Editor’s note: This story is part of a year long series on life in Nacogdoches in 1919.
As racial tension boiled over into violence in East Texas, Nacogdoches residents needed a distraction in July 1919. They found it in the most idyllic summer staples of old-time church revivals and baseball games.
Nacogdoches County got visits from a preacher regarded as the Billy Graham of the early 20th century and a pioneering civil rights leader and African American residents took their mind of recent rioting in Longview by taking in a weekend of America’s pastime as this community continued to make news around the country.
In late July, evangelist Charles Reign Scoville brought his cross-country revival tour to Nacogdoches, where on July 22 the Houston Post reported that “up to date 608 people have confessed conversion.” News stories make no mention of of the location of the revival, though the crowd would have likely been so large that it might have been held outside.
“Dr. Scoville’s protracted meeting will be continued for this week and probably longer if the interest continues,” The Post reported in the same story.
Scoville, a Disciples of Christ preacher, is considered to be one of the most successful mass evangelists of his era. By some estimates he converted more than 200,000 people to Christianity. That’s approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population at the time Scoville was active.
Before stopping in Nacogdoches County, Scoville had finished preaching a lengthy series for the California Christian Endeavor Union in Long Beach where he preached to thousands of people. There’s no crowd estimate for the Nacogdoches revival.
“They feel entitled to the best, so secured the eminent evangelist, who is to conduct the great revival campaign in Deming next September,” the Deming Headlight in New Mexico reported of Scoville’s stop in Nacogdoches.
Born in Ohio in 1869, Scoville dedicated himself to becoming a pastor after attending a revival meeting when he was 22 years old. He preached until 1938 when he died of a heart attack in Garden City, Kansas, while preparing for a revival meeting.
The civil rights leader
July also brought accounts of early civil rights leader W.E. King’s visits to Cushing, Nacogdoches, Center and Lufkin to the pages of his newspaper — The Dallas Express.
King, who was black, toured around the Lone Star State by train, speaking of equality and opportunities while reporting on the success of African American businesses and churches.
He was especially impressed with the congregation of Salam C.M.E. Church in Cushing where parishioners owned a combined 6,000 acres of land. The largest single parcel — 550 acres — belonged to church member Jim Steadman, King reported on July 5. W.M. Armstead and James S. Upshaw both owned 300 acres, with Upshaw also operating a cotton gin, grist mill and shingle mill.
A portion of James S. Upshaw’s land is still in the family.
“He had this cotton gin, shingle mill and grist mill combined all together,” his nephew Marion Upshaw said. “I bought the land that the gin was on and the stone is still there across the road from where I was born.”
Marion Upshaw’s grandmother, Ella Upshaw, is also listed as owning 150 acres. Her husband, Guss Upsahw, died in 1914 and left her the property.
“I’m still puzzled as how he came to owning all that property. He hadn’t been freed that long. He was 9 years old when they freed the slaves in 1865,” Marion Upshaw said of his grandfather.
Also among the lengthy list of names is E.J. Campbell, for whom Nacogdoches’ high school for black students was later named.
“Hooray for Salem Community, Cushing, Texas,” King wrote.
King was invited to speak at the church by the Rev. Alexander Aurelius Brown, but heavy rains and flooded roads prevented the event.
During his visit to Nacogdoches, King wrote, he was escorted to the city’s black-owned business by “the Revs. D.L. Penn, M.T. Waters, L.V. Bouldin and Dr. A.M. Woodson.”
“Among them we found W.H. Porter, Butler Bros. Jno. Davis, H.C. Carpenter, Ben Patton, Jeff Smith, operating stores with commendable success. J.C. Clark and M.B. Metcalf operate barber shops for Colored people, while R.A. Scott, a Colored man, operates his shop for all other except Colored people. Mmes. I.M. Evans and J.A. Price are fashionable dress makers. Carroll Davis is a contracting plasterer; Wallace Jones and N.W. Simmons are contracting builders, Jesse Donegan is a merchant tailor, while his brother Casz Donegan, operates a pool hall and auto-transfer. Mrs. J.E. Ceasar is proprietor of the Ceasar House,” he wrote.
Despite a thriving business community, King found some some occupations lacking and saw opportunity for growth.
“Nacogdoches has no Colored dentist, no Colored undertaker, no Colored drug store. It is a fine location for either or all,” he said.
A weekend of baseball
Poolhall owner Casz Donegan, also loved baseball and was manager of Nacogdoches’ all African American baseball team in 1919.
The city was home to a number off barnstorming baseball teams in the early 20th century, and it was not unusual to see someone — especially a black man —here list is profession on census records as baseball player.
The week of July 19, the Express reported, Donegan “motored to Rusk to witness the game between Rusk and Nacogdoches. Several from Nacogdoches were in the car with him.”
The Rusk team, known as Kennedy’s Black Cats, defeated the Nacogdoches team in two games. Gate receipts were reported at $85 for the weekend.
That’s an astounding amount of money for a segregated baseball game in Deep East Texas, considering most Major League Baseball teams of the era had an average ticket price of 50 cents, and barnstorming team tickets were often 5 or 25 cents. World series tickets that year went for somewhere between $2.20 and $8.60 for the average white fan.
Donegan was born in 1886 in Nacogdoches and married to Dona Procella in 1923, but by 1930 he was married to Bulah Lampkin Domegan.
Records list him as having three children in 1930. Death records show he lost a son, Gaston, to flu in the late 1930s He’s listed as a survivor but drops off the historical record at that point. Another son, Adolphus Donegan, broke the color barrier for the United States Marine Corps during World War II as he trained at Montford Point at Camp LeJune North Carolina.
After the war Adolphus became a plumber and lived in Nacogdoches until his death in 1970. Bulah Donegan lived until 1990.
On July 15, 1919, the Houston Post reported: “Nacogdoches county can boast of having three of the youngest grandfathers of any county in Texas and probably the youngest in the United States of America. Floyd Hardinson of this town and George Sewell and Taylor Laton of Etoile were each grandfathers at the age of 37.”
July 1919 brought both a devastating crash and fire to the Nacogdoches community.
On July 19, 1919, the Associated Press reported: “Lee Wilkerson, city light and water superintendent was probably mortally injured when a southbound passenger train struck a truck in which he and his son were riding. The son was only bruised. Wilkerson was carried on the pilot of the engine for about 200 feet. The truck was hurled through the right of way fence and demolished.”
Wilkerson held on until Aug. 1. He was 47. He’s buried in Oak Grove cemetery.
Trains were used much more often in 1919 than they are a century later, and fatal train-automobile crashes are frequently reported in news of the era. The Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis did not start keeping statistics on train crashes until 1975.
Vehicles being hit by trains have decreased dramatically since 1981, dropping from more than 9,000 then to 2,214 in 2018.
On Independence Day, the home of “H.C. Covington, situated on South Church Street was burned Thursday night. Loss on the building and contents about $2,000, insurance $750,” The Houston Post reported.