Racial violence in Texas, 1884-1900

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1974

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Abstract

From Reconstruction to the end of the nineteenth century, racial violence plagued Texas and demeaned its citizens. Yet, it was not until the 1880's that such violence became an issue of concern, and not until the 1890's that it became a political question. Racial violence which accompanied Reconstruction in Texas appeared to diminish during the 1870's; then during 1884 white Texans in the Black Belt counties of East Texas initiated a new wave of violence which persisted in varying degrees until the close of the century. The social, economic, and political position of black Texans made it difficult for them to resist encroachments upon their rights as American citizens. Political agitation through the Republican Party was about the only means by which Negroes in Texas could direct attention to the menace of racial violence which usually took the form of lynching and other forms of terrorism. Texas Democrats had little reason to acknowledge the protests of a weakened political party which, after Reconstruction, was unable to muster the strength necessary to effectively challenge Democratic rule. Factionalism among Democrats, however, and the advent of the Populist Party during the 1890's altered the political scene in Texas and created a more favorable climate for blacks to make their grievances known on many issues, especially that of racial violence and lynching. A divided white vote, caused by the political turmoil of the 1890's, made it imperative that political leaders seek the vote of black Texans in order to win state offices. Under these circumstances, mob violence against Negroes became an important political issue to attract the black vote. James S. Hogg, for example, while running for his second term as governor in 1892, adroitly appealed to his record against lynching in order to win the support of black voters. During 1896 Charles A. Culberson faced the same issue and with the aid of at least one black leader attracted the vote of black Texans. Lynching and other forms of racial violence, took a tragic toll of Negro lives in the 1880's and 1890's, and it will probably never be known just how many blacks fell victim to Texas mobs. The political resurgence of the Negro in the 1890's contributed to the rise in racial violence; for the threat of black domination, real or imagined, would not be tolerated among white Texans who had arduously redeemed their state from Radical Republican rule in 1874. In order to restrict blacks socially and economically, and ultimately to disfranchise them, white Texans resorted to every form of violence. The result was the successful depression of a race of people in Texas who, half-a-century later, rose to demand the rights that had been systematically, and often violently, taken from them in the closing years of the nineteenth century.

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Keywords

History, Texas, Nineteenth century, African Americans, Violence, Ku Klux Klan, Night riding (Racial violence), Lynching

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