cause 95% of metropolitan Houston’s Negroes live within them. Living apart from the rest of the community, the Negroes within their “niggertowns” have developed their own traditions, cultures, mores, and that special overgrowth of indolence and violence which flourishes in any such jungle. And which is foreign to the white. Although more than 75% of the Negroes of Houston were born in Texas, few of their families have roots in the city. The Negro population has risen from 86,000 in Houston in 1940 to nearly 300,000 today. Half have come since the Second World War, from the rural areas of the state, especially East Texas, barely able to read or write. Like immigrants from a backward country, they were bewildered by the city, clannish, and unfamiliar with elementary urban necessities of garbage and waste disposal. Living in the cheapest, most dilapidated areas of the ghettoes, they are even shunned as “country niggers” by the more urbane and sophisticated Negroes of Houston. BY FAR THE most influential of Houston’s Negro neighborhoods is the Third Ward, east of Main, generally extending from. Walker south to Brays Bayou. Most of the most affluent Negroes live in the Third Ward, and it is the site of Texas Southern University and the two Negro newspapers, the Forward Times and the Houston Informer. Here also are Commerce \(subsidized from time to time owned Riverside National Bank and the Standard Savings and Loan Assn., the Negro-oriented radio stations, and the offices of most of the professional Negroes in the city. Most of the city’s Negro businessmen and political and civic leaders make their homes in the Third Ward. The South Central YMCA, a hub of Negro activity, and the headquarters of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, are in the Third Ward. The . Third is also the most crowded of the Negro ghettoes. Dowling, the main street, is lined with ramshackle wooden buildings and hole-in-the-wall beer joints. And off the main drag are the clapboard and tin-roof hovels choking in their closeness, surrounded by gravel streets and open ditches. Of the 4,000 miles of roads in Houston, about 10% are yet unpaved, according to the city public works director, who adds that most of those 400 miles of unpaved streets are in the Negro areas, some of which are the oldest settled parts of Houston. The old Third is literally bursting the invisible walls that so long confined the Negroes. The ghetto is fast spreading to the south and west and now some Negroes of the Third Ward are living in stately old mansions built decades ago by affluent whites, and in sprawling modern ranchstyle houses costing between $20,000 12 The Texas Observer and 550,000. As dynamic as the Third Ward is, the Fourth Ward, west of downtown Houston between Buffalo Bayou and West Gray, is moribund. Cut off by the bayou and its freeways, the downtown area, and the wealthy areas to the south and west, the Fourth Ward is dying. Much of it has been razed for the Cullen Center. Area residents expect other new developments will dispossess them. Though still in existence, the Fourth Ward Civic Club rarely meets. The older activists in the area have left for the Third Ward. The people wallow in indolence in the shacks and the taverns along West Dallas, waiting for real estate syndicates to clear out the area. A middle-aged woman was hanging clothes on the front porch of her Fifth Ward home. She looked down at the dirt street and sniffed the gritty air, shaking her head. Her man had left her, and she was alone, penniless, without work experience, and too proud to be a maid. “I used to live nice in the Third Ward,” she said. “Now I’ve done hit bottom. Comin’ here to the Fifth Ward is hittin’ bottom. Can’t get no lower.” Her voice was drowned out by the freight train running down the middle of the street, not 20 feet from her front door. It stirred the white dust of the gravel. The woman looked at her newly-washed clothes and shrugged. A Sick Boy The bus driver impatiently stomped on the gas pedal, mumbling curses. Through the opened doors of the air-conditioned Dreamliner he felt the blast furnace August heat against his face. He fiddled with the wrinkled transfers and waited while the Negro girl she didn’t seem older than 14 struggled to carry a black skeleton off the bus. The doors hissed closed and the bus wheeled away from the curb trailing a diesel smell, a sickening odor when mixed with the morning heat. The girl felt the burning pavement through the thin soles of her sandals, and she shifted her little brother higher in her arms and made. her way into the cool hospital. The boy was nine and he’d been sick a long time. His mother knew he had to see a doctor, but she had no money. Besides, she had to work and couldn’t wait in line at Ben Taub. So the girl volunteered to take the boy to the hospital’s clinic. She went up to a lady behind a desk in a starched yellow dress that made noises when she moved. “How do I get to someplace where a doctor can see my little brother?” the girl asked. “Pediatric clinic. In the basement . . . elevator.” In the room beneath the hospital more than a hundred people were waiting. Most of them were black, come to see the white doctors. Children climbed on benches, noses running. Or they lay in their mothers’ laps, some squalling, some whimpering, some very quiet. A lady took the girl’s name and said to wait. She waited two hours. Her silent, sick brother shivered in her arms. He had to go to the bathroom, she knew, but she couldn’t take him and he couldn’t go by himself. And everybody was too busy so she didn’t ask. Her brother wet his pants. Someone called her name and she followed a lady in white into a little room. She waited some more. After awhile a man came in. He must have been a doe, tor. He wore a long white coat. Just outside the door of the room he was laughing with another man, like they were telling a joke. The girl didn’t understand. The doctor looked for a long time at her little brpther and asked her a lot of questions. “He don’t eat hardly nothing,” she said. “I don’t think he can swallow the food. He ‘just lays in the bed all the time and when he ain’t sleeping he’s crying. I’m home from school now and I can take care of him, but when I go to school next month there won’t be anybody. Can’t you take him into the hospital?” The girl nodded gravely when the doctor explained: little brother had cancer in his head and maybe in other places in his body. He was going to die, perhaps in six months’ time. She understood that, but she was puzzled when the doctor said he was sorry, but there were no available beds in the hospital for terminal patients. She should take her brother home, and he would give her some medicine for the pain. A FEW DAYS later an efficient but tired young woman in white, from the Visiting Nurse Assn. of Houston rattled on the screen door. Later she carefully made out a report. There were no tears in her eyes as she wrote. She no longer cried about such things. “On August 12,” she wrote, “. . . found a severely dehydrated, emaciated, bedfast child, who could not walk, talk, or move about, lying in a double bed with very dirty linens. . . . This bed was shared by three other people at night. The child was being attended to by [a sister]. The condition of the home was deplorable. The house was littered and infested with roaches and other household pests. No refrigeration or gas was in the home. The food which required cooking was prepared on a hot plate. A styrofoam chest was being used to preserve perishable food; however, there was no ice. “There were several jars of spoiled baby food which the sister said she had been feeding the patient. There was no other edible food found for the other siblings except for beans and rice. . . . The existing conditions were reported to the Harris County Probation Dept. \(which took no can Cancer Society was also contacted The Visiting Nurses ASsn. put on all the pressure it could and on Aug. 19 the child was finally admitted to Ben Taub Hospital. On Sept. 7 he died.
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