The 1880s: Walter M. Burton
Burton was one of four African Americans to win a seat in the Senate in the 19th century. He was said to be Texas's best-dressed state senator and was the owner of a sizable plantation in Fort Bend County. His personal fortune was an estimated $50,000. One of the better-known African-American legislators, his white colleagues in the Senate once presented Burton with a gold-headed ebony cane as a token of respect.
During the 15th legislative session, Senator Burton opposed the expansion of the county convict law that allowed "all commissioners' courts to employ for public work any convict guilty of a misdemeanor of petty offense." Some felt that this law was similar to slavery. Burton also presented a petition from Fort Bend citizens who protested against employment of convicts in their county.
When the enrollment dwindled at Alta Vista Agricultural College in late 1878, Senator Burton, with support from Representative Holland, worked to save it. Burton realized that "many blacks who had grown up on the farm would not be interested in any kind of agriculture, scientific or otherwise" so he introduced a bill "to establish a normal and manual school for colored youths." Alta Vista was converted into a training school for African-American teachers and renamed Prairie View Normal School. It eventually became Prairie View A & M University.