Columbia professor, author to speak at History Day event

The life of former Victoria resident William Henry Ellis is one for the books – literally.

The Victoria community can learn more about the amazing life of Ellis during the inaugural History Day on March 6, hosted by the University of Houston-Victoria history program, when Columbia professor and author Karl Jacoby presents the lecture, “The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Slave from Victoria Who Became a Mexican Millionaire.”

Beverly Tomek

“We are excited to host our first-ever History Day and show those in our community how enriching career paths and research can come with a history degree,” said Beverly Tomek, interim dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences and associate professor of history. “Karl Jacoby’s book is an excellent example of diving into the archives of local history and digging up an interesting story to share.”

Jacoby’s lecture will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the UHV University Commons Multi-Purpose Room, 3006 N. Ben Wilson St. The lecture, in coordination with the Victoria Book Festival, is free and open to the public and is based on Jacoby’s book, “The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire.”

Ellis was born into slavery on a cotton plantation in the Victoria area. In the late 1800s, he began going by Guillermo Enrique Eliseo, the Spanish version of his name. It was in this new identity that Ellis became a successful Mexican entrepreneur.

Joseph Locke, an assistant professor of history, said Jacoby will talk about the book and how he uncovered the story of Ellis. The descendants of Ellis also are expected to attend and participate in the lecture. History Day is coordinated by Locke as well as Laura Mammina and Esther Liberman Cuenca, assistant professors of history.

Joseph Locke

There also will be books available to purchase, and Jacoby can sign copies after the event.

“Not many books feature Victoria, and it’s a really great story that I think people will be interested in,” Locke said. “The book does a great job of covering Victoria and the surrounding area, the border and the Gilded Age. It is a fascinating story, and one I hope the community will come out to hear.”

Earlier in the day, there will be History Day sessions covering careers that students can look forward to with a Bachelor of Arts degree. UHV students will lead another session and speak about research projects and other activities they have done in their history courses. There also will be faculty presentations.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Amber Aldaco