Harold Bishop has lived in Houston since 1983, when he moved here while working as a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. Since then, he has experienced many storms, including Hurricane Alicia, which impacted the city just one week after he moved. During Hurricane Harvey, Bishop lived in midtown. He recalls that he was prepared to stay with his neighbors on the second floor, but that flood water only reached the sidewalk and did not flood his apartment. Bishop credits new drainage projects for protecting his neighborhood. A member of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church since 1999, Bishop volunteered at the distribution center set up after the storm. The church provided people with supplies and financial assistance, as well as helped members complete FEMA applications. Bishops says that Wheeler is a dynamic church and that the pastors believe in giving back to the community. He tells of how during one service, Reverend Cosby asks the congregation to stand up if they had lost property or needed help, and proceeded to give out envelopes filled with cash to those in need. Bishop explains that he volunteered for about two months, and that he felt called to help since he did not lose anything in the flooding. He talks about how his neighborhood reacted to the storm and about the response to other storms. Bishop hoped that whoever would win the upcoming mayoral election would take action to help the city. Finally, Bishop discusses how his mother was neighbors with Maya Angelou, something he mentioned at the start of the interview.
You can read the transcript of his interview here:
Interviewee: Harold Bishop
Interview Date: October 4, 2019
Interview Location: WALIPP Senior Center
Interviewer: Tim Carlson
INTERVIEWER: My name is Tim Carlson. I’m with the University of Houston Public History program. And we are here doing an oral history project on Hurricane Harvey. The date today is October 4, 2019. And I am having the pleasure of talking with Harold Bishop.
HB: Yes, absolutely correct.
TC: State your name for me.
HB: My name is Harold Ray Bishop.
TC: And can you tell me a little about yourself, when and where you were born, and where you grew up?
HB: I’d be happy to. I am 68 years of age. I was born in Denver, Colorado by very beautiful and prominent parents where I live. Is that my phone? I hope it’s not, okay. And I come from a family of very successful parents. My father was a barber. And my mother was a seamstress along with she [0:01:00] was a homemaker of our home. I guess you could say a lady engineer — a domestic engineer for the home. But nevertheless, my mother was a lovely woman. They’re from the south — Dad from Arkansas — from Louisiana and my mother from Arkansas — Stamps, Arkansas. She was neighbors to Maya Angelou. And so my parents moved to Colorado in ’44 when my sister was one year old. I have three other — two other brothers, Ronald — he is deceased — born in Denver. And of course, my sister, she is deceased. She was born in Stamps, Arkansas. And my younger brother, he is also deceased. I’ve lost my parents and siblings, but I had a very good life growing up — very active in the church. I attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I was a social work [0:02:00] major. And after graduation, I did all my social work in the air. I worked for the airlines — for Continental Airlines for 20 years as an international flight attendant, where I retired in ’91. So my second career has been gardening. I’m a professional landscaper and gardener. And this is my phone. Excuse me. Let me just get this cut off. I should have put it on vibrate. Excuse me one moment. I’m sorry.
TC: Did Continental Airlines bring you to Houston?
HB: Continental did bring me here in ’83. And I moved here one week. And the next week was Tropical Storm — I think it’s Allison.
TC: No, that was Hurricane — it was a hurricane. It will come to me in a minute [0:03:00], but it was in August of 1983.
HB: But it was — it was a tropical storm, I believe — I thought. I don’t think it was — well, maybe it was a hurricane, but it was so long ago. It was in ’83.
TC: Maybe there was another one I’m thinking of.
HB: I know there was Allison and Alicia. I’m confused about which one it was, but we’ll have to do some Google research to find out exactly the one it was. But I had just moved in one week and had a flight that evening. To get from my apartment — I lived at that time by — which is now our Reliant Stadium. I lived in apartments right there, and so it was going to be quite a distance to get to the airport. And I attempted, but the roads and the streets became so badly flooded, I had to turn around out of fear and went back home. And so that was my first experience — is to sit and watch the wind [0:04:00] and the rain sweep the trees from one side of the sidewalk to the other side. And how — I lived on the first floor. I saw tenants running outside, because their ceilings were caving in with water. And it was frightening. It was very, very frightening.
TC: So have you lived here since ’83?
HB: Yes, I have.
TC: So you’ve gone through a number of storms?
HB: Yeah, I’ve been through Ike, Hurricane Harvey. I’ve been very blessed in the midst of all the many, many years that I’ve lived here where I’ve never had devastation or where I’ve lost anything — where my car never was lost. But I’ve had neighbors who I lived by who lost everything or whose apartment ceilings caved in — you know, the drywall or the ceilings. So I’ve experienced that of watching others. And I’ve [0:05:00] always been very proactive in trying to help neighbors or whoever I could. My church, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, has always been a leader in the community to step up and help. And so I’ve done volunteer work at my church of passing out different supplies that were given to the church from around the city to help mandate and — oh, what’s the word I want to use? They were there available in this area to help people that lived in this area or from any area. If you came from whatever area, my church would help.
TC: So you were living here in WALIPP during Harvey?
HB: No, I was actually living in midtown. I had moved — I had lived here for three years and moved away for three. And at that three-year period that I was living back in the midtown area [0:06:00] on Alabama is when Hurricane Harvey came.
TC: So can you tell us about your experience?
HB: Well, my experience with Harvey, we — one of the fortunate things about the midtown-Montrose area — they had been putting in new gutters all around that area prior to Harvey coming — new drainage gutters. And let me tell you what a difference that made. The flooding was not half as bad as it could have been if we hadn’t had the new drainage in. And so that’s a really important key in our city — is to get new gutter drainage installed in whatever area that needs it, you know, particularly. But the water did rise up towards my front door. And —
TC: You were on the first floor?
HB: I was on the first floor. And so my neighbors and I, we prepared to evacuate. I was going to go up to the second level [0:07:00], but the water just came right up on the sidewalk right before my front door. And then like within an hour it started to recede and go back to the street and then go right back to the drain. The drains worked. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. The drainage worked very good. And that saved my neighborhood from getting flooded or as having the devastation. You know, so many of the homes, people — where the water got in their home, because they didn’t have the good drainage in their neighborhoods.
TC: So tell me about your experience with volunteering. You volunteered during Harvey with Wheeler Avenue Baptist?
TC: Tell me about that experience.
HB: Well, there were — Walmart brought in truckloads of supplies, cleaning, bedding, water, food, clothing. Different other [0:08:00] agencies brought in clothing for people that had lost everything. And the church was a pivotal point where they could hand out and deliver and give whatever items a person needed. Not only did the church help with supplies, they provided financial assistance. They helped people to get hotels and motels. They instructed and gave people information on how to access FEMA. Then we had FEMA representatives that came to the church that also took applications and helped people to get the financial assistance that they needed, which I just thought was remarkable. You know, some people lost their cars. They lost their homes. So the church was very good landmark.
And we also, at Wheeler during that time, provided — we provided — they gave shelter to people that had nowhere [0:09:00] to go. They had cots out in the gymnasium, so people were able to come in there and sleep. They were able to get clothing. Meals were provided, I think, three times a day. Wheeler is a very dynamic church. Reverend Lawson and Reverend Cosby, who is now the senior pastors, they believe in giving back to the community. And they serve the community well. I’m very honored to be a member of that church. And just simple volunteering — babysitting. Some of the times, the parents needed a break and to help out with their toddlers. Diapers were provided — you know, formulas and food for the children. There was so many, many, many efforts provided to help out those that really needed it. And that’s just something that, you know, you might take for granted if you live in another city and you don’t see it firsthand [0:10:00]. But me living here in this neighborhood and being able to give through the church and being able to go and be a volunteer, that was really honorable. And not only that, it was impressive, you know. It was a good feeling to see your church doing something so remarkable to help out this community.
TC: How long have you been a member of Wheeler?
HB: I’ve been a member for 20 years. I joined in ’99, yeah.
TC: What do you remember most? What impacted you being a volunteer during Harvey through Wheeler Avenue? What affected you personally from what you saw going on?
HB: Well, Reverend Cosby, one Sunday — and this is — I’ll never forget it. He asked all the people that had lost their homes or who were so severely devastated under whatever condition — if you were affected tremendously by the storm, he had people to stand up in church [0:11:00]. I attend the 1 o’clock service. They have four services there each Sunday, 7:00, 9:00, 11:00, and 1:00. And all four services are packed with a large congregation of people. Reverend Cosby got up, and he must have given out, I think, 50 envelopes with cash money in them to help our whoever stood up and needed assistance. And I believe it was like about 50 people that had stood up in that service. And then he got — he had a person that was there to take down their information if you lost your job or you’re not able to get to work. So they also provided employment assistance to help people if people were devastated with losing their jobs. Some people were on temporary leaves, because they couldn’t get to work. Because some of the buildings where they were work flooded, you know, so badly like in [0:12:00] the Galleria area — and different offices maybe even downtown. So they were very assisting — assistful in helping the members.
TC: How long did you personally volunteer in Harvey?
HB: I would say about — oh, I went there off and on for about two months, because they had the warehouse open, which was the Christian Life — not the Christian Life Center — the gymnasium area. One half they had for cots for people to sleep. And then they had another area where they were giving out the supplies. I even went over and received some supplies, you know. There were things that I could use, and it was open to anyone that needed it. And many of the volunteers, we were recipients of that very good care. So two months was quite a while, but it was a good time. It was a very good part of history in my life [0:13:00].
TC: Did any particular instances stick with you in your mind of helping people in need through this that affected you?
HB: Well, I had just had — I had just had hip replacement surgery. And so I was on my rollator there. And the number of people that came in that were in wheelchairs and rollators, I always tried to be very kind to offer to push them or guide them. And you know, that will always stick with me. You know, people with disabilities, we have such a variety of people with varied disabilities, who needed help. People coming in on METROLift, METRO was very assisting, where people were taking — the busses were running again, you know, up and down Scott. And it was just — it was wonderful. The church gave bus tokens. They gave not only money, but they gave anything you needed [0:14:00] to help you to make life easier. And it was a blessing to experience that and to be a part of that church.
TC: So what would you assess Wheeler Avenue Baptist’s impact on dealing with Harvey in the Third Ward area? And did they have an impact on a larger area?
HB: They had an impact on the larger area. They helped the students at Texas Southern University who were stranded and who couldn’t go home. You know, they also helped students from the University of Houston. We have a large congregation of students from both schools that come to Wheeler that participate in the college ministry, the youth ministry. And those people over there at the church, the clergy, the staff members in charge of those ministries, they really do look out. And [0:15:00] they have offered financial assistance. They’ve offered scholarships. I mean, it has been just an honor to sit with the various staff members and open up their hearts and the home of the church to help. So you know, you want to pivot sometimes. And what did they do? How did they do it? They did everything honestly.
Some of the seniors who needed help — I’m in the senior ministry. I’m a young senior they call me, but I’m still a senior. You know, I’ll be 69 next month. And I was very blessed to partake of any of the opportunities. But my thing — I didn’t need anything. I didn’t lose my home. I didn’t lose my car during that storm time. And it was important — since I didn’t lose anything, I felt like it was important for me to give back. And volunteerism was my best way [0:16:00] and just being friendly and being compassionate and understanding to what a person was going through. You know, some people were devastated — horribly devastated at the point of tears, at the point of depression. And the church really had to step up and be a — be a vessel of friendship to those people.
TC: I don’t know if you were close with any of your neighbors in the midtown area when you lived there during the storm, but how were they affected? Did you have any interaction with them?
HB: Yes, I did. A couple of my neighbors — I live next door to a high-rise on Alabama. And the people there — the owner of that high-rise and the management, they came across to some of the tenants and says, “We’ve made room in the garage if you want to bring your cars in and get them off the ground [0:17:00].” You can — you know, they had a raised parking level — and says, “We’ve made room.” And several of my neighbors took their cars up in there and parked. And that was a blessing. You know, your car wouldn’t get flooded out when you could take it to higher ground, especially in a parking garage. And the neighbors were also very kind to one another. You know, in Houston in general, the people are very open to helping each other in a devastating time.
I remember when Hurricane Ike [sic, 0:17:38] came from New Orleans. And remember all the people that came and they stayed at that time at the Astrodome — in the old Astrodome? They gave housing in there. And me and my neighbors, we got bundles and bundles of clothes and took clothes over and donated — or bought diapers. I know we bought [0:18:00] socks and diapers — just, you know, basic things — and underwear. But also, a lot of my neighbors went in their closets and cleaned out their closets to take clothes to give to people who had lost everything during Hurricane Ike and Katrina. And you know, a lot of those people that moved to Houston are still residents. They have made permanent homes in Houston as a result of the kindness and the hospitality that was extended by the Houstonians.
TC: I’m not going to say Houston is any better than any other city, but what do you see that we do right during these sort of disasters?
HB: Houston is a great city. It is a good city. And it’s a kind city. I’ve lived here now since ’83. Well, I transferred here in ’81 but actually moved here in ’83. Listen, this is home for me [0:19:00]. I’ve become a Houstonian with my 35 years of living here, you know. Houston people are friendly. I’ve never ever been to a city where you are walking down the street, and people say, “Hello, how are you doing today? Hello, how’s it going?” People sitting on their porches would nod a wave or extend a smile or extend a voice of conversation. We are a very friendly city, and we’re a diverse city. My neighbors in the midtown area were Afro-Americans — were whites, Asian, Hispanic — all kind of people — very diverse community, you know.
Some of them speak fluent Spanish. Some don’t speak English. I don’t speak Spanish very well, but I know a couple of choice words that I’ve learned, you know. And just sometimes a nod or an acknowledgement — we’re a very diverse city. And it’s a good [0:20:00] thing being a diverse city. It’s something to be proud of for to have that title. Yes, we do have a wide range of people that have come here to live. Even in this building, we’re primarily Afro-American, but we have Hispanics. We’ve had whites live here and then Afro-Americans. I have very good neighbors. And this is a lovely, wonderful facility to live in.
TC: I’ve got just two more questions for you.
TC: One, is there anything we haven’t covered about your Harvey experience that you’d like to talk about?
HB: I really do hope that in this political season — you know, I watched the mayor’s debate on TV the other night. I really do hope that something can be actually done with our infrastructure and our drainage and being able to protect like neighborhoods and Kingwood and The Woodlands [0:21:00] and in Spring, where they won’t get flooded out — where something can be built in where the water can have a place to go to to drain, you know, onto Lake Houston or wherever it needs to drain to. We’re very blessed over here to have the bayou — the MacGregor Bayou. And that bayou, during Hurricane Irma [sic, 0:21:25], it filled up. It was up to the top. But at least that tells you the water had a place to run off into. That saved the neighborhoods from getting flooded.
So I hope that in this political season of debates and of talks that something — whoever’s elected, be it Mayor Turner be re-elected or whoever wins the popular vote, can really be trustworthy and have action. We need action, you know [0:22:00]. I hate the way that Mayor Turner is being kind of bombasted right now for what he hasn’t done in his four years — for what he’s promised to do. You know, he had the big promises. The thing was fixing the potholes. He’s done a lot, but we still have a lot around. I don’t know if you — of course, you travel on the streets. We all run — we run by a pothole. And it does damage your car. It can, you know. I’ve had friends get their tires flattened going into a bad pothole going too fast, so yeah.
TC: Last question is getting away from Harvey, but I can’t pass this up. Did I hear you say your parents lived near Maya Angelou?
HB: My mother grew up with Maya Angelou.
TC: Where was this?
HB: In Stamps, Arkansas. My mother’s mom, my [0:23:00] grandparents, they had a farm. He was a minister. They had 13 children, eight girls and five boys. The boys were the farmers. The young — all of my mother and her younger sisters, they learned how to cook and how to sew and how to clean. And they had family dinners. They also — as farmers, they had crops. They had meat. They shared their blessings with neighbors that were less fortunate.
TC: So did your mom share any experiences or have any memories of Maya Angelou?
HB: Oh, she loved Maya Angelou. My — it was her older sisters who really were her friends that went to school with her. But Maya has been to my grandmother’s home in Stamps. And she was always very — according to my mother, she was always very musical, very talented in speaking. She’s a great poet. She was an actress. You know, she [0:24:00] was in theater in New York. And we have fond memories. I have just gotten a beautiful painting — a pencil portrait of Maya along with Marvin Gaye and Prince. The young man who works down at the HEB here in the neighborhood, he does black and whites. He sells them so cheaply. He loves doing this work. He sells them a dollar a piece. I bought three, and I says, “Well, here, just take all this money.” I didn’t have much. “Take this $10 or $15.” He refused it. He says he does it for the love of art and to share it and give it to the community. So if you ever go down to the HEB store down here, he’s outside of the store sometimes, yeah.
TC: Well, I want to thank you for your time and for sharing your Harvey experience.
HB: I want to thank you. I am just very delighted to speak and to be here.
TC: And sharing about all your volunteering for the church, and we appreciate your time.
HB: Well, like I was [0:25:00] saying, I didn’t get hurt or harm or devastated. But I know I could give back through volunteerism. And that was a blessing that’s — you know, so thank you, gentlemen, for this opportunity.
TC: Thank you.