Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925. These court records are not just paper, they are valuable sources of Texas' and Houston’s history. Some of the most badly deteriorated records have been restored and preserved by the Harris County District Clerk's Office. Those efforts have been honored with a 2004 Good Brick Award from the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

What Can I do to Help Save Harris County’s History?

The Harris County District Clerk’s Office has teamed with the Houston Bar Foundation to raise the funds needed to continue restoring and preserving Harris County’s past. The Houston Bar Foundation is accepting tax-deductible donations to preserve records. We do not suggest an amount for your donation as any amount is greatly helpful and appreciated.

Checks can be made payable to: Houston Bar Foundation Records Preservation and mailed to P.O. Box 4651, Houston, TX 77210. For a contribution form to include with your check, please click here.

In addition to preserving case files, bound volumes such as criminal case indexes, minute books, fee docket books and accounting books from as early as the Republic of Texas days are being saved. Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book. Donors who contribute an amount necessary to preserve one entire book may, if they wish, be recognized on the spine or outside cover of the book. Standard wording for such recognition will be, “In memory of _________,” “Graciously donated by ________,” etc. Other wording desired by the donor will be taken into consideration.

The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care. They are unfolded, pacified, then encapsulated in special Mylar plastic sheets to protect them from further damage caused by exposure to air and moisture. The process being used will preserve these records for up to 300 years and prevent further deterioration of our historical records.

Services Available in the Historical Document Room

  • Public viewing of original documents
  • Requested copies for $1.00 per page

Historical Documents Available Online

As a public service, the documents that are made available over the Web are provided at no charge. Please note, while the clarity of some of the documents is exceptional, the quality of others is poor. This is directly related to the quality of the original document as well as the penmanship of the scribe in some instances. Click below to begin viewing these priceless historical documents.
 

View Online

Historical Case Of The Month

The Honorable Judge Mark Davidson has been instrumental in the development of the Harris County District Court Historical Document Project. An avid legal history buff, Judge Davidson continues to write and serve as a special advisor to the ongoing Case Of the Month articles.

The Case Of Juror Integration

Cause No. 84507 - State of Texas v. Georg Moses

Judge Mark Davidson

Serving as a juror is seen as an obligation, a burden, and a privilege. Regardless of how any one individual may view it, it is an essential part of our justice system. The rights of parties in all cases, civil and criminal, depend on citizens appearing to serve. Beyond that, every American should savor the right to participate in cases, because it gives all of us a powerful voice in how our nation advances to achieve the dream of justice for all.

Sadly, for much of our history, the selection of jurors was discriminatory. In Harris County, a “gentlemen’s agreement” existed in which all people of color were stricken from jury service for cause. The exclusion was automatic and enforced when any party to a case chose to object, which always happened. That tradition ended in 1958 during the case of State of Texas v. George Moses. The background of the case is tragic. On a summer evening in 1958, Mr. Moses was sitting in his home and was suddenly raided by the Houston Police Department. He claimed that he had no idea that the persons breaking into his house were law enforcement officials, and gunshots ensued. In the melee, HPD officer Noel Ray Miller was shot and killed. Capital murder charges were brought against Mr. Moses.

The newly elected District Attorney of Harris County, Dan Walton, announced that he would try the case himself, notwithstanding a number of very capable assistant District Attorneys in his office. His goal was only secondary to get Mr. Moses convicted. He chose this case to make a statement in support of equal rights for all Harris County residents to serve as jurors. When the case went to trial on August 28, 1959, Walton announced to the court that the State would not be making any objection to Jury Panelist Number 176, Mr. C. H. Nelson.

In an interview given many years later, Walton said that Judge Frank Williford fell back in his chair from surprise. Mr. Nelson was African American, as was the defendant George Moses. When the judge sequestered the jury during the trial, Walton said he got a note from the bailiff saying that the hotel the county used to house jurors would have to admit a Black person as a guest. Walton replied that he had no objection, and that he was sure the hotel would comply unless they wanted to lose the county’s business. He was correct. Nelson became the first Black guest of the previously segregated hotel.

After a four-day trial, the jury convicted Mr. Moses and assessed the death penalty. Any claim that putting African Americans on juries would result in hung juries was instantly dispelled. Sadly, Mr. Nelson paid a price for his jury service. His business, a grocery store in Independence Heights, was vandalized two nights after the verdict.

In 1998, when Harris County started digitizing historic records, the District Clerk’s Office sent out letters and press releases asking for suggestions of any file that anyone thought should be saved in its original form. The President of the Houston Bar Association, D. Gibson “Gib” Walton –son of Dan Walton– said his father would have wanted the Moses case to be saved from being shredded. The case was saved and preserved, serving as a continuing monument to a juror who served and a district attorney that wanted to end an invidious system of racial discrimination. Every citizen that has had a fairer jury since 1959 have Mr. C. H. Nelson and District Attorney Dan Walton to thank.

Click here to view the historic case documents for The Case of Juror Integration