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Levi Jordan

I heard it through the Grapevine: Oral Tradition in a Rural African American Community in Brazoria, Texas

by Cheryl Wright

Master's Thesis, University of Houston, 1994 (15)

This site also includes a section on how to do oral histories.

We will put a picture of Cheryl here when she gives us one...

And as with all these participant pages, it is hoped that Cheryl will write her own biography to insert here!

Questions or Comments?
Please let us know!

Cheryl Wright completed her master's degree at the University of Houston in 1974, and since then has been teaching and, with her husband Bruce, raising several children (and, recently, to begin helping to raise one grandchild!). She is now employed as an anthropology instructor and guidance counselor at the University of Houston, Downtown Campus.

In order to obtain material for her thesis, Cheryl conducted interviews with the descendants of the African-American people who lived on the Jordan, Mims, and Stratton Plantations. She wanted to learn more about the African-American community that existed, and still exists, in and around Brazoria, Texas – to find out how people lived and survived both the slavery and post-slavery periods. She discovered an extremely close, vibrant community in which there are strong connections between past and present. People in this community know their histories, and they continue to draw strength from the creative ways that their ancestors learned to survive and flourish.

While the individual people that she interviewed are not named in her thesis, or here (because of their desire for personal privacy) Cheryl was able to mention some of the larger family names in her introduction, to affirm their roles in the history of Brazoria County. Some of these same family names also appear on these web pages in other contexts, and include the Wright, Williams, Hendricks, Johnson, Lee, Holmes, Austin and Higgins families. Sometimes we are able to provide links from things that Cheryl learned to some of the archaeological data – this is usually speculative. However, if family members see this web site, and are willing for their ancestors to be named has having a specific role in the plantation community (such as the person who was the hunter, or the midwife/healer), we would be very grateful.

Here are the sections from Cheryl's thesis included here:

History of Brazoria (a useful overview of the history of the area, and of the various plantations).
Social and Economic Aspects of Life: Birth, Death, and Everything in Between:
Birthing Practices
Medicine and healing
Church life and education
Racial Issues
Burial Practices
Church Histories
A Meeting of Descendants held at the Jordan Plantation in 1994: A Transcript

The customary way of passing on information in the African American community has long been that of oral tradition. This cultural practice dates back to the population's African heritage. The purpose of this study was two-fold. The author collected oral tradition in an attempt to reconstruct the everyday life of a rural, African American community in Brazoria, Texas in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The topics that were discussed included birth practices, kinship, medicine, folktales, church and education, burial practices, racial issues, agriculture and land acquisition, and reciprocity. The second goal of the study was to examine the methodology of oral tradition itself, not only as a means of passing on information, but as a cultural dynamic in the community as well. To accomplish these two goals, the author interviewed 10 African American males and 7 African American females. With the exception of two informants, they all ranged in age from 70-91 years old. Findings of this study indicate that after freedom from slavery, the African Americans of this rural community were socially, politically, and economically isolated from their Anglo counterparts. Because of this, they had to adapt in sometimes drastic ways in order to survive. The informants viewed the church and reciprocity as the main tools which enabled survival. The most significant finding involved the use of oral tradition itself. Because of mass media and high mobility in the younger generations, the oral traditions are not being passed on as they have been in previous generations. This cultural change may warrant an alternative means of preservation of historical material. However, writing the accounts of an oppressed population may present certain ethical problems as well.


Ginny McNeill Raska
Hazel Austin
Dorothy Cotton
Kenneth L. Brown,Ph.D.
Morris Richardson
Julia Mack
Cassie Johnson
Sarah Martin
Carol McDavid
Donna Gregurek
Marci Naquin
Mary Barnes
Mary Lynne Hill
Jorge Garcia-Herreros
Robert Harris
David Bruner
April Hayes
Doreen C. Cooper
Rebecca Barrerra
Cheryl Wright
Kris Brown

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Carol McDavid 1998