Texas Family -
An Uncommon Journey To Prosperity
FEATURE by Willard Manus
is not only a remarkable artist but a family chronicler, one who has devoted
much of his life to documenting his African-American origins. Now that
history, which began in slavery and ended up in middle-class distinction
one hundred and fifty years later, has been recalled in MY TEXAS FAMILY--AN
UNCOMMON JOURNEY TO PROSPERITY (Arcadia Publishing).
Rick Hyman's story begins with his great-great-grandfather, Cezar Martin, who was a slave in Virginia and passed on his love of the land and animals to his son, Henderson. As soon as the latter gained his freedom after the Civil War, he joined a wagon-train of Blacks who journeyed to the southwest through rough and dangerous territory (hostile Indians and Whites, blistering heat, meager food and water) before finally settling in central Texas's
Fayette County, part of the Blacklands Prairies Region, where there was an abundance of fertile soil, water and wildlife.
Although the African-American population in Fayette County grew stronger in numbers from 1870 to the turn of the 20th century, "it was an extremely difficult time in all other ways for them," writes Rick Hyman. "It was the nadir. Reconstruction in Texas, immediately following the Civil War, was a time marked by restrictions and violence against African-Americans. Black Codes were enacted by the state legislature to restrict African-Americans' newly won freedoms and, worse, there was a wave of violence of white against black. The violence prompted the U.S. Congress to send the military to Texas and institute a period of military rule. The Black Codes were dropped and violence against African Americans diminished, but it did not stop. Lynching continued in Texas through the l940s and, in fact, was a dominant theme playing out on the landscape while Henderson Martin was establishing himself and his family."
Despite these odds, as Prof. Scarborough notes, the Martin family became property owners and joined the ranks of the middle-class. "This remarkable African-American family owned oil-rich land, bought carriages, automobiles and jewelry, educated its children, and incredibly, for us, documented itself. Rick Hyman's great-aunt picked up the camera and recorded the daily life of her exceptional experience. The photographs show a proud and friendly family who pose with their possessions, not unlike photographs we have from white middle-class families from the same time period, which would later become part of the middle-class fabric of both black and white families, both casual and studio photography."
Many of those vintage photos have been collected and annotated in MY TEXAS FAMILY. Also featured are seventeen full-color paintings by Rick Hyman based on the original snapshots. One of his goals, the artist confides, is to paint all three hundred of the family's vintage photos.
In a foreword, Lou Stovall, Vice Chairman of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, describes Hyman's work thusly: "His paintings are arresting. His straightforward, innocent style captures your interest and invites you to know his subjects. His subjects are familiar, friendly people with clear eyes that are engaging. Set in landscapes and in front of the occasional building, these rural narratives are personal--the artist's own history...Hyman characterizes his work as historical paintings, but that gives us insight only to the source of the inspiration. As with every other storyteller, motivation is the stronger imperative."
Hyman's professional credits also include California landscapes, portraits of jazz greats and contemporary images. For the past two years, he has created the Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival Poster in Los Angeles. Three of his works were recently featured in the musical, "Blues For Central Avenue," which just concluded a successful Hollywood run. A print of My Texas Family was selected by Bill Cosby to grace the main set of his famed TV series.
MY TEXAS FAMILY owes much of its appeal and richness to the extended oral-history interviews the author conducted with his beloved cousin, Mamie Paige White. They form a large part of the book.
MY TEXAS FAMILY can be purchased through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble. com, or by visiting rickhyman.com.