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Drusilla Dunjee Houston

Educator and journalist Drusilla Dunjee Houston, born June 20, 1876, in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, was the daughter of Rev. John William Dunjee and Lydia Ann Taylor Dunjee. Of her nine siblings, only Roscoe, Irving, Blanche, and Ella lived to adulthood. Most well known of them were Roscoe Dunjee, political activist and owner-editor of the African American newspaper the Black Dispatch (Oklahoma City), and Irving Dunjee, managing editor of the Chicago Enterprise and editor of The Negro Champion (New York City). The Dunjee family came to Oklahoma in 1892.

Although from a wealthy family, Drusilla Dunjee never attended college; however, she attended finishing schools in the North. Despite plans to be a concert pianist, she gave up the stage to teach. In 1892-99 she was employed as a kindergarten teacher in Oklahoma City and was one of the first elementary school teachers in the district. Houston devoted her early years to education. Dissatisfied with public education's offerings for black girls and women, she started her own schools. In 1898, at twenty-two, Houston eloped and married Price Houston. The couple settled in McAlester, in Indian Territory, where Drusilla soon opened McAlester Seminary for Girls, which she operated for twelve years. In 1917 she went to Sapulpa, Oklahoma, as principal of the Oklahoma Baptist College for Girls, where she remained until 1923. On her return to Oklahoma City she started the Oklahoma Vocational Institute of Fine Arts and Crafts. After 1934 she served as religious director of the Oklahoma Home for Delinquent Boys.

Houston's historical significance lies in her contributions to historical writing and to journalism. The earliest African American woman to write a multivolume study of ancient Africa, she is best known for her classic American historical text, Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empires. Written over a twenty-five-year period, the book was published in 1926 and reprinted in 1986. Wonderful Ethiopians was written to correct distortions in the historical record of ancient African people and their descendants worldwide. In a sense, she anticipated the Negritude movement, early Pan-Africanism, and the Black Studies and African American Studies movements.

While conducting her historical research, Houston also wrote lengthy editorials on a wide range of subjects for her brother Roscoe's newspaper, the Black Dispatch, a crusading voice for civil rights. Her journalistic career began in 1917 with editorials written for the Bookertee Searchlight, an earlier paper owned by Roscoe. Much later, she wrote for the Arizona Journal and Guide after she moved to Arizona for health reasons in 1935. Houston received nationwide recognition for her editorial work after 1925 as a syndicated writer with the Associated Negro Press (ANP). A few years after syndication of her articles, ANP director Claude Barnette appointed her as director of research, a position she maintained until 1939 when she became too ill to write.

Throughout most of her years of journalism and church work, Houston also stayed involved in the social activities of that time. For instance, she was a founder of the Oklahoma YWCA, the Red Cross, and the NAACP. She was also a long-time active member of the Federated Colored Women's Clubs and worked hard to support African American youth programs. She assisted in founding the Dogan Reading Room of Oklahoma and served as the group's president.

The Association of Black Women Historians and Black Classic Press honored her accomplishments by cooperatively establishing the Drusilla Dunjee Houston Memorial Scholarship Award. Although known primarily for her work as an historian, Houston was a writer of poems, many of which survive. She was also an elegist, writing The Maddened Mob, an epic poem depicting the horrors of lynching.

Houston had two children, Florence and another unnamed daughter who died earlier. Price Houston died in 1931. Like her mother, Drusilla suffered for years from tuberculosis. Drusilla Dunjee Houston died in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 8, 1941. True to her deep faith, her gravestone reads To Die Is To Gain.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bob Burke and Angela Munson, Roscoe Dunjee, Champion of Civil Rights (Edmond: University of Central Oklahoma Press, 1998). Drusilla Dunjee Houston, Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire (Oklahoma City: Universal Publishing Company, 1926).

Peggy Brooks-Bertram

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