September 27, 2023

Living Legend: Patricia Smith Prather

Ms. Prather became the consultant to the Houston Public Library’s African American Library at the Gregory School in February 2009. Her duties included assisting with collection and archive development, along with donation obtainment. She collected photographs and artifacts for the Gregory School’s exhibits, as well as papers, letters, and other documents for the archives. She contacted Houston and Harris County families to request they donate family papers and memorabilia to the archives for use by scholars and others researching Houston area African American history. She also helped create the timeline, images and text for the Freedmen’s Town section of the exhibit, the Gregory School history timeline, and the 14 window scrims.

As a child growing up in Houston’s Fifth Ward, Patricia Smith Prather often wondered why the achievements of black Texans were conspicuously absent from her history books at school.

There might be a mention or two of George Washington Carver whose inventions revolutionized agriculture, Sojourner Truth and her lifelong fight for equality or Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that liberated more than 300 slaves. No matter how hard she tried, Prather said she was hard-pressed to find much information about the contributions of blacks throughout Texas and the Southwest. “In the Greater Houston area, about 25 percent are African-American and about 27 percent are Hispanic,” said Prather, a native of Houston’s Fifth Ward. “Clearly, when you pick up the newspapers and history books, you don’t get a picture of the culture of 50 percent of the population. “And we do have a history and a culture.”

Prather’s early interest in African-American history has evolved into a full-time job as co-founder and executive director of The Texas Trailblazer Preservation Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of blacks in Texas history. She’s written more than 100 articles about black Texas leaders that have appeared in a myriad of state and national publications. She’s also co-author, along with Jane Clements Monday, of From Slave to Statesman: The Legacy of Joshua Houston, Servant to Sam Houston (University of North Texas Press, 1993). Prather has also published the Texas Trailblazer Series, monthly biographies with photographs of Texas pioneers. Since 1992, she’s written 65 biographies, with two more coming off the presses this month.

Recent Trailblazer subjects include Norris Wright Cuney, a Galvestonian who headed the Republican Party of Texas in 1888; Dr. Benjamin Jesse Covington, a Houston physician who co-founded Houston Negro Hospital (now Riverside General), and Julia C. Hester, whose legacy of helping children survives today through a Fifth Ward community center named in her honor.

Prather credits her mother, Hortense, and father, Clifford, with planting the seeds that sprouted her lifelong interest in history. Almost every year, she recalls, the family piled into the car for a trip to Louisiana to see relatives. “My mom wanted to make sure my sister and I knew who our relatives are,” said Prather, who serves on the boards of the Heritage Society and Harris County Historical Commission.

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