Westside Development Center highlights community’s integral part in Port Arthur success

Published 12:20 am Friday, February 2, 2024

Once upon a time Black residents in Port Arthur lived on the west side of Houston Avenue.

Segregation created a barrier keeping Blacks from socializing to the east of that street but also created a thriving, economically self-contained community filled with successful businesses, as well as educational and political leaders deeply rooted in faith.

While this doesn’t take away from the atrocities of racism, it shows the perseverance and determination of a community that rose above and left a mark not only on the city but the nation and world.

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Some of their stories are chronicled in framed posters on the walls at the Westside Development Center at 601 W. Rev. Dr. Ransom Howard St., which is located in the city’s historical West Side.

Walking through the Center this week, Port Arthur Assistant City Manager Albert Thigpen noted the pioneers who helped shape the West Side and beyond.

Dorothy Ingram was a phenomenal principal who was strongly vested in her students, he said.

Ingram accomplished much in her 95 years of life. She was Port Arthur Independent School District’s first African American female elementary school principal, first president of PAISD’s Retired Teachers Association and the first African American officer of the American Association of University Women and much more.

She made education a priority, and children understood they needed to know their purpose and their path.

Thigpen, a proud Abraham Lincoln High School alumnus, spoke of some of his teachers, Mrs. Moss and Mr. West.

The teachers, he said, were able to reach the students, like a village concept.

“They were more than your teachers. They were part of the community. They were vested,” Thigpen said. “There was the thought that I’m not just responsible for my children, I’m responsible for the children of the community.”

That fact flows through the history on the walls of the Center.

There was Freeman’s Drug Store and West End Bakery owned by the Freeman family. There was Loeb’s Bakery, Nelson’s Confectionary and Hollywood Theater. There were pioneers such as Arthur Guidry, who served as a commissioner and city councilman who was integral in assuring the West Side was included in the Urban Renewal Project that was underway in the 1960s.

Amos Evans was a civil rights activist and member of the NAACP for more than 50 years. There is Mack Hannah Sr., who organized the first Black ILA Local No. 440, helped organize the union at Gulf Refining Company and later was a Realtor, where he bought, built and sold modern homes for Black residents. He was involved in many business ventures and political ones.

Thigpen, who began working with the city in 1985, moved up the career ladder while serving as a professor at Lamar State College Port Arthur. He was recently co-chairman of the city’s Quasquicentennial Steering Committee.

Last year marked Port Arthur’s 125th anniversary and the success of the city cannot be noted without noting the contributions of the West Side.

“Port Arthur celebrated its Quasquicentennial – 125th anniversary last year. However, Port Arthur would not have the global presence across such a wide spectrum of industries and professions without the contributions of the Westside community,” he said.

The city is known as an industrial complex, known as a leader in the petrochemical world but it’s also known for the people it has produced, he added. There are people working at NASA, people who are leading in engineering, there are people who are performers.

“It’s amazing the number of people we have that are really impacting the world,” Thigpen said.