Alexander K. Kelley, railway employee, businessman, and philanthropist, was born on May 6, probably in 1847. His death certificate and exact age at the time of his death indicate he was born in 1847 even though his headstone gives 1846 as the year of birth. He was born near Sandy Point in Brazoria County, Texas, and was the son of Sandy Kelley. Kelley, who was born into slavery, was a good-sized young man at the time of emancipation. Despite his lack of much formal education, Kelley attained notable prosperity and civic recognition during his lifetime. He worked as a porter for the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway and later as a coach cleaner for both the Texas and New Orleans Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Kelley eventually bought property in the community of Houston’s Fifth Ward (where many residents who were employed by the railroad lived).
He married Annie Sykes on March 25, 1889, in Galveston, Texas. The couple had three sons, A. D., Alexander Joseph, and Sidney.
Kelley was probably among the founding members of Mount Zion Baptist Church, one of the oldest African-American congregations in Houston. The church eventually housed one of three Houston schools established by the Freedmen’s Bureau for newly-emancipated men, women, and children. Kelley was a deacon at Mount Zion and gave significant financial support, according to James Beavers, a church octogenarian who remembered him. Kelley’s wife and sons were also members.
One historian recalled that Kelley was involved in Houston’s first bank for African Americans which existed for a short time around 1919 and was located in the 400 block of Milam, where prominent black businesses and professionals as well as fraternal organizations had offices.
Kelley’s impact on his community could still be seen in the early twenty-first century. He helped found Evergreen Negro Cemetery located in the Fifth Ward, and Kelley Street in northeast Houston was named in his honor. The most prominent reminder was the establishment of the Kelley Court Housing Project, located just north of Interstate Highway 10 in central Houston. Prior to World War II, the Housing Authority of Houston began plans to provide housing for low income residents in an effort toward slum clearance. By 1942 there were four housing projects, two of them for African Americans. On September 27, 1942, Kelley Courts (currently known [and misspelled] as Kelly Village), a $1.5 million housing complex for more than 300 families, was dedicated in honor of A. K. Kelley, an “outstanding colored citizen of Houston.”
Although he was deceased at the time, Kelley was most likely chosen for the honor because of his own contributions to housing for his people. Old-timers remembered that Kelley owned several rental houses in Houston. One recalled that he had twenty-one houses, while another recalled forty-two houses. Kelley also owned a laundry and several expensive cars. He and his family lived in a large two-story house, and one of his daughter-in-laws recalled that he had a chauffeur. He left a sizeable estate to his descendants.
Kelley died in Houston on November 26, 1928, and was buried in the family plot in Evergreen Negro Cemetery. He was an active member of the Masons whose Smithsonian Lodge F. & A.M. had charge of his funeral arrangements.