Stephen F. Austin State University

African American Community in Beaumont Grew (February 2013)

African American Community in Beaumont Grew
By Judith Linsley

In the years not covered by a U.S. census, it's often difficult to find demographic studies of a community; and with minorities underrepresented in other records, research in those groups can be difficult. Early city directories can help fill the gap. In the days of segregation, information on African-American businesses in Beaumont in the early twentieth century can be found in the Morrison and Fourmy Company's directories, where they are marked with a (c).

In 1909, Beaumont's directory, in its equivalent to today's Yellow Pages, lists thirteen African-American black barbers. Four billiard halls are listed as being African American owned. There are five blacksmiths, one cabinet maker, and a chiropodist in the black community.

Five African-American doctors appear in the 1909 directory, but there's only one each of the following: dentist, insurance agent, funeral director, druggist, building contractor and shoemaker. Seven tailors are included, as well as one dressmaker, three "dyers, scourers, and renovators," and four "clothes pressers and renovators."

Twenty African Americans own restaurants, ten are listed as grocers, six own meat markets, and two are included under a category called "fruits and confectionaries."

Also in 1909, African Americans own eight rooming houses and four saloons. Six African Americans are listed under teaming and transfer categories (horse and mule teams used for hauling and road work). Two are wood dealers.

Jump ahead twenty years, and the 1939 directory lists only six blacksmiths total, two of them African Americans. By then automobiles rule, so we see six black-owned automobile repair shops, a business that barely existed in 1909.

There are twenty-one African-American barbers, and nine African-American beauty shops, a new category for any race since 1909. In 1939, the black community can choose from among nine physicians, four dentists, six agents for various types of insurance, three undertakers, four druggists, five shoe repairers, and four shoe shiners. No African American building contractor is listed.

African Americans own thirty-one restaurants, eleven "barbecued meat" establishments (only two white ones), one bakery, five confectionary or ice cream shops, four meat markets, and twenty groceries. They have access to eighteen rooming houses, nine alcohol retail establishments, and two clubs (saloons and billiard halls no longer appear).

In 1939, clothing care is called "clothes pressers and cleaners," and fourteen of these are black, double the number in 1909. Interestingly, numbers for those who make clothing have reversed; there are four black dressmakers but only one black tailor.

There are no more teaming contractors in 1939; they've been replaced by companies with big trucks. Seven of the nine wood dealers listed are black, however; a sizable number of Beaumonters still burned wood in their stoves and fireplaces.

City directories contain a great deal of information about people in a town. They're not always totally accurate; errors were made, people were inadvertently omitted. But enough can be garnered from Beaumont directories to show an African-American community that grew and diversified along with the town in the early twentieth century.

Two African-American teamsters clear ground for a tank farm at Magnolia Petroleum Company (now Exxon-Mobil) in Beaumont.