First Push for African-American Rights

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While African-Americans were granted freedom from slavery toward the end of the Civil War, after the war they faced an uphill battle to obtain basic citizenship rights. In order to meet the minimum requirements for readmission to the Union, Texas held a constitutional convention in 1866, passing a constitution which allowed African-American men the right to sue, contract, acquire and transmit property, receive equal criminal prosecution and testify orally in any case involving another African-American. The 1866 constitution did not give African-Americans the right to vote or hold public office.

Following the dictates of the U.S. First Reconstruction Act in 1867, Texas held another constitutional convention in 1868-1869 at which ten African-Americans served as delegates. Five of those men agreed to sign the document while the other five refused, saying it was too lenient toward the previous Confederate government. The new state constitution, ratified in November 1869, gave support to public education and granted the right to vote to adult male African-Americans.

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The Union League, organized in 1863 in the North to support the policies of President Lincoln, was a secret, primarily political organization, whose members were to support only Republicans for public office. The League established its first local council in Texas in 1865 and mobilized African-American voters, who were now able to elect African-American legislators to represent them. Those legislators fought for the most basic needs of their specific communities as well as for what would benefit all Texans, regardless of race. In total, 52 African-American men served as state legislative members or constitutional convention delegates in Texas during the 19th century, with most being active in the late 1860s to mid-1870s. One major accomplishment was the eventual passage of a bill creating a state-supported university for African-Americans, known today as Prairie View A&M University.

With the rise of racism and white supremacy, the rights granted to African-Americans through the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments began to be curtailed. They faced segregation in many aspects of life, including education, religion, dining establishments, jobs and transportation,  as evidenced by the bill passed in 1889 by the 21st Legislature allowing for separate railroad coaches for passengers of different races. African-Americans lived through segregation by establishing their own schools, businesses, dining establishments and churches within their  communities. By the late 1960s, the Civil Rights movement was underway, eventually removing segregation of the races from public life.

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Items on display in this exhibit

The links shown below to the items displayed in this exhibit will open in PDF format in a separate window or tab. The documents are shown here in their entirety so some of the files contain multiple pages.

Photograph image of Texas State Senator George T. RubySenator George T. Ruby, Prints & Photographs, 1/151-1, detail enlargement from composite portrait of 13th Texas Legislature by H.B. Hillyer, 1873. George T. Ruby was a delegate representing Galveston County at the Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869 and one of two black senators to serve during Reconstruction Texas.

 

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten documentPetition to the Texas Legislature by citizens of Grayson County, Texas against the passage of the Pope Railroad Bill, January 31, 1889. Memorials and petitions, Texas Legislature, 100-459. Senator William H. Pope, known as the "Jim Crow Senator," authored and supported Senate Bill 18 of the 21st Legislature allowing for separate railroad coaches for passengers of different races. Despite petitions of citizens in several counties, the bill became law.

 

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old typeset documentReport of the Committee on Education, Provisions Respecting Education, July 31, 1868. Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869, Texas Legislature, 2-8/918. This committee report proposes text for the provisions of the Texas Constitution regarding education. The committee recommended that access to education be provided "without distinction on account of race, color or previous condition." This provision was not adopted.

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photograph image of a junior class with four rows of black students, the girls all in white dresses and the boys all in dress suits.Junior class, Texas Normal School for Negroes, undated. William Deming Hornaday collection, 1975/070-5587. This photograph was probably taken at Prairie View Normal Institute, now Prairie View A&M University.

 

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten documentAn Act for relief of freedmen and freedwomen, Senate Bill 1, 12th Legislature, 1st Called Session. Bill files, Texas Legislature, 100-1523. With the enrollment of this bill on August 15, 1870, the marriages and children of former slaves were legitimized by the state of Texas.

 

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten documentLetter from James Burnett to Texas Governor E.M. Pease recommending appointments to the Board of Registration, August 12, 1868. Governor Elisha Marshall Pease records of his third term, 2014/076-4. In order to regulate the voter registration required by the Reconstruction Acts, Boards of Registration were created for each county. Where practical, a freeman was appointed to the board to ensure all qualified individuals were registered.  Here Allen A. Goff, listed as "colored," was recommended to the governor as a potential member of the board.

 

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten registryRegister of voters for Galveston County. Voter registration and poll lists, Galveston County Clerk's office records, 2011/438-282. The second entry on this page, number 298, lists G.T. Ruby. George T. Ruby was a delegate representing Galveston County at the Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869 and one of two black senators to serve during Reconstruction Texas.

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Page last modified: May 20, 2016