People of African descent have been inextricably linked to the history of the land now known as Texas since the earliest days of colonization. African American Texans have created culture and community despite being subjected to racism and oppression in the form of enslavement, segregation, and violence, and have improved the state of Texas with valuable cultural and historical contributions.
With their arrival inpeople of African descent, enslaved and free, were instrumental in the settlement of Spanish Texas. People of African descent were part of the population that settled Texas in the 17th and 18th centuries. This population included free and enslaved black and mixed-race people, as interracial marriage was legal and very common.
The enslaved population was afforded some rights under Spanish rule, including the right to purchase freedom, protest against abuse, or obtain new masters if they were being treated unfairly. Mexico gained its independence from Spain in following an year revolutionary war. Under Mexican rule, slavery was officially outlawed in Texas by However, special consideration given to Anglo settlers meant that the enslaved population of Texas continued to grow, as enslaved men and women were forced to accompany their enslavers on their journey into Texas.
African people under spanish rule
Following Mexican Independence inthe Mexican government adopted policies to gradually outlaw enslavement in the newly established country, but Anglo settlers actively worked to ensure slavery was preserved in Tejas. A of enslaved African Americans arrived with Stephen F.
Austin and his Anglo settlers in By the end ofthere were around slaves in the colony —almost a quarter of its population. By the time that clashes with the Mexican government led to the Texas Revolution inmore than 5, enslaved people lived in Texas. African American life after Texas Independence was shaped by new and existing legal constraints, enslavement, and violence. Free blacks struggled with new laws banning them from residence in the state, while the majority of black Texans remained enslaved.
The Texas Constitution of gave more protection to slaveholders while further controlling the lives of enslaved people through new slave codes. The Texas Legislature passed increasingly restrictive laws governing the lives of free blacks, including a law banishing all free black people from the Republic of Texas. Texas's enslaved population grew rapidly: while there were 30, enslaved people in Texas inthe census lists 58, enslaved African Americans in The had increased toby Most enslaved people in Texas were brought by white families from the southern United States.
Some enslaved people came through the domestic slave trade, which was centered in New Orleans. A smaller of enslaved people were brought via the international slave trade, though this had been illegal since Most enslaved African Americans in Texas were forced into unskilled labor as field hands in the production of cotton, corn, and sugar, though some lived and worked on large plantations or in urban areas where they engaged in more skilled forms of labor as cooks, blacksmiths, and carpenters.
While there were no large-scale slave insurrections in Texas, enslaved people resisted in a variety of ways, the most common being running away. Enslaved people made personal connections, and established family relationships wherever possible despite the odds, which was made more difficult by the changing nature of Texas and its white population. De slaves was about de same things as mules or cattle, dey was bought and sold and dey wasn't supposed ter be treated lak people anyway. We all knew dat we was only a race of people as our master was and dat we had a certain amount of rights but we was jest property and had ter be loyal ter our masers.
It hurt us sometimes ter be treated de way some of us was treated but we couldn't help ourselves and had ter do de best we could which nearly all of us done. Life for enslaved African Americans remained relatively unchanged during the Civil War. Because Texas remained relatively unscathed by fighting during the war, life for enslaved African Americans continued in much the same way as it had before the fighting.
It was the ending of it that made the difference. Some enslaved people were moved from the eastern areas of Texas or from other southern states to keep them away from Union troops, and many were made to labor for the Confederate Army, building fortifications and other methods of defense. On June 19,at the end of the Civil War and over two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston and declared that enslavement was ended. However, many black people in Texas remained enslaved for months, and in rare cases years, when their owners refused to release them.
Many newly emancipated people celebrated their independence at the holiday subsequently known as Juneteenth, though some found their celebrations thwarted by disgruntled former slave-owners. Some people immediately set off in search of lost family and friends, while others experienced confusion and uncertainty about their futures as freedpeople. Reconstruction, a period when people across the United States attempted to reckon with the political, economic, and physical destruction of the Civil War, was a difficult time in Texas, and throughout the country.
This era was marked by intense violence and extreme social turmoil, and had lasting implications at the local, state, and federal levels. State and national governments worked to reintegrate Confederate states into the Union, while African Americans navigated the increasingly complicated process of freedom. These Black Codes included labor, vagrancy, and apprenticeship laws that were meant to mimic the conditions of enslavement. White Texans, reacting to the end of the Civil War, increased violence and attacks against African Americans.
The Ku Klux Klan was present in Texas by and its members intimidated and assaulted freedpeople, usually to reduce black political participation.
The Freedman's Bureau, which began in Texas in Septemberattempted to curb this violence. Its success diminished over time.
In addition to protection against white violence, the Freedman's Bureau aimed to assist newly freed African Americans with legal matters, education, and employment. Newly freed African Americans, most of whom had few resources with which to start their new lives, found themselves increasingly limited by the legacies of enslavement. Many were forced to sharecropping contracts with their former owners, while others were incarcerated at rapid rates. Despite these difficulties, African Americans began constructing new forms of family and kinship ties, while making gains in literacy and education.
With the implementation of national Reconstruction, African Americans became more involved in state political processes, and some black men, including G. Ruby and Matthew Gaines, served in the Texas Legislature. Starting with the election of nine African American delegates to a state constitutional convention inAfrican American men began a brief period of political engagement.
George T. Both Gaines and Ruby advocated for the rights of freedpeople during their tenures in office, and both were forced to relinquish their seats after Texas Democrats the party then ruled by former slaveowners regained political power. With the end of Reconstruction, segregation and suppression controlled the physical movement, social advancement, and political participation of African Americans in Texas.
Reconstruction in Texas officially ended with the inauguration of Democratic Governor Richard Coke in Januaryand the brief political engagement of Texas African Americans was severely curtailed until the mid-twentieth century. White Texans utilized violence, intimidation, and legal means to limit black suffrage, and passed a poll tax in to restrict the political participation of poor people of all races. The most effective means of reducing black political participation, however, was the white primary, which restricted voting in Democratic primary elections to white Texans.
Many African Americans challenged the legality of this system, including Lawrence A. Nixon in and Richard R. Grovey in Laws requiring segregation of railroad cars, waiting rooms, restrooms, restaurants, entertainment establishments, and residential neighborhoods also restricted African American mobility and advancement during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Ku Klux Klan, which experienced a national resurgence in the s, enacted violence and terror on Texas African Americans, and lynching became an increasingly prevalent form of racial intimidation. Between andthere were documented victims of lynching in Texas, the vast majority of whom were African American. While African Americans fought against discrimination and repression, they also organized in their neighborhoods, participated in war efforts, and influenced the larger state of Texas with valuable cultural, political, and economic contributions.
Black people built neighborhoods, participated in churches and organizing efforts, and owned businesses and newspapers, all while living under the shadow of racist violence and oppression. While schools continued to be segregated until later in the 20th century, black Texas educators including Melvin B. Tolson at Wiley College in Marshall and W. Rutherford Banks at Prairie View worked to improve historically black colleges and universities. Mary Branch was appointed president of Tillotson College in Austin, Texas, inand transformed the college from a struggling junior college for women to a successful four-year college and led the way for the future merger with Samuel Huston College, forming Huston-Tillotson University in Black men were called up for enlistment at higher rates than their population percentages, while black women worked in the defense industry and supported troops from home.
Doris Miller, born in Willow Grove, Texas, distinguished himself during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7,while Leonard Harmon, originally from Cuero, became the first African American to have a warship named after him, for his heroism during the battle of Guadalcanal in Black men and women also enjoyed more employment options with the desegregation of the defense industry after the enactment of Executive Order in At the same time, the black rural population declined as more African Americans moved to urban areas in Texas. Black people increasingly participated in urban industry, and the of black professionals rose from around in to almost 4, by This continued to increase throughout the twentieth century.
Mexican independence and texas revolution
Black musicians and athletes, including Blind Lemon Jefferson and Jack Johnson, achieved national recognition for their contributions to Texas and American culture, while John Biggers, J. Mason Brewer, and many others influenced state and national art and literature. Black Texans continued to work to confront racism and segregation, and laid the groundwork for the progress that would be achieved during the Civil Rights Movement.
African Americans continued to confront racist legislation and legal segregation, organizing in their communities against their continued oppression. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were catalysts for increased black political and social participation in the midth century. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP in Texas, target of racist ire since its formation in the state inchipped away at legal restrictions on black rights and won important cases in Smith v.
Allwright, which declared white primaries unconstitutional inand Sweatt v. Painterwhich desegregated the University of Texas Law School in African American women, including Lulu B. White and Juanita Craft, were instrumental in political activism. Lulu B. White was an important organizer and activist in the first half of the 20th century. White became the president of the Houston chapter of the NAACP inand transformed her chapter into the largest in the South by Juanita Craft worked with Lulu B.
While African American women worked for progress on the state and local levels, federal policies also created opportunities for black Texans. The passage of the Civil Rights Act in and the Voting Rights Act in allowed for more black participation in the political process, and helped people achieve more opportunities for advancement in employment, and state and national recognition for contributions to the arts, music, athletics, education, food, politics, science, and business.
African descended people in the state of Texas have encountered incredible difficulty, but have continued to build community and create identity throughout their presence in the state. While Texans continue to work toward equality and justice, African Americans remain an integral part of the larger story of the state of Texas.
Spanish conquests of the Americas introduced the first enslaved Africans to the region.