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HISTORICAL HOUSTON:
The Third Ward’s Thelma Scott Bryant


Photos and captions provided courtesy of Houston History magazine (houstonhistorymagazine.org).
The original article about Thelma Scott Bryant is archived here in the Fall 2003 issue.

The Third Ward is home to Texas Southern University, Project Row Houses, Jack Yates High School, and many celebrities both local and national. Summer freedom celebrations conjure memories of another Third Ward resident, not well-known but still a revered figure in Houston’s African American community.

Thelma Scott Bryant (1905–2008) was a wife, author, historian, teacher and pianist, born Olga Thelma Scott on Sept. 26, 1905, in Third Ward, only child of Ella and Walter Scott. Ella Scott, the daughter of slaves, was a full-time wife and mother. Walter Scott worked in a tobacco shop initially. Later, he followed in his father’s footsteps to become a mail carrier.

Encouraged by the example of her paternal uncle, Emmett J. Scott (advisor to Booker T. Washington and member of Woodrow Wilson’s administration), Thelma studied hard in school. After graduating from the Colored High School in 1922 (later Booker T. Washington High School), she earned a biology degree from Howard University and in 1928 joined the Phillis Wheatley High School faculty. As a teacher, Thelma enjoyed socializing in the Cinderellas, a women’s group that hosted monthly card games, big dinner spreads, and a yearly dance at the Pilgrim Auditorium.

In April 1929, a friend introduced Thelma to Ira B. Bryant, who had graduated from Fisk University and planned to pursue both master’s and doctoral degrees. He wrote a number of books, including biographies on Andrew Young and Barbara Jordan.

Thelma and Ira married in 1932 and settled into their hectic teaching lives. Each morning, they rushed to the streetcar line, rode downtown and changed lines to reach Phillis Wheatley in Fifth Ward, where Thelma taught biology and Ira taught social science. They attended dances and participated in school activities, but they lived within their limited budget and the humiliations of segregation. Once, Ira refused to sit in a segregated theatre to enjoy Porgy and Bess at the Music Hall. Less willing to sacrifice, Thelma attended with her husband’s aunt.

According to Thelma, marrying Ira was her life’s real beginning. Thelma joined Ira in his community activism, but she did more than follow her husband; she sat on the YWCA Board, volunteered with the Lighthouse for the Blind and the Florence Crittenden Home, and developed an interest in the Houston Chapter of the Association for the Study of Afro­ American Life and History.

Thelma never had children; Ira’s research became their offspring. After he passed in 1989, Thelma began to cull her recollections of Third Ward preserved in her encyclopedic memory. Her stories of Houston’s black community became a valued resource for her church, Texas Southern University, out-of-town visitors and school children. In 1993, her monograph, Pioneer Families of Houston, won a Good Brick Award.

As a matriarch of Third Ward, Thelma received daily visits from students she had taught in school (and their children). She remained in her house until blindness demanded that one of “her children” move her to a nursing home where she continued to receive visitors until she died in September 2008, at the age of 102.

 

Author Dr. Teresa (Terry) Tomkins-Walsh is historian and archivist for the Houston History Archives with the Center for Public History at the University of Houston. Located in Special Collections at the UH Libraries, the Houston History Archives collects historical documents on the growth and development of Houston with particular concentrations in energy, environmental and ethnic history. Contact her at tomkinswalsh@uh.edu.

Photos and captions provided courtesy of Houston History magazine (houstonhistorymagazine.org).

The original article about Thelma Scott Bryant is archived here in the Fall 2003 issue.

 

 

(L-R) Marie Wood, Thelma Scott, Lela Brock and Ida Belle Donnally dressed for Promotion Day, the last day of the school year, on the steps of Old Colored High School in 1921.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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