History Peeps: Shennette Garrett-Scott, Associate Professor of History
Before Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott became a scholar of African American business history, she spent over a decade in the Dallas mortgage industry until, fed up with the “real world,” she says, she decided to pursue a career in which she could transform people’s lives more enduringly: teaching. While she was in graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin, the subprime mortgage industry crashed, sparking her interest in the history of the U.S. mortgage and financial industry. This sense of having one foot in the private business world and one foot in the university now suffuses her work. Her first book, Banking on Freedom (2019), focused on African American women in finance after the Civil War and won three best-book awards.
Dr. Garrett-Scott is passionate about the rigorous application of history to community concerns. Her first public history project began almost by accident in 2010 while she was conducting research on the Grand Court of Calanthe of Texas for her dissertation. Founded in 1897 by formerly enslaved African American women, this institution operated a life insurance company for nearly 125 years. In 1948, it completed construction of its headquarters on Dowling Street (now Emancipation Avenue) in Houston.
While researching the company, Dr. Garrett-Scott learned that its board was applying for Historical Landmark status, and so she volunteered to “look over their application.” Intrigued by the Calantheans’ nearly forgotten story, she became more and more involved with their fight for official recognition until it became something of a personal crusade. With her help, Calanthe finally achieved landmark designation in 2012. Even today, she’s still involved with the company. In 2020, the Grand Court of Calanthe went into receivership, so she is now working to preserve the records and ensure that they are archived or digitized.
Like some Texas A&M professors, Dr. Garrett-Scott commutes to campus from Houston, which is also her hometown. Although the drive is long, she enjoys the time it gives her to listen to audiobooks and indulge a growing interest in black speculative (or science) fiction. She is also teaching herself how to make craft projects, such as wreaths and sewed items, since she has always felt “a handmade gift is so much more special than a bought one.”
To what historical figure would Dr. Garrett-Scott like to say “Howdy,” given the chance? She would choose famed abolitionist Harriett Tubman. While many people know Tubman for her role as a conductor on the underground railroad or as a spy for the Union army, Dr. Garrett-Scott would be most interested in asking about her efforts help freedwomen become economically self-sufficient. Some of these efforts included Tubman using her own money to help freedwomen in Beaufort, South Carolina, set up a washhouse, fully owned and operated by African American women, as a place where “they could be in business for themselves.”
Patrick Grigsby ’27