Black History Month: KPRC 2′s Black reporters share untold stories of Houston in 1972

Watch the full special below

‘Unusual’

HOUSTON – That was the term to describe a first-of-its-kind broadcast here at KPRC 2 back in 1972 when four Black journalists took to the airwaves to share the raw, uncut experience they had while living in Houston.

The trailblazers, Elsa Y. Ransom, Napoleon Johnson, Alvin Herbert, and Charles Scott covered the news in the mid to late 1900′s when times were quite different than they are today.

At the start of the special entitled Going Through Changes, KPRC 2 News Director Ray Miller was joined by Bob Lanier of the Main Bank, who later became the mayor of Houston. Lanier decided it would be beneficial for his financial institute to sponsor the special.

“I think it depicts exactly as it was produced, the most dramatic movement that’s been made in this country during my lifetime,” Lanier said. “And that is the movement of the Black people of this country toward equality toward a full participatory share of our democracy.”

The four journalists were all Houston natives who were in their late 20s, early 30s.

Miller told viewers that the only editorial direction given to them was that they should produce their perspective of the Black community in Houston.

Elsa Y. Ransom

The first story is told by Elsa Y. Ransom. Ransom was hired at KPRC 2 back in 1970 and worked until 1973 before making a transition to WKYC in Cleveland where she reported from 1973 to 1978. Up until last semester, Ransom was an Associate Professor of Law at Texas Southern University where she taught Torts, Intellectual Property, and a Seminar on Patent Law.

Ransom said when she was about five years old, she started to notice the drinking fountains around grocery stores that were labeled ‘White,’ while the other was labeled ‘Colored’.

Her imagination as a little girl led her to believe that the water in the white fountain was ordinary while the water in the colored fountain was something special like Kool-Aid, she says.

Ransom later told the story of how slavery ended in Houston, and the restrictions city leaders kept on freed Black people immediately following their emancipation.

“Negroes were generally thought of as a threat to civic tranquility,” Ransom said as she described a story of how Black Americans journeyed through slavery and later built their own foundation of freedom.

“Blacks in Texas were emancipated on June 19, 1865. So many freed Negroes came to Houston after emancipation that the town enforced a 9 p.m. curfew to keep them off the streets and threatened to put unemployed Negroes to work without pay. But... nothing could erase their joy of freedom.”

Napoleon Johnson

Napoleon Johnson shared a story from his childhood where he says he was faced with a harsh reality while he and his grandmother were riding from Third Ward into town. A young Napoleon scurried to find a seat while his grandma paid the bus driver their fare. When Napolean’s grandmother began walking the aisle, she couldn’t find her grandson.

He had taken a seat in the front of the bus and faced a quick rebuke from his elder while being told that ‘Black people couldn’t ride in the front of the bus.’

“I didn’t fully understand it at the time,” Johnson said. “I do remember that I didn’t like it.”

Johnson also covered the horrific events at Camp Logan that played out, commonly known as the Houston Race Riot of 1917.

“It was a bloody, chaotic night on Houston’s west side,” Johnson added. The series of events during the riot were well documented by Johnson.

Tragically, by the time Martial Law was declared by the government, it ended with 15 civilians dead, including four policemen. Afterward, Johnson said two mass court hearings were held where 18 Black soldiers received the death penalty. Six of them were able to get their sentences commuted to life in prison, the rest were hanged.

SEE ALSO: Napoleon Johnson: Pioneering journalist returns to KPRC 2, station where his storied career began

Napoleon Johnson/KPRC 2 (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Alvin Herbert

KPRC 2 Reporter Alvin Herbert documented his upbringing in Houston and recalled a particular moment from his teenage years when he said he felt discriminated against.

At the age of 16, Herbert said he worked at a local mechanic shop alongside an older Black man and a young white man. One day, a customer claimed that the employees had damaged his radiator.

The next day, their boss let them know that each one of them would have their next pay docked in order to pay for it. The younger white mechanic told Herbert he had not planned on paying for it.

When their paycheck came, he compared the two, and sure enough, the white man’s pay had not been impacted.

Charles Scott

KPRC 2 photojournalist Charles Scott was the brains behind the camera for most of the segments within the special. Scott is noted in our history books as being the first African American photographer hired in Houston.

Many of the employees who are still at KPRC 2 vividly remember Scott as being a quiet guy but a pleasure to be around.

He retired from his career in film and television in 2013.

Film editor Charles Scott with Napoleon Johnson at KPRC. (KPRC)
KPRC 2 photojournalist Charles Scott (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Other topics covered in the 30-minute special ranged from the lack of proper healthcare in the Black community, the debacle about the result of a heavyweight bout between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries, the Jazz Age in downtown Houston, integrating the Houston Independent School District and many other notable events that made a mark on the Black residents in our community.

As we acknowledge the history of these stories, it is important to note that a number of these individuals are still alive in 2024, which shows us that we are not far removed from these harmful ideologies nor are we away from the people who implemented them. In fact, we as a society are, and will continue, Going Through Changes.


About the Author

Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio, and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.