African Americans and Politics

In 1860, before the Civil War, blacks made up thirty percent of the Texas population. Most were slaves, and the few who were free could not vote. Emancipation was announced in Texas on June 19, 1865, but the newly formed government withheld black political rights. An all-white constitutional convention in 1866 refused to grant suffrage even to literate blacks. The all-white legislature then refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbid states from depriving citizens of equal protection of the laws. It passed Black Codes that prohibited voting, officeholding, jury service, and racial intermarriage by freedmen, all in an attempt to restore plantation discipline.

The Republican-dominated U.S. Congress responded with a series of statutes known as Congressional Reconstruction. One of these statutes dealt with the right of black males to vote.

In July 1867, 20 whites and 150 blacks attended a Republican convention in Houston, where they endorsed free common schools and free homesteads from public lands for blacks and whites alike. This began a decades-long tradition of black Republicanism in Texas. Despite widespread violence by the Ku Klux Klan and Democrats, many black men registered for the first election in which they could participate. In the 1868 referendum on whether to hold another constitutional convention and elect delegates, more blacks than whites cast ballots, and they voted to hold another convention. The Convention was dominated by Republicans, with African-Americans making up over ten percent of the delegates. Among them was George T. Ruby of Galveston, a Northern journalist and teacher who had moved to Texas to work in freedmen's schools. The African-Americans contributed to the accomplishments of the convention, paving the way for the readmission of Texas to the Union in March 1870.

White radical Edmund J. Davis was elected as governor in 1869, giving blacks additional influence. Ruby, together with black state senator Matthew Gaines and twelve representatives were elected to the Twelfth Legislature. They ratified the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and passed important laws, establishing a militia and the Texas State Police, both open to blacks; protecting homesteads from forced sale; and establishing public schools.

Reconstruction ended and Governor Davis was defeated in 1873. A former governor described this event as “the restoration of white supremacy and Democratic rule.” The number of blacks in the Texas legislature dropped, and white Democrats began reestablishing control of Texas politics. The legal status of Blacks worsened as their percent of the population declined from 31 to 20 percent between 1870 and 1900.

Black conservative Republicans hoped to attract like-minded whites to compete effectively with the Democrats.

Source: African Americans and Politics
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