The 1870s: Representation
Riding the wave of federally supported reconstruction policies and led by the recently elected Republican Governor Edmund J. Davis, the predominantly Republican 12th Texas Legislature (1870-71), with 14 elected African Americans, focused its efforts on education, economic development, and immigration. The radical Davis, however, used the opportunity to increase his powers as governor and strengthen the Republican party. His efforts included postponing regular elections to extend the terms of the radicals and the appointment of a number of state and local officials.
The legislature also encouraged economic development through railroad expansion and immigration through grants or sales of public lands. Several of the 24 African-American legislative members played an active role in the early 1870s. Representative Richard Williams introduced bills to establish a Normal School in Walker County and to incorporate the Texas Wells and Irrigation Company (the latter bill passed). Representative John Mitchell promoted education for African Americans. He also helped push a bill through the Education Committee that concerned the Gregory Institute, a grade school first established by the Freedmen's Bureau in 1866.
The tide changed during the elections in late 1872. Angered by Governor Davis's creation of a state police force, tax increases, and a growing state debt, Texans elected a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives and a Democrat, Richard Coke, as governor. The new government abolished the state police force and localized the state school system. During this period, African-American Representative Meshack Roberts worked to establish Wiley College, the first college-level school for African Americans west of the Mississippi.
By the late 1870s, the Democrats had united with white supremacists to gain political control and force African Americans back into servitude. The Ku Klux Klan was on the rampage, not only against African Americans but also against their white sympathizers. (Former African-American legislator Goldstein Dupree was killed by the Klan in 1873 while campaigning for Governor Davis.) There was so much violence against African Americans that many contemplated leaving Texas, and several did leave. Representative Richard Allen, who had been very active in the 12th and 13th Legislatures, estranged himself from most other African-American politicians in 1879 and began urging African Americans to move to Kansas. This exodus to the sunflower state promised more educational and economic advantages to those African Americans willing to relocate.