Segregation and Discrimination that effected
Black Texans and Mexican Americans in Texas
Historians have described the early twentieth century as the nadir of race relations in this country. Ironically, populism, which tried to create a biracial political coalition, helped to encourage segregation in the south. Attempting to prevent any coalition of blacks and poor white farmers, establishment Democratic politicians frequently demonstrated their Negrophobia by accusing blacks of having inherently inferior racial characteristics and warning that such innate flaws threatened society. There began a move to make African Americans outsiders, governed by political leaders for whom they could not vote and segregated by law and custom into a separate society.
The movement largely succeeded. In rural areas of Texas, most blacks did not vote, as they became victims of all white primaries. As black Texans migrated to cities, however, they acquired some voting power.
Excluded from political participation, black Texans watched as white officials segregated public facilities. The state legislature in 1910 and 1911 ordained that railroad stations must have separate waiting rooms and separate water fountains and restrooms existed at public facilities. It was virtually impossible for the black citizens to stay at major hotels; to eat in better restaurants, to attend most cultural or other entertainment events unless segregated, inferior seating sections were provided.
Vigilante style violence as well as law enforcement agencies upheld the separate and unequal society. Texas ranked third nationally in lynching, as mobs killed over 100 blacks between 1900 and 1910. In 1916, race riots erupted periodically throughout the period. White prejudice included animosity toward black troops in the U.S. Army. Brownville whites objected to the stationing of the all black Twenty fifth Infantry at Fort Brown. They charged that the troops raided the city in 1906 in protest of discriminatory practices. Later evidence demonstrated the unfairness of the charges, but by that time President Theodore Roosevelt had dishonorably discharged 160 of the troops. Black soldiers resentment of segregation flamed into a clash with white citizens in 1917 in Houston.
Without recourse to political power, blacks in Texas, as in the rest of the nation, often chose both accommodation and resistance to segregation. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded a chapter in 1912 in Houston, and by 1930 it had organized thirty others in the state. A Texas committee on interracial violence organized in1928 to fight extra legal acts against blacks. By then both the Dallas Morning news and the San Antonio Express had condemned lynchings. The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, led by Jessie Daniel Ames of Texas, mobilized strong moral opposition to violence during the 1930s. By then, most church organizations and Congressman Maury Maverick of San Antonio, who later supported a federal antilynching law, were on record as opposing racial violence. In 1942 last lynching in Texas took place.
The majority of blacks stayed in rural areas, where they worked as tenants and farm laborers. As cotton prices fell, their chances to acquire their own farms decreased. Some turned to the Farmer’s Improvement Society, organized by R.L. Smith in the 1890s. A Colored Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union was founded in Dallas in 1905. Other organizations established farmers’ institutes and local cooperative associations. These organizations all spoke of accommodation and self help to counteract poverty and segregation. But rural Texans remained poor, and black poverty exceeded that of most whites.
Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican and the organizer of the Universal Negro Association, advocated black pride, a back-to-Africa movement, and the development of black enterprises. His attempt to found a local chapter in Dallas in 1922 met with opposition, as did the efforts of Sam, from many black leaders and middle-class African Americans. The expanding economy of the 1920s did open new employment opportunities for black males as porters and chauffeurs and in building trades and oil refining. Except as janitors and laborers, the public sector hired few African Americans.
The segregated communities produced a small black bourgeoisie. Ministers and teachers composed the largest occupational group of black professionals in 1930. The number of black undertakers went from 1 in 1900 to 198 in 1929, and they joined the black bourgeoisie of the period. Most black Texans lacked financial and occupational security, however, and the Great Depression would devastate their community.
William M. McDonald used his connections with black Masons to convince other fraternal groups in 1912 to help him establish the Fraternal Bank and Trust Company in Fort Worth. His influence in the African American communities of the state made him perhaps the most important black political leader of the 1920s. Black Texans had organized separate institutions by 1930 that furnished intellectual and social stimulation apart from white society. These organizations, strong in those urban areas with an increasing black population, schooled young blacks that would challenge the system of Jim Crow. Under the leadership of W.R. Banks, the school established a division of arts and sciences in 1931. Despite the limitations of black education, public and private schools were able to prepare many black Texans for leadership in politics, education, and business.
The social life of black Texans functioned in separate spheres from whites. Blacks observed Juneteenth as well as the usual state and national holidays. Carter Wesley, a prominent lawyer and publisher, moved to Houston in 1927. He worked for the Houston Informer and later became its publisher. Wesley also published the Dallas Express, which, along with the Informer chain and the Galveston New Idea, gave a long lasting voice to black writers.
The social intellectual, and economic life of black Texans thus remained restricted during the early depression years. Despite efforts of a small middle class, blacks had little social or economic impact on changing the segregated society. Political participation, except in selected urban areas, was of limited and negligible influence. But the all black communities and wards provided sources for leadership and social activities, and fro this environment would emerge a group of leaders who would later direct protests against the unfairness of Jim Crow.
Whether native or foreign born, and despite social class, Texas Mexicans continued to be looked upon disparagingly as “Mexicans” or “greesers”. Lingering racist attitudes from the nineteenth century that marked Mexicans as inferior and not suited for assimilation in to American society were reinforced in the 1920s and 1930s by hygienic theories that defined Mexicans as “dirty”. Mexican Americans, therefore, continued to be deprived of the rights of full U.S. citizenship. In politics, for example, they faced new hurdles to voting following a series of practices implemented between 1900 and 1920. The 1902 poll tax requirement and the rule used at the county level by the White Man’s Primary Associations barring voters who could not claim to be “a white person and a Democrat,” eliminated many Texas-Mexican voters.
Furthermore, Mexican Americans encountered segregation at every turn. Developers in south Texas laid out new towns with sections specifically designated as the Mexican quarter. When permitted education, Mexicans went to the “Mexican school,” and administrators seldom encouraged them to enter the all white high schools. Those who sought higher education often turned to colleges in Rolla, Missouri, New Orleans, or Washington, D.C. Anglo-owned barber shops, restaurants, and other public places unabashedly displayed signs that read “No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed.” White society persistently displayed repugnance at “mixing with Mexicans.”
The “Big Swing” ended as the recruits returned home when the picking season ended in the Panhandle area about wintertime. The cotton pickers and other Mexican-American laborers were often at the mercy of the worst exploitative potentials of the capitalist system, the historical record shows that Mexicans founded or affiliated themselves with workers organizations for self improvement and change.
Avenues for self-help took various forms. Though sometimes disfranchised, Tejanos did find means of gaining from the extant political structure. In South Texas, where political bosses such as Jim Wells and Manuel Guerra ruled by their control of the Hispanic vote and access to patronage, Mexicans received numerous services from the arrangement. These offerings included social welfare benefits, relief during times of drought, help with legal problems, assistance in marrying, baptizing, or burying a member of the family, encouragement in improving the lot of talented individuals in the community, and even protection from the persecution of racist members of white society.
The congreso pursued more “liberal” goals than did the more moderate League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) founded in 1929. LULAC’s forerunner appears to have been La Orden Hijos de America (Order of the Sons of America, or (OSA). OSA restricted admission to native born or naturalized U.S. citizens. Members stressed their Americanism and distinguished themselves from recent arrivals from Mexico. They followed an agenda that called for such things as better schooling, an end to segregation, and the right to serve on juries. Members of LULAC placed great faith in the North American system’s ability to change its racist tendencies and its willingness to absorb their race if only Mexicans would adopt the English language and learn other Anglo ways.
In 1914 a political unknown, James E. Ferguson, came to the forefront of Texas politics. His personality and politics partially immobilized reform and remained apolitical issue for over thirty years. Ferguson contended with border problems. Troubles escalated following a series of raids in the lower Rio Grande Valley connected with the Plan de San Diego. This radical manifesto, discovered in January 1915 and supposedly written in San Diego sought to ignite an uprising of Texas Mexicans, sympathizers in Mexico, and other aggrieved minority groups in Texas for the establishment of an independent republic composed of those territories that Mexico had lost to the United States in the Mexican War.