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The 1860s: The 1868-69 Constitutional Convention

Charles W. Bryant

Charles W. Bryant. Ten African-Americans were elected to the 90-delegate convention, including Bryant, James McWashington, Stephen Curtis, Sheppard Mullens, Wiley Johnson, George Ruby, Mitchell Kendal, Benjamin Watrous, Ralph Long, and Benjamin Williams.

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1868-69 were elected by all male citizens over the age of 21, African Americans included. For the first time in Texas, African Americans had a voice in state government.

Although other issues were discussed, the primary purpose of the convention was to frame a new constitution that would guarantee voting rights for African-American males. The issue was hotly contested. An article in the Houston Telegraph entitled "To the Colored Voters" said in part,

"You are aware that a very large majority of white people of Texas are opposed to allowing you to vote, because they do not think that you are qualified to exercise this high privilege.

If the convention should confer suffrage upon you it will be the very cause of it being taken away from you after awhile, and we believe that it would deprive you of it forever."

African-American delegate Charles W. Bryant responded to the article in the Houston paper with one of his own. Appearing in the Weekly Austin Republican and titled "Good Advice But We Decline to Take It" Bryant noted,

"The Houston Telegraph of the 16th instant says to us as free men of color, not to ask the privilege of suffrage yet and if our friends in the convention give this right to us we must reject it. Now Sir, I ask you one thing: Why is it that the white people are crying daily 'Let us vote?'

If a free man can live so well in a free country without a voice in the government, why not try it yourself for a while? No Sir; give us the ballot and give it to us for all time, and then if you can outrun us in the race of life, all is well."

Several African-American delegates were unhappy with the final wording of the constitution because they believed it was too lenient toward the previous Confederate government. Five men, however, did agree to sign it. One historian concluded that, "These men helped draft the finest state constitution that Texas has ever had . . . [its] . . . most controversial feature . . . guaranteed that one's political status could not be determined by race or color."

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Page last modified: August 26, 2011