Sunday, October 25, 2015

Carpetbagging

I first saw the school around 1972. The early 1970's was a time of transition for the area, a time in retrospect, that changed it from what it was to, well, what it later became. The area was given the soaring name "Independence Gardens" originally, and the legal descriptions of the platted property still identify the area under that name. It later became known as "Carverdale" after George Washington Carver, and the school bearing his name was the first and only colored school in the Cypress-Fairbanks (Cy-Fair) Independent School District.

When I first laid eyes on the school in 1972 it had been closed for about 3 years. There was overgrown shrubbery and a general unkempt appearance to the place. I got my glimpse because my father purchased 2 acres of land adjacent to the school. I remember thinking to myself that we must be the only white landowners in the area, sort of modern day carpetbaggers. This was, as it turned out, not terribly far from the truth. We were part of the beginning of an end when we bought land my father said was an investment.


I attended a suburban all white junior high school when I first glimpsed the school. I naively had no idea why it was empty, so I asked my father. "It's the old colored school for Cy-Fair" was his straightforward reply. Although aware of the changing world around me, the sight of an abandoned school building, in appearance like the bustling school I attended, was a jarring visual that stayed with me. It was like putting eyes on someone of historical importance. You know beforehand they are significant, but seeing and talking to them makes it resonate.

The school was located on Clara Road, named after Clara Scott, the first teacher at the old colored school, which was originally named the Fairbanks Colored School. The name was changed in the 1950's to mirror the then thriving African American community surrounding it. By 1972, things were changing, with Houston encroaching and younger African Americans moving away.

My father promptly dozed under a dilapidated, abandoned pier and beam home there. The widowed old man across the street, living in his own lopsided shotgun house and being of a certain age and disposition, was not shy about registering his disapproval. His chickens squawked and bellowed at the dozer right along with him. By the time the old man died two decades later, the place next door to him had become a industrial oil and gas company. It turned out the old man had not owned the property, but had squatted there. So be it. The oil and gas operation bought the property, leveling the shotgun house and the chicken coop beside it.

Carverdale was (I guess still is) bounded roughly by Clay Road to the south, Hempstead Road to the north, Campbell Road to the east and Brittmore Road to the west. The Sam Houston Parkway now dissects what is left of the community. In the 1950's and 60's it was home for many people providing domestic help to white families living in nearby Spring Branch, then on the outskirts of Houston. Spring Branch was originally settled by German immigrants who had, in typical staid German fashion, named their streets after themselves: Neuens, Maux, Peer and my favorite, a street with a first and last name, Conrad Sauer.

Carverdale, on the other hand, had exotic street names: Algiers, Bamboo, and Morocco.

These are the things my 12 year old self noticed.

The old colored school was later leased by Cy-Fair ISD to Houston Community College (HCC) as a campus. My sister, brother and I all took classes there. It gave us a sense of satisfaction to know the history of the structure where we were taking college credit courses. HCC stopped using the campus in the late 1990s.

Eventually Cy-Fair ISD sold the land which the once proud Carverdale Cobras called home. It is now a industrial park. Seems a shame. Like much of the segregated past we would just as soon not talk much about, the school and community has for the most part passed into history.

Not long after the sale of the school property, and some 40 years after buying the 2 acres beside it, my family sold our investment property. Before, it had once been a home next to a school, with a man and his wife squatting on land with a chicken coop across the street. By the time it sold, the property had become something much colder and indifferent: Commercial property adjacent to a industrial park.

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