The Urban Myth Of Sleeping off Drunkenness at Hermann Square
Frank Mann once recalled, “Hermann owned a lot of land in what is today Hermann park, but back then it was outside of Houston. He sold lumber of the land to Houston, which is how he made a lot of his money. Well, he had woodcutters who would work all week out there cutting wood, and would come to Houston on the weekends to get drunk.”
The woodcutters would stagger up and down West Dallas and Milam Street (Fourth Ward). Then the police would round them up every Saturday night and toss them in jail. But Hermann couldn’t get them out until Monday morning, when he would send a couple of wagons to pick up the hungover crew and haul them back to the woods. He would lose half a day’s work.
“Well, he finally got an idea,” Frank Mann remembers. “He bought this lot, or maybe he already had it. And he sent his foreman into town late each Saturday with them —.”
The foremen would take the drunks over to the lot (now Hermann Square) and just dump them there to sober up. The woodcutter’s would sleep it off every Saturday night, and Hermann could send his wagons in on Sunday. That way his workers were all ready for action bright and early on Monday morning…..
Frank Mann says, “The firm understanding was that vagrants or wayfarers, the homeless, could come to Herman Square and rest without being molested by the authorities. There is also a reversion clause stipulating that if the land is ever used for anything else, it will go back to the Hermann estate.”
When the City of Houston was looking for a site for the City Hall Annex, some architects thought of putting it where the reflecting pond is, but the City Legal Department checked into it and said no because if they put the Annex there, the City would lose the land. They preferred not to have to defend a reverter allegation for alleged violation of the provisions of the Hermann will and be subjected to a lawsuit by the Hermann Estate to sue for recovery of the property because the city has not abided with the intent of the will.
Hind-sight is 20/20
Police forces have always attracted bullies with authoritative personalities who desire to beat senseless anyone who does not quake in their presence. In the past police could get away with brutalizing blacks but not whites. Today white citizens are as likely as racial minorities to be victims of police brutality. Yet, Loitering ordinances have historically been used to discriminate against minorities. Use of the words such as 'loitering' and 'vagrancy' carry that risk. Those words are every bit as dated as ‘Reconstruction’, 'Jim Crow' and 'segregation.' We must guard against laws that promote discrimination more than justice. Loitering ordinances are an outgrowth of vagrancy laws enacted five centuries ago as a rather barbaric means by which the upper classes of England exercised social control over the landless poor.
On the local level, most southern towns and municipalities (like Houston) passed strict vagrancy laws to control the influx of black migrants and homeless people who poured into these rural and urban communities in the years after the Civil War. In Mississippi, for example, whites passed the notorious "Pig Law" of 1876, designed to control vagrant blacks at loose in the community. This law made stealing a pig an act of grand larceny subject to punishment of up to five years in prison. Within two years, the number of convicts in the state penitentiary increased from under three hundred people to over one thousand.
It was this law in Mississippi that turned the convict lease system into a profitable business, whereby convicts were leased to contractors who sub-leased them to planters, railroads, levee contractors, and timber jobbers. Almost all of the convicts in this situation were blacks, including women, and the conditions in the camps were horrible in the extreme. It was not uncommon to have a death rate of blacks in the camps at between 8 to 18 percent.
One additional fact that needs to be underscored, especially as we consider what has been happening in recent years, namely that convict leasing received wide support in the South because of its alleged success in controlling the so-called “black crime problem.” The fact that there was no “black crime problem” is irrelevant, since this was largely an invention and the vast majority of black prisoners had been convicted of rather petty crimes, such as “loitering,” “vagrancy” and “trespassing.”
Convict Lease System: (1880-1948 USA) An arrangement in many southern states, under which prisoners were leased out to planters who used them as convict labor on plantations, in tobacco factories, and in coal mines. Eighty to 90 percent of these prisoners were African Americans.
The Sobering Reality of Houston’s Hermann Square
Again, Loitering ordinances have historically been used to discriminate against minorities. The Fourth Ward was established as one of four wards by the City of Houston in 1839. There's a neighborhood in Houston's Fourth Ward named "Freedmen's Town" with narrow, brick-paved streets, and people still living in shotgun shacks. Shotgun houses were actually an architectural innovation brought to America from Africa via Haiti and New Orleans. The area was the site of Freedman's Town, composed of recently freed slaves. The neighborhood became the center of Houston's African-American community in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The 1,000 freed slaves who settled the community selected the site along the southern edge of the Buffalo Bayou since the land was inexpensive and because White Americans did not want to settle on the land, which was swampy and prone to flooding. The settlers of Freedmen's Town paved the streets with bricks that they hand-made themselves. They provided their own services and utilities. By 1906, the Fourth Ward included much of what is, as of 2008, Downtown and Neartown; at that point the city stopped using the ‘ward’ system.
The parents of George Henry Hermann arrived in the city to seek their fortune in 1838. George was born on August 6, 1843 in a two-story house at Smith and Walker Streets which is the site of Houston City Hall’s Hermann Square. George H. Hermann died on Oct. 21, 1914, and left a fortune of $2.5 million to be handled by a board of trustees who later accused Hermann’s illegitimate son (with Mary Ellen Getchell), George Hermann Getchell, of being a Negro. In 1922, George Hermann Getchell was murdered while suing the board of trustees of the Hermann Hospital estate for $500,000 for slander and defamation after receiving the next to the largest share of his ‘alleged’ father’s fortune estimated at $200,000 then and George Henry Hermann’s gold timepiece. George Hermann Getchell’s newly aquired wealth reverted back to the Hermann Hospital Trust after his death since he did not leave children who could receive the smaller fortune left by his father. George H. Getchell, that illegitimate son who inherited what today would be considered millions is buried in an unmarked grave. Most people are unaware of the history and the significance of these events today.
The close relationship of George Henry Hermann with the Freedmen’s Town area did not engender any specific plans for a “sobering up lot/park”. In the light of day, the so-called “Urban Myth Of Sleeping off Drunkenness at Hermann Square” is errily racist and reminiscent of the “We Buy Ugly Houses” campaign for ‘urban’ renewal or gentrification. Are the people of Freedmen’s Town left to believe that in order to protect a couple of wagon loads of ‘drunken woodsmen’ that a very frugal, intelligent and industrious man like Hermann did not understand the racial underpinnings of his day regarding “loitering”, “vagrancy” and “trespassing” which the predominately normal SOBER African American and other poor members of Freedmen’s Town faced on a daily basis, including George H. Hermann’s mistress/maid Mary (Martha) Ellen and their son George Hermann (Jr) Getchell, his sole heir?
A sensible man like George Henry Hermann would have had specific plans for his “sobering-up” the White Supremacist and racist Houston community that his parents immigrated to but obviously taught their children the otherwise. He assisted others in living, in existing, and in imparting knowledge to others by just allowing for proper ventilation (providing a space for public discussion without the authoritarian constraints of time and space, a means of airing out or examination of public affairs) * by allowing his neighbors to “OCCUPY” his own property on the border of Freedmen’s Town. It is possible that at times the ‘promised land’ for thoses being harassed by corrupted officials might have been found a Hermann Square. Ed Cazares, first senior assistant city attorney, read from the will: “I will and bequeath to the City Of Houston Block 146 on the south side of Buffalo Bayou, the same to be held in trust for the use of the public as a public park or breathing* place and to be known as the “Hermann Square.”
George H. Hermann intended for his Hermann’s Charity Hospital to be built in the Freedmen’s Town Fourth Ward Houston Texas area to serve the poor, indigent and infirm. This act would have had the potential for empowering the citizens of Freedmen’s Town. The Hermann Hospital board of trustees later departed from the intent of the George H. Hermann’s Will and built Hermann Hospital as a for profit hospital on the then outskirts of Houston. In 1925, the city of Houston and Harris County opened Jefferson Davis Hospital I, a jointly funded public hospital named after the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. Less than fifteen years later, a second hospital was built with New Deal funds to replace its overcrowded predecessor. The modern looking Jeff Davis Hospital II served as the city-county hospital from 1938–1963. Jeff Davis Hospital II stood in stark contrast to Houston's prestigious Texas Medical Center located four miles to the south and, for much of its history, it seemed most Houstonians were content to keep it that way.
The Camp Logan Riot
On August 23, 1917, two white policemen arrested a black soldier for interfering with their arrest of a black woman. When a black MP inquired about the soldier's arrest, words were exchanged, and one of the policemen struck the MP. The MP fled and while fleeing, the MP was fired upon. The MP was pursued into an unOCCUPIED house, where he was arrested and brought to police headquarters. Despite a quick and unhindered release, a rumor rapidly reached Camp Logan that the MP had been shot and killed. After several minutes of mounting tension, the rumor mill brought word to camp that the MP was in fact alive but being held unlawfully. After intense debate, a group of soldiers conclude to march onto the police station in Fourth Ward and secure the MP's release. If the police could assault model soldiers like the military police, they reasoned, none of them were safe from abuse. Realizing something foul was afoot, the white officers of the company ordered the collection of all rifles and loose ammunition. During this process, word of an approaching white mob struck fear into the hearts of the men. In a wild scurry to defend themselves, the soldiers rushed into the supply tents, grabbed rifles and ammunition, and then embarked on a two-hour march into the city, hoping to curb the mob. The white officers found it impossible to restore order. Over a 100 armed soldiers marched into the Fourth Ward, where they encountered the mob: members of which consisted of Klansmen and supporters, police officers, and members of Houston's elite white class, who saw armed blacks as a threat to their ruling order. There was an intense exchange of fire, lasting for several minutes, which resulted in the death of many people.
The Camp Logan Riot became historically significant in the United States of America because it is the only riot/uprising where more white people were killed than non-white. The soldiers at Camp Logan had been attacked by the white citizens of Houston. However, over 100 African American men were tried for mutiny and 18 executed by hanging and no one from the white community in Houston was even tried. Similar event around the U.S occurred simultaneously. In Haiti, after their revolution against the French, several European nations were determine to make an example of the people of Haiti by making the people of Haiti suffer by the lack of support and assistance. Haiti is still broken and in recovery even after 200 years of attempting to stand on its own. The history of Freedman's Town, Houston's Fourth Ward shared a fate similar to that of Haiti. For nearly 100 years the Freedmen's Town area has been socio-economically devastated. The Hermann Hospital Trust was required by Hermann’s last Will and Testament specifically to build charity hospital in the Fourth Ward area but corporate greed and corruption took over the trust and development in the Freedmen's Town was by-passed.
1. to take in oxygen from (the surrounding medium, esp air) and give out carbon dioxide; respire
2. (intr) to exist; be alive every animal that breathes on earth
3. (intr) to rest to regain breath, composure, etc. stop your questions, and give me a chance to breathe
4. (intr) (esp of air) to blow lightly the wind breathed through the trees
5. (Engineering / Mechanical Engineering) (intr) Machinery
a. to take in air, esp for combustion the engine breathes through this air filter
b. to equalize the pressure within a container, chamber, etc., with atmospheric pressure the crankcase breathes through this duct
6. (Linguistics / Phonetics & Phonology) (tr) Phonetics to articulate (a speech sound) without vibration of the vocal cords
7. to exhale or emit the dragon breathed fire
8. (tr) to impart; instil to breathe confidence into the actors.
a. To grant a share of; bestow: impart a subtle flavor; impart some advice.
b. To make known; disclose: persuaded to impart the secret.
c. To pass on; transmit: imparts forward motion.]
9. (tr) to speak softly; whisper to breathe words of love
10. (tr) to permit to rest to breathe a horse
11. (Clothing, Personal Arts & Crafts / Textiles) (intr) (of a material) to allow air to pass through so that perspiration can evaporate.
breathe again, freely or easily to feel relief
Ventilate* – To expose to public discussion or examination: The students ventilated their grievances.
1. to drive foul air out of (an enclosed area)
2. to provide with a means of airing
3. to expose (a question, grievance, etc.) to public examination or discussion
Ventilation is what you do when you breathe. When Momma said, "In with the good air and out with the bad air," She was right. Ventilation is when the gases are exchanged in the lungs. In with the Oxygen out with the Carbon Dioxide. Unfortunately, some people, when they breathe, do not ventilate well because of some lung disease. People can go through the act of; breathing but not ventilate. This is called agonal breathing. To sum it all up, a person can breathe, but not ventilate because of dysfunctions. However it is impossible to ventilate without breathing… unless you are on heart lung bypass during open heart surgery.