James Hudson Jemison, African American beauty school president and business and community leader, was born on July 26, 1906, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to Hudson Jemison and Anna (Pierce) Jemison. Jemison was one of seven children and suffered the loss of his father by age ten. After his father’s passing, Jemison’s mother sent him to live with relatives in Chicago. He was raised by George Lloyd, who Jemison credited with being a surrogate father and a major influence in his life.
In Chicago, while attending Wendell Phillips High School, he became interested in playing the trumpet. He played in the Chicago Defender Band. While in high school he met his future wife, Abbie Franklin, the daughter of Madame Nobia Franklin, who founded the Franklin Beauty School, Inc., in 1917. He later attended Crane College.
The couple married on August 1, 1928, and had one daughter, Nobia Anita, and two sons, James Hudson, Jr., and Ronald. In 1934 Nobia Franklin, Jemison’s mother-in-law, died and left the beauty school business to her daughter and son-in-law. The couple decided to close the Franklin School of Beauty in Chicago and relocate their family and the beauty school to Houston in 1935. The Franklin School of Beauty was successful in Houston and trained many African American students in the cosmetology field. Jemison opened Franklin Beauty School No. 2 in 1971 and retired later that year. Subsequently, his son Ronald and daughter-in-law Glenda assumed leadership of business operations.
In addition to his business success, Jemison was a tireless supporter of civil rights. He demonstrated his dedication to equality when he initiated a lawsuit against the city of Houston for the practice of not allowing African Americans in city parks or golf courses. The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jemison in 1954, and this judgment resulted in the desegregation of city parks and golf courses.
Jemison was active in professional and civic organizations throughout his life. He was appointed by Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe to the Texas Cosmetology Commission in 1974 and was later elected as vice chairman of the commission. Jemison also served as the first president of the Houston Business and Professional Men’s Club, first African American board member of the Metropolitan Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), first president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council and first elected “Bronze Mayor of Houston” by the African American community. His community service involvement spanned over forty years and also included the Urban League, Houston Chamber of Commerce, and the Good Hope Baptist Church. Jemison and three of his business contemporaries joined together to donate 200 acres to the Girl Scouts of America. As a result, Camp Robinwood in Willis, Texas, was established for all Girl Scouts regardless of race. In honor of his commitment to the Houston Girl Scouts, the organization named a district after him, the “James H. Jemison District.”
Jemison died of a heart attack in his Houston home at the age of seventy-six. He passed away on April 23, 1983, and was buried in Paradise North Cemetery in Houston.