Creating Fort Worth’s Forever Families

I met my daughter when she was nine days old.

And we met, not in a sterile hospital maternity ward, but in the bright, cheerfully painted “baby room” at the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, Texas. Many long years my husband and I had waited to hold a child, and now she had arrived just as we were about to despair. Of Hispanic heritage and weighing less than six pounds, she was a tiny bundle of flailing arms and a mop of thick black hair.

By that time, I already knew something of the Gladney Center’s namesake, Edna Browning Jones (Kahly) Gladney (1886-1961), for I had written about her in one of my first books, a history of Grayson County, Texas, where she started her career in social work.

Always interested in child welfare, Edna, in 1927, volunteered to temporarily take charge of a failing, bankrupt, forty-year-old Fort Worth adoption agency. She was still there more than three decades later.

Only a few family members knew that Edna shared a then-shameful secret with many of the thousands of children who passed through the doors over those decades: she was illegitimate, the daughter of an unwed girl barely seventeen years old.

But unlike the many thousands of birth mothers who also came under her loving care, she could not have children herself.

She fought for the rights of them all, helping to secure the first birth certificates in the Southwest which no longer cruelly but legally branded children as born out of wedlock. She campaigned for full inheritance rights for them and battled grey and black market adoptions. For her birth mothers and in memory of her own mother, Edna Gladney helped change public perception of them as “scarlet women,” too stupid or too immoral to know better than to break society’s sanctions.

Her work brought her many honors and two movies based on her life, including 1941’s Blossoms in the Dust, starring Greer Garson.

As my daughter grew, I became increasingly fascinated with and devoted to telling Edna’s real story. Meeting her family opened new doors of understanding through family photos, stories, and papers. I traveled to her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and to many sites in Texas and studied the history of adoption. The result was History Press’ 2014 book, Adoption Activist Edna Gladney: A Life & Legacy of Love. (I also wrote about Edna in 2015’s Texas Women First.)

Today the Gladney Center for Adoption continues Edna’s work in new directions. There is a strong emphasis on finding “forever families” for Texas’ foster children, while the international adoption department focuses on China, Colombia, and Taiwan. Birth mothers are helped to create their own “bright futures.” Adoptees such as my daughter raise funds and travel to orphanages in other countries to bring light and cheer and hope where they are so badly needed.

This year Gladney celebrates 130 years of helping more than 33,000 children find the warmth of a loving family.

Written by Sherrie S McLeRoy, Author of Texas Adoption Activist Edna Gladney


The Bayou City Cruiser

How could a history of a cruiser, even one named for Houston, be part of local Houston history? US cities have had US Navy warships named after them almost as long as there has been a United States Navy, from the frigate Boston in 1799 through the newly commissioning littoral combat ship Little Rock. Yet no city has had as intense a relationship with a namesake ship as the city of Houston did with the first cruiser Houston.

It was the first warship named for the city of Houston, but it was not the first US Navy vessel named for Houston. The German freighter Leibenfels was trapped in the United States when World War I started. When the US entered the war, it was seized. Commissioned as Houston, it served as a fleet auxiliary during World War I, and was sold in 1922.

That ship failed to project the image Houston desired. In the 1920s, Houston was at the start of a boom that ran for the rest of the century. It would double in size during that decade, growing to nearly 250,000 people by the end of the decade. Houston wanted a naval ship named for the city which fit the city’s reputation – fast and powerful.

A model of the Cruiser Houston in the Houston Room of the Houston-Maritime Museum (Willam Lardas)

When the Navy announced plans to build a new series of cruisers –named for cities – Houston decided one of them would be the perfect ship to bear the city’s name.

Texan Persistence Pays Off

Texans are not known for their retiring nature, especially Houstonians. Rather than chance the Navy’s naming the cruiser for a less deserving city, Houstonians lobbied the Navy to name one of the six new cruisers for the Bayou City. Everyone from Texas’s governor to Houston schoolkids wrote in. On September 1, 1927, after a nine-month siege, the Navy surrendered, announcing the fifth Northampton-class cruiser would be named Houston.

The ship was a beauty when completed. It had an extended forecastle so it could serve as a flagship, and space for extra officers’ cabins. The extended forecastle, a clipper bow, and clean superstructure arrangement yielded lines which pleased the eye.

The ship was launched at the peak of the Roaring Twenties, but by the time it was commissioned, the nation was in the grip of the Great Depression. To Houston, its cruiser was a reminder of the good days when it was launched.

The Cruiser Houston in the Port of Houston Turning Basin, 1930 (US Navy Heritage and History Command)

When the Houston visited the city for which it was named for the first time, the city went wild. Over 100,000 visitors toured the ship when it anchored in the Port of Houston Turning Basin in October 1930. The city also presented its cruiser with a silver service.

It was the first of an ever-growing list of gifts showered on the cruiser Houston by the city of Houston. Houston would only visit its namesake three more times during its brief life, but the city treated the ship like a beloved yet far-off son. Houston received everything from Christmas fruitcakes to a piano from the city over the next decade.

A Source of Pride

Houston had reasons to be proud of its cruiser. Houston served as flagship of the Asiatic Fleet twice. It served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s flagship on four occasions. The President spent extended “inspection tours” (actually vacations) aboard Houston in the 1930s.

President Roosevelt Dining Aboard USS Houston in 1939 (US Navy Heritage and History Command)

Houston was on its second tour as Asiatic Fleet flagship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, plunging the United States into World War II. Stationed in the Philippines, Houston led an outnumbered and outgunned collection of US warships against the powerful Imperial Japanese Navy.

For three months Houstonians followed the exploits of Houston as the cruiser battled against overwhelming odds. Then, after the disastrous Allied loss at the Battle of the Java Sea, Houston disappeared. It survived the battle, but failed to arrive at Australia after being ordered out of the Java Sea. For three months after it last radioed Australia, Houston was missing, presumed lost. Not until July did Japan notify the world it sank Houston during a midnight battle on March 1, 1942.

A Worthy Replacement

The city’s connection with its namesake cruiser was never clearer than after the cruiser’s disappearance. Houston held a recruiting drive to replace the 1000-man crew lost with the ship. During the 60 day enlistment drive, 1650 men from Houston volunteered for the Navy. The first 1,000 to sign up were honored as the Houston Volunteers, participating in a swearing-in ceremony conducted by Rear-Admiral William Glassford, the last man who used Houston as a flagship.

Houston volunteers recruiting poster (Author Collection)

The city sponsored a war bond drive to pay to replace the lost ship with a new cruiser. The drive raised enough money to pay for a new light cruiser named Houston, and to pay for an aircraft carrier. The aircraft carrier, named San Jacinto (for a Texas Revolution battle fought just east of Houston) was a light carrier, built on a cruiser hull.

Both ships fought with distinction against Japan during World War II. One pilot in San Jacinto’s carrier group was a young man from Connecticut who moved to Texas after the war, where he later entered politics. Eventually he became the country’s 41st President: George H. W. Bush. He lives in Houston today.

Nor did Houston forget the first cruiser Houston after World War II. The University of Houston became the home of a major collection of artifact and archives from USS Houston. It has everything from a collection of the cruiser’s newsletter (The Bluebonnet) to photographs and memorabilia contributed by Houston survivors and their families. It also has Houston’s first bell on display.

The Houston monument (William Lardas)

In 1998 the USS Houston Monument was erected in Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston. A granite obelisk, it is topped with the brass bell aboard Houston when it sank at the Battle of Sunda Strait on March 1, 1942. A memorial service for those who died aboard Houston is held annually there.

Seventy-five years after it sank, the Bayou City still remembers the cruiser Houston. Find out more about this love affair in The Cruiser Houston.

Learn More: Buy the Book!

This post was written by author Mark Lardas for The Cruiser Houston (Arcadia Publishing)

​The Enduring Legacy of Juneteenth: Life After Emancipation

We all observe Martin Luther King Jr., Day and express our gratitude for Dr. King’s incredible accomplishments with a day of service. We also recognize Black History Month as a great opportunity to celebrate the monumental accomplishments of African American leaders, activists and visionaries. However, few people think about Juneteenth as a day to commemorate.

Also referred to as Freedom Day or Juneteenth Independence Day, Juneteenth commemorates the events of June 19, 1865. On that joyous day, federal authorities announced the abolition of slavery in Texas. Additionally, it freed any remaining African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.

In other words, while Juneteenth is one of the most important African American holidays that everyone should celebrate, it remains an unknown date to many people. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the lasting legacy of Juneteenth, as well as explore some ways you can honor the occasion this year.

A Closer Look at the Emancipation Proclamation

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. On paper, the proclamation issued a warning to the rebelling Confederate states, which they chose to ignore. If those states did not cease their rebellion and come back to the Union by January 1, 1863, the president asserted that he would declare all of their slaves’ free forever.

It’s a common misconception that the Emancipation Proclamation marked the end of slavery in America. The Confederate States simply rejected the order, resolving to change nothing. The proclamation also technically did not apply to slave-holding states that had not rebelled against the Union.

It took the entire Civil War to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and end slavery in America. The 13thAmendment to the United States Constitution formally outlawed slavery on January 31, 1865, more than two years after the presidential command.

Emancipation Art

The Importance of Juneteenth

If the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in January, 1865, then how does Juneteenth fit into the story?
These days, news can travel around the world in a mere instant, but that wasn’t the case back in the 1860’s. Communication had its challenges, but the biggest obstacle to freedom depended on having enough Union soldiers to enforce the new law in the South.

Additionally, there was a mass migration of slave owners fleeing their homes with their slaves in tow, and that only made the situation tougher to resolve. After the Union troops scored victories at Vicksburg and New Orleans, some slave owners from Mississippi and Louisiana fled to the interior of Texas. Their new location kept them isolated from any real news of the war, even after it reached its conclusion.

After the war ended, rumors of freedom naturally began to circulate, but little had changed for enslaved people in Texas. On June 19th, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3 that specifically stated that all slaves in Texas were declared free people by executive order.

 When the last slaves finally learned they were guaranteed “absolute equality of rights,” reactions varied from shock to jubilation. The rest is history!

Who Celebrates Juneteenth and Why?

Although Texas is the only state that recognizes Juneteenth as a state holiday, more than 200 different cities across the United States celebrate the occasion. In some communities, the holiday holds special significance, especially in Texas. The descendants of the Galveston freed slaves often dedicate the day to prayer and family gatherings to practice their gratitude for a better life.

Juneteenth also remains an important day to African Americans everywhere. It symbolizes freedom, the day that human strength and spirit finally achieved victory over cruelty and oppression.

Today, its anniversary remains a powerful reminder of how endurance, resistance and perseverance can really change the world. This June 19th, consider celebrating by:

  • Reading up on African American history, culture and achievements, both on a national level and a local one
  • Teaching your children about Juneteenth and its significance
  • Planning an outdoor picnic or preparing a celebratory meal consisting of traditional foods
  • Rallying local organizations, businesses and establishments to collaborate on sponsoring a community celebration everyone can enjoy
  • Spending some personal time reflecting on what the concept of freedom means to you
  • Telling your social circle all about Juneteenth and how important it is

As you can see, there are a lot of different ways you can honor the spirit of Juneteenth this year. Don’t be afraid to be creative and really honor the day!