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Pleasant, Alclair Vivian Mays (1906–2011)

Msgr. Michael A. Howell Biography Entry

Alclair Vivian Mays Pleasant, African American community activist, church and community leader, local Corpus Christi historian, and teacher, was born on May 1, 1906, to Annie Blanche (Garcia) Mays and James Mifflin Mays at the Mays homestead in the Irishtown area of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas.

Alclair’s maternal grandmother, Sallie, and great-grandmother, Mariah, had both been enslaved in Carroll County, Mississippi, prior to being brought to Texas and were likely owned by Cornelius Clay Cox, a rancher in Nueces and Live Oak counties. According to Cox’s diary, he purchased three enslaved persons—a woman, a young man of about fourteen years, and a young girl—in approximately October 1856. The 1860 slave schedule listed Cox as the owner of three individuals, including a twenty-seven-year-old woman, who was likely Mariah, and a nine-year-old girl, who was likely Sallie (see SLAVERY). After the Civil War and emancipation, Mariah and Sallie worked as domestic laborers at various homes and boarding houses in Nueces County. Both took Cox as a surname. Mariah eventually purchased a portion of unclaimed land in what became Corpus Christi and had houses for her and Sallie moved onto the land.

Sometime during Reconstruction, Sallie Cox married Florentino Garcia, a cowpuncher on the Shaffer Ranch, and the couple had several children, including Annie Blanche Garcia, Alclair’s mother. In 1905 Annie married James Mifflin Mays, the youngest son of William Harrison and Alice (Sinclair) Mays. Alice’s brother, Rev. Moses H. Sinclair, was the second pastor of St. Matthew Baptist Church, the first Black Baptist church in Corpus Christi. Annie and James moved to Irishtown, a neighborhood located along the beach north of Corpus Christi's business district. There they built a house near his parents, and the couple had two children, Alclair Vivian and Anita Blanche. By 1911, however, Alclair’s parents divorced. She, her mother, and her sister temporarily moved into the home of her maternal grandmother, Sallie Garcia. When Alclair’s mother was hired to work at the Corpus Christi home of the W. W. Jones family, they moved to a small two-story building, which came with the position and was located behind the Jones’s home.

Alclair attended local schools, including a Congregational day school, until she was in the seventh grade. At that time her family became members of the local Catholic Church and she attended Holy Cross Parochial School, where she stayed until the tenth grade. Since Corpus Christi did not have a high school for African American students until 1925, she enrolled in Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) to complete her high school education. She went on to receive a bachelor of science and a master’s degree. Later she did postgraduate work at the University of Texas in Austin and Texas A & I University (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville) in Kingsville. In 1927 she began her career in education as a first grade teacher and taught homemaking in the afternoons at Solomon M. Coles High School in Corpus Christi. That year her sister, Anita, died at age nineteen.

In 1932 Alclair met and married William “Willie” K. Brown of San Antonio. She resigned her teaching position, as required by her contract, and moved to reside with her husband in San Antonio. There they lived for two years, then moved to Corpus Christi where he served as a patrol officer for the city police department. In the 1940s they also worked as music promoters and sponsored shows of major bandleaders and performers such as Lucky Millinder, Earl Hines, Savannah Churchill, and Louis Armstrong. Because of her love of music, she was also an accomplished piano player and taught piano lessons for years. By 1944 W. K. Brown served as manager of the Corpus Christi edition of the San Antonio Register newspaper. Alclair was the news columnist for Corpus Christi. In 1945 the Browns’ marriage ended in divorce.

During the 1943–44 and 1947–48 school years, Alclair served as registrar and secretary at the Solomon Coles High School, then as the first secretary at the Washington Elementary School for the 1950–­51 school year. On weekends she attended extension graduate classes in San Antonio. In 1948 she married William B. Pleasant. She resumed teaching in 1951 at Booker T. Washington Elementary and continued with assignments at other local public schools, including George Washington Carver Elementary and Charles W. Crossley Elementary. During these years, Alclair, sensitive to special needs children, moved into the field of special education and continued to serve in that manner for seventeen years. In 1969 William and Alclair Pleasant divorced. She retired from public schools in 1971 and began teaching at Sacred Heart Catholic School and served on their school board until a second retirement in 1983. During her life, Alclair received such high awards as “Kindergarten Teacher of the Year,” “Woman of the Year,” and life membership in Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.

Alclair believed in the value of continuing education and continued teaching through public forums. She served as the society editor of the San Antonio Register and gave multiple interviews to reporters from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She worked with other local historians to preserve Corpus Christi’s African American history and gave numerous oral history interviews and presentations to local groups to promote a better understanding of local history and the roles of African American residents in that history. She was named to the City Bicentennial Landmark Commission for Corpus Christi in 1976 and provided artifacts and local historical records for exhibits at Black history speaking engagements. Before her death, Alclair collected many of the historical documents, photos, and other artifacts documenting different branches of her family, the local Black community, and related histories and donated them to the La Retama Public Library in Corpus Christi and Corpus Christi Museum of History and Science.

Alclair was an active member of the Holy Cross Catholic Church. Her service to the Catholic Church and the larger community was recognized by the Holy See who bestowed upon her the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Award. She served in such organizations as the Women’s Progressive Club of Corpus Christi and was dedicated to increasing awareness of social issues and civic improvement. In her final years, she lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to be close to her only son, Gary, who she had adopted when he was four years old.

Alclair Mays Pleasant died at the age of 105 in the morning hours of June 19, 2011. In recognition of her importance to the community, her funeral service included a gospel choir and a full Mass celebrated at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Corpus Christi on June 24, 2011. She was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in her hometown.

Bruce A. Glasrud, Mary Jo O'Rear, Gloria Randle Scott, Cecilia Gutierrez Venable, and Henry J. Williams, African Americans in Corpus Christi (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2012). Mary Jo O’Rear, Storm Over the Bay: The People of Corpus Christi and Their Port (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2009). Alclair Pleasant Collection, Corpus Christi Museum of History and Science, Corpus Christi, Texas.   Alclair Pleasant Collection, La Retama Central Public Library, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Categories:

  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Advocates
  • Education
  • Educators
  • General Education
  • Journalism
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders
  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Women
  • Preservationists
  • Women's Clubs

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century

Places:

  • Corpus Christi
  • Gulf Coast Region
  • Southeast Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Msgr. Michael A. Howell, “Pleasant, Alclair Vivian Mays,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 27, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/pleasant-alclair-vivian-mays.

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