George Olympus Burgess, African-American attorney and politician in Houston, was born in Milligan, Brazos County, Texas, to Alfred Burgess and Caroline (Lewis) Burgess, on March 15, 1876. George Burgess married Desdemona (known as “Dessie”) Bryant, from Navasota, Texas, about 1906. The couple had no children.
George and Desdemona Burgess moved to the Houston area in 1913, where George opened a private law practice. In 1915, when the Independence Heights community near Houston had grown to several hundred people, it incorporated and reportedly became the first virtually all-black incorporated community in Texas. Burgess was elected as the first mayor of Independence Heights, and he served in that position until 1919. In November 1928 Independence Heights was unincorporated; late the following year, the area was annexed by the city of Houston.
Burgess continued practicing law in Houston for the rest of his life. For many years, his office was located in the 7400 block of North Main Street. He was a charter member of the Houston Colored Chamber of Commerce (Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce), which was organized in 1935, and he served on the nominating committee to select candidates for its initial board of directors. Burgess did not serve in the military.
Desdemona Burgess was a public school teacher; she died in 1940 at the age of fifty-six. George Burgess died from a heart attack in Houston on January 19, 1950, at seventy-three years of age. He was buried in Paradise Cemetery in Houston.
Burgess Hall in Independence Heights was named for George Burgess and his family. Also, Burgess Elementary School, which opened in the Independence Heights neighborhood in 1962, was named for him; however, the school was closed in 1969, and it became part of Booker T. Washington High School.
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Houston Chronicle, February 13, 2001 (reprint of a January 17, 1915 article); February 19, 2001. Houston Independent School District: Elementary Schools (A-J) (http://www.houstonisd.org/Page/32480; accessed on March 30, 2014. Independence Heights: A Portrait of a Historic Neighborhood (http://indepheights.rice.edu/index.htm), accessed July 22, 2014. Howard Jones, The Red Diary: A Chronological History of Black Americans in Houston and Some Neighboring Harris County Communities—122 Years Later (Austin: Nortex Press, 1991).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Activism and Social Reform
Politics and Government
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Robert J. Duncan,
“Burgess, George Olympus,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
July 29, 2014
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: