The residents of Pleasantville are a political force because of the high voter turnout. In city and state elections candidates make it a point to visit the “Mighty 259” (the precinct number for Pleasantville). Voting as a block they could be the swing vote in a close election.
In the opening Locke quotes James Campbell from the Houston Chronicle:
Any politician worth his salt knows the road to elected office
passes through Pleasantville.
What makes Pleasantville unique is that it was the first planned development for the Negro (in the language of the era) middle class expanding swiftly after World War II. Locke describes Pleasantville’s origins in an interview with NPR:
"Pleasantville was the invention of two Jewish developers in 1949," she says. "They came up with this idea that they were going to create one of the first of its kind in the nation — 'a planned community for Negro families of means and class.' ... You're talking about black families that couldn't buy anywhere else because of segregation. So it was this really special place where doctors, lawyers, educators, engineers were all congregated together in this really vibrant cultural center."
The first house built was purchased by Judson Wilbur Robinson Sr. who was the effective leader of Pleasantdale. A note in Texas State Historical Association website outlines his business and community involvement outside of government:
He established his real estate business, Judson W. Robinson & Sons Real Estate and Mortgage Company in 1962. This was the first African-American mortgage company in the state that was approved by the Federal Housing Administration. He also established the National Real Estate Association, a mostly black organization, in 1950. In his community of Pleasantville, which is one of Houston’s oldest black subdivisions, he served as chairman of Precinct 259 and boosted voter participation to the largest turnout within the city. He was a member of the board of directors of Riverside General Hospital, formerly known as the Houston’s Negro Hospital, from 1965 to 1975. He was also a director of Trinity East United Methodist Church. Robinson was a founding member of the Houston Area Urban League, a nonprofit agency which is affiliated with the United Way and the National Urban League that opened in 1968.
His son Judson Wilbur Robinson Jr. became President of the company upon his father’s retirement. In politics he became Houston’s first African American city councillor and won 5 re-elections serving until his death.
The Robinsons certainly look to be the inspiration for the Hathorne family of Pleasantville. In the book Sam “Sunny” Hathorne is a banker who has been the acknowledged Pleasantville leader for decades.
His son Axel is running to be the first African American mayor of Houston.
In writing the book Locke drew upon her own family as well. In 2009 she returned to Houston where her father was running for mayor. An interview with her in The Telegraph includes the following:
Many of the equally slippery characters are based on people Locke met during her father’s campaign, which sounds like an extraordinarily ugly affair. Gene Locke, a civil rights activist turned lawyer, stood against Annise Parker (the inspiration for the book’s Machiavellian Reese Parker). Both were Democrats: the predominantly white, conservative electorate had a choice between a black man and a gay white woman. “So all of the anti-gay bigots went to my dad and all the racists went to Annise,” sighs Locke. “She took money from racists. My dad had money given to him by anti-gay people. I was disgusted with Annise and disappointed by my father.”
While inspired by real life Locke does make changes. Axel is a former Houston Police Chief not a realtor. She has Axel and his opponent, Sandy Walcott, as two law and order candidates. Her real life father and his opponent, Annise Parker, are a pair of minority candidates.
Locke says Pleasantville has faded over the past 57 years. In the book she spoke of middle class African Americans choosing other suburbs as Houston de-segregated.