James Boston Grigsby, African-American insurance executive and civil rights activist in Houston, was born in Macon, Noxubee County, Mississippi, to Henry and Mariah (Dismuke) Grigsby on February 18, 1878. James had at least three brothers and two sisters; he was called Jimmy as a child. Very early in the twentieth century, Grigsby was living in Houston. By 1910 he was married to Bessie Arzelia Rose Grigsby, and they were living in Houston’s Third Ward.
On July 7, 1908, the American Mutual Benefit Association was incorporated. It was organized in Houston and under the directorship of James Grigsby. By the late 1920s he was president and treasurer of that company. In 1929 Grigsby and others in Houston founded the Gibraltar Life Insurance Company. He also was president of the American Mutual Insurance Company and, at one point, an executive at the Atlanta Life Insurance Company in Houston. His wife Bessie worked there also. For many years, the couple lived on Hadley Avenue in Houston.
In 1920 Grigsby was chosen as a delegate to the National Republican Convention. The same year, he was a candidate on the “Black and Tan” ticket for the position of Harris County tax collector. In July 1928 Grigsby and O. P. DeWalt filed a lawsuit in federal district court in an effort to prevent the exclusion of blacks from “lily-white” Texas Democratic primary elections (see WHITE PRIMARY). Both Grigsby and DeWalt told the judge that they had become Democrats a few years earlier. The national NAACP did not join the suit because of a possible conflict of interest. The suit was struck down by Judge J. C. Hutchison, Jr. Both DeWalt and Grigsby were persuaded to stop pursuing the matter in the courts. Grigsby founded the Business Men’s Luncheon Club in Houston in 1929, but the club was short-lived.
In March 1939 Grigsby filed as a candidate for trustee of the Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) board. The following night, a huge cross was burned in his front yard, an act that was thought to have been taken by the Ku Klux Klan. In 1939–40 Grigsby and Benjamin J. Covington complained that their names had been used without permission on printed material being distributed by the National Colored Democratic Association (NCDA) that incorrectly associated them with Texas politician John Nance Garner’s campaign for the U.S. presidency. In 1944 Grigsby helped organize, in Dallas, the Texas League of Democratic Voters to help stimulate statewide African American voting. Grigsby was named secretary of the organization.
James Grigsby died in Houston on May 13, 1953, at the age of seventy-five. He had been a resident of Houston for half a century. He had no children. He was buried in Cemetery Beautiful in Houston.