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

By Goodwin, Ronald E. | The Journal of Southern History, February 2020 | Go to article overview

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


Goodwin, Ronald E., The Journal of Southern History


African Americans in Central Texas History: From Slavery to Civil Rights. Edited by Bruce A. Glasrud and Deborah M. Liles. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2019. Pp. xii, 316. $40.00, ISBN 978-1-62349-747-7.)

Regional histories have always been a difficult challenge for historians. First, physical geographic boundaries must be established that most can agree on, and second, historians have to identify the inhabitants and what makes them unique when compared with other regions. Bruce A. Glasrud and Deborah M. Liles have masterfully done both in African Americans in Central Texas History: From Slavery to Civil Rights. This collection of essays presents the experiences of a particular group of Texans in a region that is often overlooked.

Texas is most often portrayed as either another slave state (East Texas), the beginning of the western frontier (West Texas), or the onetime province of Mexico (South Texas). But the region Glasrud and Liles identify as central Texas has its own distinctive history as well--a history that includes the contributions of African Americans. The volume is divided into three sections; each emphasizes a distinctive period in U.S. and Texas history.

Part 1 focuses on the period before and immediately after emancipation. These five essays skillfully convey the complexities of the peculiar institution and its aftermath in Texas. These complexities are evident in William Dean Carrigan's "Slavery on the Frontier: The Peculiar Institution in Central Texas," Billy Bob Lightfoot's "The African American Exodus from Comanche County," and Donald G. Nieman's "Black Political Power and Criminal Justice: Washington County, 1868-1884." Carrigan's use of slave narratives and other primary sources illustrates that the influence of slavery in the region's economy was not solely limited to agriculture. He also finds that Texas's proximity to Mexico made escape across the Rio Grande particularly troubling for the region's slave owners.

Lightfoot and Nieman examine the black community in the years after emancipation. Both find that the end of slavery changed the dynamic of the region's economic systems and removed a viable means of social control. Lightfoot shows that racial animosities intensified after emancipation, leading to numerous examples of mob violence directed toward the black community in Comanche County. According to Lightfoot, "The emancipation of the slaves and their sometimes injudicious actions in that freedom had augmented the bitter aftermath of the Civil War throughout the South, and a wave of violent antiblack activities following the war had its effect upon the frontier" (p. 109). Such observations clearly place the postemancipation years in central Texas in harmony with those of other regions in Texas and the South. …

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