Joanna N. Taylor
History of Civil Rights: Black people
People of African descent have been tied to Texas since the earliest days of the Spanish, dating back to the 1520’s. You could say that Spain set the precedent for slavery. Blacks were exploited to build, protect and farm for the Spanish. Under the Spanish they did have a few rights, a right to buy freedom, report abuses, and find new masters if being treated unfairly; and though they were at the bottom of the “castas” system, they did have the ability to climb the ladder through their labor. In 1821 Mexico gained its independence from Spain. With Mexico in power, slavery was outlawed, but Anglo settlers were given special consideration because Mexico wanted settlers to the land and many slaves accompanied the settlers. With the Stephen F. Austin’s settlement came slaves with their masters and by the time the Texas Revolution began in 1835, there were well over 5,000 Indentured servants in Texas. During the Texas Revolution blacks fought for the freedom of Texas too, of course not recognized for their contribution. After Texas gained its’ independence from Mexico, free blacks had to leave Texas by law. Many were forced to leave relationships and seek a life in another state, petitioning was an option for free blacks only, but they were rarely considered. Slavery in Texas under the Texas Constitution of 1836 gave power to slave owners through new codes. Blacks continued as the hard labors in the fields, cooks, blacksmiths and carpenters, they continued to be burdened to build Texas. Slave numbers by this time are close to 60,000. On June 19, 1865, nearly two years after the civil war had ended and President Lincoln proclaimed emancipation for blacks, General Granger finally arrived in Texas to declare enslavement over. This day is celebrated by Texan African Americans as Juneteenth. I can’t imagine the amount of joy they felt but also the thoughts of an uncertain future. Where and how do they begin a life? How do they navigate the process of freedom? By the end of the civil war there were over 190,000 former slaves in Texas.
The era of Reconstruction begins across the United States and it was a difficult and turbulent time. Texas had to pledge their loyalty to the United States, agree to abolish slavery and agree seceding from the Union was illegal. For blacks this was an uncertain time, and many struggled to make a living. The white controlled Texas congress limited the rights for blacks and began a sharecropping program that mimicked enslavement. Sharecropping gave blacks the hope to own land and a chance at a life, some made it, but many did not. Most of their crops went back to the land owners as payment, former slave owners. I found this quote and I believe it speaks to their struggles and their strength. “What I likes best, to be slave or free? Well, it’s this way. In slavery I owns nothing and never owns nothing. In freedom I’s own the home and raise the family. All that cause me worriment, and in slavery I had not worriment, but I takes the freedom” – Margrett Nillin. (153). Also during reconstruction African Americans became involved in state politics and actually served in Texas Legislature.
A short time later and the end to Reconstruction, segregation and suppression in Texas at the hands of Democratic Governor Richard Coke. White Democratic Texas used violence, intimidation and passed a poll tax to restrict blacks and voting until 1944. At this same time African Americans began to organize and rally against oppression and by 1964 the Civil Rights Act and in 1965 Voting Right Act both passed federally.
Today black Texans share equal rights and opportunities, as we are all protected under the same constitution.