Arts & Culture

Hidden Gems In The Courthouse: A Celebration Of Black History Month

In a peculiar petition filed in 1861, Bob Allen, a free black man, sued to become a slave and choose a master.

 

Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel and five black justices commemorated Black History Month at the historic 1910 Courthouse in downtown Houston last week.

Emceed by state District Court Judge Mark Davidson, the ceremony spotlighted the county’s significant African American cases, including the first African American juror to serve in Houston. 

“Whether they’re happy cases, whether they’re very frightening cases based on the time in history, it doesn’t matter,” Daniel said.  “We want people to know these hidden gems that are hidden here at the courthouse in the court records; particularly with Black History Month.”

In preparation for the annual ceremony, Daniel’s staff unearthed cases from the archives for the justices to present. 

Each case is unique and important, sometimes setting a precedent. 

State District Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan recounted the oldest case dating back to 1847, about a free black woman named Emilene.

In a peculiar petition filed in 1861, Bob Allen, a free black man, sued to become a slave and choose a master. 

State District Judge Maria T. Jackson, a direct descendant of Gen. Robert E. Lee, spoke of the criminalization of the KKK for terrorizing blacks in the 1920s. 

In Hainsworth v. Harris County Commissioners Court, an African American lawyer sued the county seeking equal treatment for all lawyers. 

State District Judge Vanessa Gilmore gave an in-depth look into United States v. Clay. Cassius Clay is better known as Muhammad Ali.

Attendees held hands across the room as the district clerk office choir sang “We Shall Overcome” and other spirituals.

Daniel said the public can visit the district clerk’s historic document room to view these and other important historical Harris County cases.

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