In celebration of Black History Month, the City of Baytown is highlighting several people who have made an impact on our community or have made an impact in other ways. We are also recognizing an important school to Baytown.
Carver High School-
George Washington Carver High School was located in the Oak Addition near Carver Street and Lee Drive. The grade school was originally called Goose Creek School for Coloreds in 1921. Six years later it became the only high school to ever serve Baytown’s black community.
Ernest Alvin Archia was the first principal of Carver High School. He was the driving force in growing the small school from nine teachers, that only taught up to ninth grade, to a school of 24 teachers with the full 12 grades. The high school would remain open until 1967 due to the end of desegregation. The school reverted back to an elementary school until 1995, when an old oil storage pit was found at the school. The old school was demolished and a new Carver Elementary was constructed nearby.
In 2011, more than 80 years after it was established, the high school was recognized with a Texas Historical Marker, the first one in Baytown recognizing the heritage of African Americans in the city.
Victoria T. Walker-
Elected as the teacher at the Cedar Bayou Colored Elementary School in 1927. After a brief hiatus to continue her college education, she returned as the school’s teacher in 1933 and remained there for 31 years. Ms. Walker organized a small band, choir, tonette chorus, a basketball team, and held annual graduation ceremonies for the older students of the small school. She was a brilliant educator who argued against societal norms in the educational system to make sure her students had a well-rounded education.
Alfred F. Fonteneau-
American Diplomat and former Ambassador to Bahrain, Alfred F. Fonteneau is a proud Texan even though most of his life has been spent in other parts of the world. He was born in nearby Highlands but spent a lot of time in Baytown and is a proud 1963 graduate of George Washington Carver High School. After studying history and foreign language at Texas Southern University, Alfred wanted to explore the world. He completed his graduate studies at Sorbonne University in Paris, France and Sussex University in Sussex, England before receiving his Doctoral degree from the University of Senegal in West Africa.
After his studies, Alfred served our country as a medic in Vietnam and received a Bronze Star for his contributions. He joined the State Department in 1980, serving on three continents. He retired in 2011 after 31 years of service but was asked to do diplomatic work for the Department of State in Bahrain. He has received awards and honors from three presidents. Alfred was also honored by three Secretaries of State and has received a Certificate of Recognition from the U.S. Secretary of Defense. He was also a Buffalo Soldier of the 1st Squadron, 10th United States Calvary and was recognized for his efforts in leading the Regional Embassy Office in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Alfred still lives in Baytown and makes several trips a year to Washington, D.C.
Gene Washington is a 1963 graduate of Carver High School. He was born in La Porte, but spent most of his time in Baytown because there was not an African American school there. Gene flashed his speed as a three-time, All-State Wide Receiver and Quarterback for Carver. He also played basketball and ran for the track team. After high school, he went to Michigan State University to play football and run track. He won two National Championships with the Spartans football team. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Gene was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1967 NFL draft and was part of the 1969 championship team. Gene has been selected as one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings players. After football, he worked for the 3M Corporation and retired in 2010 after working for the company for 22 years.
Joe Tex was born Joseph Arrington Jr. in Rogers, Texas in 1935. Soon after, he would move to Baytown. Joe was a 1955 graduate of Carver High School. He played saxophone there and sang in the choir. Joe would enter several talent shows, and won an important contest in Houston, sending him to New York City. He would appear in the Apollo Theater, winning four times, where he was discovered by King Records. He made a promise to his mother that he would graduate high school first, before he was signed to a contract. He would go on tour and open for Jackie Wilson, James Brown, and Little Richard. Joe would have a rivalry with James Brown during the mid-1950s. Joe would go on to have four million-selling hits and was nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame six times, most recently in 2017. His last public appearance was in 1981 as part of the Soul Clan. Several artists have recognized Joe’s work, and have covered some of his big hits.
Houston Fontenot Jr.-
Houston Fontenot Jr. was born in Louisiana, but moved to Baytown as a child. He graduated from Carver High School in 1957 and then went to Prairie View A&M to get a degree in mechanical engineering. Fontenot left Texas to become an accomplished engineer with Lockheed and Boeing-Rockwell International. Houston was instrumental in the design of the B-1 Lancer Bomber and B-1B Bomber. He also designed the doors of the L-1011 airplane and did work on some of the space shuttles. Houston retired from Boeing in 1999 but didn’t commit to the relaxed life. He went on to become a real estate investor, mortgage broker, and an income tax preparer.
Romany Malco is an actor, rapper, and music producer with ties to our community. He was born in Brooklyn, but moved to Baytown when he was young. He attended Sterling High School and began his music career after graduation. Malco hit the charts with the single “Victim of the Ghetto” and is also credited for writing the rap for the “Opposites Attract” duo with Paula Abdul. Romany was working as a music producer on the movie The Pest when actor John Leguizamo told him to pursue acting. He has been in movies like Blades of Glory, The Love Guru, and Baby Mama. He currently plays Rome Howard on the ABC hit show A Million Little Things.
Henrietta Bell Wells-
Henrietta was born on the banks of Buffalo Bayou in 1912, but spent a lot of time in Baytown. She is known for being the first female member of the debate team at the historically black Wiley College. While she was on the team, they beat historic colleges such as Tuskegee University and Howard University. The team made history by participating in the first college debate between white and black students in 1930 at the University of Michigan. Sadly, Henrietta was only on the team for a year because she needed to work in order to continue to pay for her education. The character Samantha Booke in the movie The Great Debaters was reportedly based on Henrietta. In fact, she told Denzel Washington that he had to play her team’s coach in the movie. Henrietta would marry Reverend Wallace Wells and went on to be a social worker and teacher. She passed away in Baytown back in 2008 at the age of 95.