As Black History Month begins, we would like to pay tribute to Mrs. Olivia Mertrice Alfred-Messiah.
She was the second of five beautiful girls born to the late Mrs. Orvis Marvella Cartwright and late Mr. Oliver Alfred. Both of Mrs. Messiah's parents instilled in her and her siblings at an early age the value of obtaining a good education. She and her four siblings were not allowed to bring home any grades lower than a “C.” It was well known that her mother (Mrs. Orvis Marvella) was adamant about education and was always motivating her daughters to make good grades, stay focus and prepare themselves for college. More parents should be like that, motivate and stimulate their children from conception to focus at an early age to get a college education.
Mrs. Messiah often mentioned that she, her siblings and her dear mom were poor, but they always knew that they all were going to college. That is an excellent example, that if you have God in your life, stay focusedd, set goals, work hard and determined to do something with your life, anything is possible and reachable.
Mrs. Messiah graduated from the newly constructed Baytown George Washington Carver High School in May 1948. She was a member of the first senior class to graduate from that historical all-black High School that opened its doors in 1948. She and her sister, Mrs. Minnie Leatrice Alfred graduated from Carver that year. Mrs. Messiah often told the story about after the new Carver High School Plant construction was completed in December 1947, the faculty and students of which she was one of the students, marched from their “outgrown shell” and moved into a modern, well-equipped school building on Jan. 5, 1948.
After graduating from high school, she enrolled in Prairie View A & M College of Texas at the age of 13. She graduated from Prairie View A & M College of Texas in 1952 with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education. After graduating from college, she began teaching classes at Prairie View at the age of 17. She later was employed by the Goose Creek CISD and began teaching at the original Harlem Elementary School, which was located at that time in the all-black community of McNair Station. She truly enjoyed teaching those elementary students who at that period of time were all from the same community she was raised in. She loved witnessing their growth and development. She had so much fun teaching that she didn’t think she should be getting paid for it. Back during that period of time, Black teachers were taught in Black colleges they had to go that extra mile. They knew that they had to do more than just teach.
In 1967, after 14 years of teaching, Mrs. Messiah saw her teaching career come to an abrupt end. This was the same year that George Washington Carver High School in Baytown ceased to be a high school due to integration. Mrs. Messiah was in the process of bringing a dance group on the stage, when part of the ceiling collapsed. Her first instinct was to get the children out of harm’s way, so she tried to cover them with her body, when part of the ceiling fell on her.
Mrs. Messiah suffered severe injuries during this tragedy, including a Cervical Spinal Cord injury and was hospitalized for six months. She was put on disability leave for nearly three years. After much mental and physical pain, Mrs. Messiah was forced to retire from her first love – teaching in 1970.
Mrs. Messiah later attended Lee College in Baytown and took a course in Instructional Swimming, as well as courses leading to a certification in Auto Mechanics. She then turned her attention to Mortuary Science and attended the Commonwealth College of Mortuary Science.
After graduating from the Commonwealth College of Mortuary Science in 1978, in the top 10 percent of her class, Mrs. Messiah opened and operated the Messiah’s Memorial Chapel Funeral Home in Barrett Station. In 1988, she decided to close the funeral home, basically because “it became too much to handle by herself”.
After spending many years of being an educator, volunteer, community leader and activist, Mrs. Messiah made the decision to run for a District 1 seat on the Goose Creek CISD Board of Trustees. On January 1993, the school board held its first election under a single-member voting plan. Mrs. Olivia Mertrice Alfred-Messiah became the first Black female elected to the Goose Creek CISD School Board. I personally attended some of the school board meetings while she was on the board and believe me Mrs. Messiah represented her District well. She had no problem dealing with those who opposed her. She was not a female who a group of men could intimidate. I personally admired the “Spunk” this African American female possessed and how she dealt with adversities.
Being a member of the school board was a heavy responsibility to her. To her it was not prestigious work, it was very rewarding work. She felt at that time, that those were her 18,000 children, no matter what color they were.
Mrs. Messiah retired as a board member in June, 1999 due to health problems and always said her overall experience with the school board was a positive one.
Her desire for the school district was for the parents to get more involved. If that happened, she felt the other things would fall into place. She truly felt that all children can succeed. That was the part of her nightly prayer that all 18,000 of them would succeed. She always felt that when she stopped caring about those children, it was time for her to die, and she said that with tears in her eyes.
Mrs. Messiah like her dear mother, instilled strong values in all of her children. She taught her children that you can be anything that you want to be and do anything that you want to do as long as you work for it. She taught them to love and respect themselves; and with God all things are possible.
Mrs. Messiah has three children, daughter, Mrs. Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah-Jiles (Defender CEO and Publisher), daughter, Miss Clydette Messiah, (Ph.D., Assistant Principal at Hamden High School in Connecticut), who recently retired and relocated to Houston and son, Mr. Clyde “C. J.” Messiah, Jr., (Interim Director, General Services Department, City of Houston). Mrs. Messiah is survived by three sisters, Mrs. Minnie Stringfellow, Dr. L. Jean Perry and Mrs. Shirley Johnson; and was predeceased by her sister, Mrs. Evelyn Forward. She is also survived by four grandsons: Jodie and Clyde Jiles; Clyde J. Messiah III and Justin Sonnier; four nieces and numerous family members and friends. Mrs. Olivia Mertrice Alfred-Messiah was a beloved mother, grandmother, sister, chef, auto mechanic, funeral Home director and mortician, musician, fisherwoman, huntress, traveler, Girl Scout troop leader, art and music teacher, mentor to many of her students, and was an outspoken and forthright woman.
J. Warren Singleton is a local historian and resident of Baytown