies.” See more about it here, including a photo of Wayne Sadberry with Prof. Roberts.

Did you know that as part of the City of Bryan’s 150th anniversary, an oral history project was created? It’s called “Voices Past and Present” and it contains interviews with longtime Bryan residents about “how things were here as they were growing up.” Within this compilation you will find historic jewels from our longtime city members. Take one for example:  “In 2012, Dr. Oswell Person, a leader in the field of higher education and E. A. Kemp Junior-Senior High School alumnus, spoke with Carnegie History Center oral historian Anne Preston about education in Bryan during segregation. Dr. Person is the author of two books on the African American experience in Bryan, Moving Forward from Behind: Life and Times of African-Americans in Bryan, Texas from 1885 to 1971, and African American Bryan, Texas: Celebrating the Past. ”

And another question: did you know that KORA radio once broadcast from the Varisco building downtown? Or that a tornado blew through town in 1956 and destroyed The Finfeather Club? Local attorney Roland Searcy reflects on that topic. And the words of Sunny Nash, who would grow up to be an international journalist, photographer, and author, she described segregation as she was growing up and trying to access books to read in the library, as her cousin Margaret had already read all of the ones in the bookmobile. A group of three young ladies waited on the steps outside as Margaret had gone in to see about reading in the Carnegie Library. When she came out with a stack full of books in her arms that she had checked out, they all learned that day there was no segregation at least in the Carnegie Library, an exciting revelation and one long awaited.

We learn best from telling our stories. The history comes to life when we record our voices and provide an even greater layer and dimension to what we know, saw, did, and how we felt. It becomes, as Nash said, “a matter of taking every opportunity to improve something every chance you get,” a lesson she learned from her mother.

As we exit the month of February then, let’s all focus on telling our stories, of preserving history for future generations to have reliable, accurate information to pass on to future generations.

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construction update map

Due to the construction on S College Ave our facility is only accessible via Dellwood St. Please refer to this map for reference. Dellwood St can be accessed via Cavitt Ave and Texas Ave.

For more information, please visit the Bryan, TX website.