The 1870s: Matthew Gaines
Gaines was one of four African Americans to serve Texas as state senator during the 19th century. History records that he was "daring, keen of mind, courageous, and firm in the equality for all men without regard to race or color . . . " and "the most vigilant guardian of black rights to sit in the Texas Legislature. . . ." Gaines fought for many issues: education, mental health aid, prison reform, the protection of African Americans at the polls and their election to public office, tenant-farming reform, and restraints on bribery and fraud. In 1870, he played a strategic role in passing the Militia Bill, which created a state police force to combat lawlessness and to protect against voter intimidation.
In 1871, Gaines sponsored successful legislation to exempt educational and religious groups from taxation as an incentive to improve communities. He also supported the Free School Bill, controversial legislation that would have established the first public school system for all Texans, both white and African Americans. Gaines was disappointed when the bill passed without its integration clause. He called it a violation of both the state and national constitutions.
Senator Gaines was a threat to Democrats. Even some Republicans found him troublesome. His seat was challenged by a Democrat who charged that Gaines was a convicted felon. Gaines was removed from office despite the fact that the charge was groundless. In 1875, he was arrested for making a civil rights speech in Giddings. He told his audience that "in the eyes of God, blacks were as good as whites; that they should have pride and hold their heads up even in troubled times."