Over the Generations: Documenting Waco's African-American Community through the Eyes of the Cobb Family

By Paul Fisher, Processing Archivist

Bosqueville School women's basketball, Central Texas champions, 1948
Bosqueville School women’s basketball, Central Texas champions, 1948. Frances Cobb Todd papers #2960, box 5, folder 12.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many members of the African-American community in Waco preserved memories of family, friends, and community by donating collections of letters, photos, financial documents, and more to The Texas Collection. While the collections may have arrived separately, the stories they tell often overlap and provide various perspectives on the same people and events. With items dating from 1861-1991, these collections cover many important events in the life of the African-American community in Waco and the story of Waco.

One family in particular, the Cobb family, has brought three generations of family materials to be preserved and made accessible to researchers at The Texas Collection. These items contribute to many record groups documenting the African-American experience in Waco for 130 years. Learn more about these historic figures in the paragraphs below—every hyperlink represents a collection.

Reverend Stephen Cobb, first pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, Waco, Texas
Reverend Stephen Cobb, first pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, Waco, Texas. Irene Cobb papers #2918, box 6, folder 17.

Stephen Cobb, representing the first generation of Cobb materials in The Texas Collection, helped found one of the oldest African-American churches in Waco, New Hope Baptist Church. He also served as the first pastor of the church. Through two marriages, Cobb had thirteen children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood.

Many of Stephen Cobb’s children and relatives became prominent in the Waco black community—see the Smith-Cobb family collection to learn more. Several became schoolteachers, one daughter taught music, and another daughter married the noted Texas educator Robert Lloyd Smith. A protégé of Booker T. Washington, Smith served two terms in the Texas Legislature and founded a society to help black sharecroppers in the early 1900s. This society, called the Farmers Improvement Society, had 12,000 members in 800 branches across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas at its high point in 1911.

Jules Bledsoe, preparing for his role in "Showboat"
Jules Bledsoe, preparing for his role in “Showboat.” Jules Bledsoe collection #2086, box 10, folder 8.

One of Stephen Cobb’s daughters, Jessie, married Henry Bledsoe. Their son, Julius Bledsoe, or Jules Bledsoe as he was popularly known, was an international opera star in the 1920s-1940s. He sang for audiences around the world, wrote music, and performed in plays, radio, and television.  His most famous piece was “Ol’ Man River” from the musical “Showboat,” though he also sang many other songs and spirituals. After a career of 22 years, Bledsoe died in Hollywood in 1943.

At least one generation later, Irene Cobb was also active in the Waco area. A schoolteacher for 31 years at various schools around Waco, Cobb was also active at New Hope Baptist Church. By this time, she was at least the third generation of Cobb family members to attend New Hope.

Prom night for A.J. Moore High School at the Blue Triangle YWCA, 1948.
Prom night for A.J. Moore High School at the Blue Triangle YWCA, 1948. Frances Cobb Todd papers #2960, box 6, folder 15.

Irene Cobb’s daughter, Frances Cobb Todd, continued the family tradition of activity at New Hope, and followed her mother’s career path and became a teacher in the Waco Independent School District. Frances Todd was one of several New Hope members to take an interest in preserving historical documents important to the Waco African-American community, and she helped bring several New Hope-related collections to The Texas Collection.

Other African-American record groups at The Texas Collection include the papers of Vivienne Malone-Mayes, the first African-American professor to teach at Baylor University, and of Oscar “Doc” Norbert and Mary “Kitty” Jacques Du Congé—Oscar was the first African-American mayor of Waco. Several of the people in these collections also were interviewed for oral histories that can be found in the digital collections of the Baylor Institute for Oral History.

Resources such as historic photographs, music, letters, financial documents, programs, and many other materials are available for research in our African-American collections. If you are interested in donating materials documenting the African-American experience in Waco or Texas, we would love to talk with you!

Love the photos above? Check out our Flickr set below to view a few more from these collections (click on the crosshairs in the bottom right corner to make it full-screen). And then set up a visit to The Texas Collection to see even more great documentation of the African-American community in Waco.

 

Baylor Quiz Time

by Amanda Norman, University Archivist

A "slime" (freshman) scrubs the Baylor seal in the foyer of Pat Neff Hall, 1951
Fortunately, freshmen aren’t imposed on anymore to use the toothbrush method to keep the Pat Neff Hall seal clean–and the seal is roped off to keep people from walking on it.

It’s back to school today—time for a quiz! These Baylor trivia questions are drawn from things I’ve learned through assisting patrons with reference questions. Test your knowledge of the green and gold—or learn more about Baylor’s past!

  1. When did Baylor have its first female yell leader?
  2. In the 1950s-1960s, AFROTC cadets practiced their rifle shooting in an indoor range in what building? a) Bill Daniel Student Center b) Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium c) Penland Hall
  3. What does legend say is buried near the swing in Burleson Quadrangle?
  4. How many years elapsed between when Tidwell Bible Building was first proposed and when it was completed?
  5. True or False—A Baylor student designed the Baylor seal in the floor of the Pat Neff Hall foyer.
  6. How much money did George W. Truett raise to eliminate Baylor’s debt in his role as financial agent in the early 1890s?
  7. Sociology is a part of the College of Arts and Sciences now, but it hasn’t always been housed there. In what school did it reside in the 1920s?
  8. What subject did the first African-American professor at Baylor teach?
  9. How many classes celebrated their graduation at Baylor Stadium (now Floyd Casey Stadium)?
  10. Who coined Baylor’s motto, Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana?
Yell Leaders at Baylor (Floyd Casey) Stadium, circa 1970
The female yell leaders in this 1970s photo were not the first.
Vivienne Malone-Mayes in the classroom, undated
Vivienne Malone-Mayes in the classroom, undated

Answers

  1. Weta Timmons was elected a yell leader in 1923 and is heartily commended for her efforts in the Lariat. However, after her term and up to 1968, there were no female yell leaders. The decision to break that gender gap was much debated throughout the 1960s.
  2. a) Bill Daniel Student Center. From 1953 to about 1964, the AFROTC competitive shooting team carried rifles up four flights of stairs to the attic of the Student Union Building and practiced target shooting. Apparently you could hear the shots outside the building (through air vents) but not inside.
  3. An “Indian princess” from the Huaco Indian tribe. When Colonel Joseph Warren Speight owned the property, his daughters found turquoise beads beneath a tree where they were playing. Speight investigated and found the skeleton. According to a Huaco legend, a plague befell the tribe. The chief’s beloved daughter helped nurse the ill but eventually died herself, and the bones are hers. In the 1930s, a marker declaring the grave to be that of “an Indian Princess” was erected on the site but was later removed and then returned in 1988.
  4. Twenty-one years. The building was first conceived in 1933 but wasn’t completed till 1954. It was delayed due to fundraising challenges, including World War II and other building priorities like Baylor Stadium, Armstrong Browning Library, and the Student Union Building. Architectural problems also delayed the project—an overly ambitious initial design, leading to a new architect being engaged and a lawsuit. Check out BU Records: Tidwell Bible Building Campaign Committee at The Texas Collection
  5. True. Enrique Ramirez designed the seal for the building, which was completed in 1939. Ramirez was an art student who did various art and design projects for the university throughout his time at Baylor.
  6. Truett raised $100,000 in two years. Benajah Harvey (B.H.) Carroll, the president of the board of trustees, offered the job of financial agent to Truett, who accepted the position but suffered a bad case of the measles before he could start the job.  After completing the fundraising project, Truett enrolled at Baylor as a student in 1893, and, of course, went on to become a major figure in Texas Baptist history. In 1990, Baylor claimed his name for a future seminary, and in 1994, the first students began classes at George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. Check out the George W. Truett papers at The Texas Collection. We also have many of the books he authored and audio recordings of his sermons.
  7. The School of Commerce and Business Administration, which was founded in 1923 (and now is known as the Hankamer School of Business). Political science and journalism are a few other departments that were housed in the new program but eventually were moved to the College of Arts and Sciences.
  8. Vivienne Malone-Mayes was hired as a mathematics professor at Baylor in 1966—only five years after she had been denied admittance to the school as a graduate student. She was among the first black women in the nation to earn a PhD in mathematics. Check out the Vivenne Malone-Mayes papers at The Texas Collection and her oral memoirs from the Institute for Oral History.
  9. Five. The classes of 1951-1955 celebrated commencement exercises at Baylor Stadium. In 1956, President Eisenhower came to Baylor and gave the commencement address. According to the Lariat, his advisors “much preferred that he speak in a completely enclosed building,” so the venue was moved that year to the (un-air conditioned and thus very warm) Heart O’ Texas Coliseum. Commencement was held there until 1988, when the Ferrell Center was constructed.
  10. Rufus Burleson. When he accepted the presidency of the university in 1851, he included an outline of institutional policies. Number eight on the list was, “The mottoes of Baylor University shall be, “Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana;” “Dulce et Decorum, pro patria Mori.” The Baylor seal still boasts the first motto, which translates to “For Church, For Texas.” The latter quote is attributed to the Roman poet Horace, and roughly translates to, “It is sweet and proper to die for your country.” It fell out of use as an official slogan—really, it’s not clear if it ever was adapted. Check out the Rufus C. Burleson papers at The Texas Collection.

You can read more about these stories and many others in the digitized Lariats, Round-Ups, and press releases, just a few of many Texas Collection items that can be found on the Baylor Digital Collections site. And if you want to investigate even further, drop me a line at The Texas Collection—we have archival records on many of these people and places.

Research Ready: July 2013

Each month, we post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for July:

Wellington children, circa 1888
A few years after Anna Wellington Stoner and her husband, Clinton Stoner, moved to Bullshead, Edwards County in Texas, Clinton died in 1884. In October of the same year, Anna moved her three small children (pictured) back to the Nueces River Canyon and bought 320 acres of land there. This was the beginning of the Stoner Ranch, which has grown to 2,000 acres today.
  • [Waco] Branch Davidians: Bill Pitts papers, 1963-2001, undated: This collection contains materials produced and collected by Bill Pitts, a professor in the Religion Department at Baylor University. The materials primarily cover the Branch Davidians siege of 1993.
  • Benjamin Edwards Green papers, 1840-1865: Green’s papers consist of a postcard, pamphlets, written notes, an unpublished manuscript and other chapter fragments. Among other roles, Green was a lawyer, served as an American diplomat at the Mexican capitol in the early 1840s, and was a secret agent in the West Indies.
  • James Weldon Jones papers, 1917-1919, circa 2010: This collection contains a series of letters sent from Alexander “Tip” Jones to his son, James Weldon Jones, while the latter was serving in the United States Army during World War I.
  • Vivienne Malone-Mayes papers. Inclusive: 1966-1977, undated: Malone-Mayes’ papers consists of correspondence, minutes, reports and other records related to her terms as a member and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for the Heart of Texas Region Mental Health Mental Retardation Center in Waco, Texas. The collection also contains personal materials and coursework Dr. Malone-Mayes assigned in her mathematics courses at Baylor University. She was Baylor’s first black faculty member.
Women and Mathematics / Mathematical Association of America publication, 1976
Vivienne Malone-Mayes was a trailblazer for women, particularly African Americans, in the mathematics profession. In 1966, she became only the fifth African American woman to earn her PhD in that field. After gaining employment at Baylor University, Vivienne did her part in encouraging women to pursue careers in mathematics, including editorial and consultation work with the Mathematical Association of America.
  • Irwin Green and Lillie Worley McGee papers, 1893-1899, undated: The McGee papers consist of notes, assignments, and exams produced by Irwin Green and Lillie Worley while attending Baylor in the 1890s, providing insight into Baylor’s curriculum during this period.
  • Walter Hale McKenzie papers, 1926-1952: The McKenzie papers contain correspondence and board and committee minutes illustrating McKenzie’s relations to prominent Baptists J.G. Hardin, George W. Truett, Pat Neff, and others, and his service to Baylor University, Baylor College for Women, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
  • Wellington-Stoner-McLean family collection, 1833-2007, undated: This collection consists of family documents collected by Margaret Stoner McLean. The collection includes correspondence and postcards, photographs, financial documents, books, personal ledgers, and publications about the family and the Stoner ranch.