African Americans in Central Texas History: From Slavery to Civil Rights

African Americans in Central Texas History: From Slavery to Civil Rights

African Americans in Central Texas History: From Slavery to Civil Rights

African Americans in Central Texas History: From Slavery to Civil Rights


Bruce A. Glasrud and Deborah M. Liles have gathered over thirty years of scholarship—articles, book excerpts, and new, original essays—to offer for the first time an overview of the history of African Americans in Central Texas. From slavery and agriculture in the nineteenth century to entrepreneurship and the struggle for civil rights in the twentieth century, African Americans in Central Texas History: From Slavery to Civil Rights fills in the critical missing pieces of an often-overlooked region in the state’s history.

African Americans first entered Central Texas with Spanish explorers, but few remained. White slave holders later brought black residents—as slaves—to this region. With the end of the Civil War, slavery may have ended but the brutalities of racial prejudice persisted. During Reconstruction, new attempts to ensure civil and political rights were resisted through terror, racial violence, and systemic denial of justice. Well into the twentieth century, segregation persisted, but years of individual and mobilized protest finally led to significant reform. Organizations such as the NAACP provided vital support. Before efforts to disenfranchise the black vote became successful, some politicians even courted black voters to further their own political agendas.

African Americans in Central Texas History is a rare source that sheds light on the African American experience in the heart of the state.


During the latter years of the nineteenth century, at least sixteen African American males were brutally lynched in Central Texas’ Brazos County. Even for the Lone Star State, this was a large, albeit not exceptional, number. However, for five of the lynched black men, an unusual circumstance intruded; as author Cynthia Skove Nevels put it, “European immigrants of different nationalities … played crucial roles at the beginning of each” incident. Those immigrants also contributed to the ultimate violent deaths of the black victims. It did not take long for even recent immigrants to Central Texas to learn the Texas way of keeping African Americans in their place, socially and economically, by violence and intimidation. As William D. Carrigan phrased it, “In shaping the memories of those who committed certain acts of violence as community heroes and defenders of justice, [white] central Texans created, justified, and long preserved a robust culture of violence.”

Perhaps the most odious example of antiblack violence in Central Texas occurred in Waco in 1916, a violent occurrence known as the “Waco Horror.” Jesse Washington, an illiterate seventeen-year-old black laborer was accused of raping and murdering his employer’s wife. He was brutally forced to confess, though a few thought Washington’s white employer the person responsible. After Washington was found guilty in a trial, a huge mob took his body, mutilated it, burned it, and souvenirs from his body were sold to those who wished to memorialize their presence at the gruesome spectacle. Thousands witnessed the lynching, many coming from outside the area surrounding Waco. Although a few white Wacoans spoke out against the violence, more seemed pleased with the turn of events, and none appeared willing to say that . . .

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