Happy Black History Month!

Galveston has so many layers of history. I mentioned awhile back that we’ve pulled together a committee that has been working on some really cool stuff related to African American beach use in Galveston and the history of the African American beach lifeguards that protected it, chaired by David Mitchell. David works for the Jesse Tree Non-profit and is also employed by the Beach Patrol to provide Ecumenical Support, Community Outreach, and serves as our Volunteer Coordinator.

The Beach Patrol, NIA Cultural Center, Old Central Cultural Center, Visit Galveston, The Historical Foundation, The Park Board of Trustees, Galveston Lifeguarding Inc., and others have been working on a multi staged project. More people and groups are joining the effort as we move forward. Phase 1 was submission of an application for an “Undertold Story” marker on the seawall, with the help of the County, City, and a myriad of groups that have thrown in support. I’m so pleased to announce that our application for the marker honoring the African American Beach and the black lifeguards that worked it was approved this week! The amazing thing is that for this particular designation the state covers the cost.

Phase two will be a data base that profiles African American Lifeguards and black beach history. We’re looking for families and friends who can record stories of these heroes. So far, we have information on a number of lifeguards that worked that beach including James “Jim” Helton, Waverly Guidry, Leroy Green, Jr. Lynn Stephens, John Ned Rose, Willie Diggs, Oliver O’Conner. We’re hoping to get oral histories from family members on them and on others, so if you or anyone you know would be interesting in recording you or your family’s experience with an African American guard, please contact Alex Thomas at athomas@visitgalveston.com or 409-797-5155. We see the data base as a sort of living project. We hope to use grant money to bring on a researcher who will add historical documents to the oral histories and possibly structure an evolving and growing body of work.

Phase three will be a large, sculptural monument to these lifeguards. The idea is that there will be a way to point your phone at either the marker or the monument and access the data base, and this will be part of a larger cultural tour of the island. We’re thinking about a representation of an African American lifeguard that is an amalgamation of the lifeguards that worked that and another African American beach that existed at the western end of the seawall. We envision that soon we’ll send out a request for qualifications for artists. A committee will revies the artists and pick the three that are closest to the type of work we’re looking for. Then those three will be given a stipend to develop a small mockup of the sculpture. The group will pick one of these, and that artist will be commissioned to create the final version.