The memory of Texas as western has some basis in fact, making that western aspect appear a more real part of the state’s past than the beliefs that slavery was unimportant in Texas and that carpet beggars largely dominated politics of state’s reconstruction. However, the truth is that Texas is far more southern than western and has indeed, been so for nearly over two hundred years. At the reconstruction time, slightly after the confederacy (1861-1865), Texas will be remembered for an era characterized by attitudes typical of the south reflected by segregation, disfranchisement, and lynching before a second reconstruction by the federal government forced change. This paper explores segregation, disfranchisement, and labor control in Texas by review and appraising the current literature of Texas’s history.
Writing in 1899, William Du Bois explained that segregation in Texas was widely spread that made the whites to misinterpret the aims and aspiration of the Negroes, to mistake self-reliance for insolence, and condemnation of lynch-law for sympathy with crime (Smith 3). The Negroes in return, had unresolved resentments and bitter feelings thus, hated and despised the whites%u2015expressed their antipathy in proscribing them, taunting, and crucifying them. In short, the problem of the 20th century in Texas was the problem of color line. In fact, between1866-192, dozens of race riots had marred the southern landscape. For instance, massacres in Memphis in 1866, New Orleans in 1866, 1874, and 1900, Houston in 1917, and Alabama in 1870 (Smith 3-4). The racial tension, turmoil, segregation marred by violence went till late in the century. African Americans indeed, struggled intensely to control their own destinies%u2015shape their own lives, form their own communities, and resist oppression.
Segregation was not just a system of physical separation of races but a social system that denied blacks equal access to everything%u2015health care, jobs, education, justice and voting rights. During the era of Jim Crow, black males were for instance, required to tip their hats in the presence of whites even when walking in different directions (Hine, Lawson, and Pitre 5). This was the dark side of Jim Crow system. Another indicator of segregation is evident from Plessy v. Ferguson case. The judge ruled that if there were two equally fir cars for use by white females and colored females, then there was no offence (Winegarten 74). In essence, this case affirmed that the legal right of a Negro woman to sit in the only car designated for the use of ladies and not any other! In 1896, Winegarten explains that the U.S Supreme Court gave ajudicial approval to the segregated public accommodations in the Plessy v. Ferguson case (74). “Separate but equal” therefore became a legalized segregation.
Texas’s systems at least do show effectiveness in achieving their goal of disfranchisement. The state registered a significant drop in voting participation%u201528 percent of the black population was denied voting rights. As segregation continued, more than half of blacks who voted in 1880 were no longer permitted to vote in 1888 (Kypig 147). By 1890 systems had been put in place that though appeared racially neutral but excluded blacks from the franchise. These included poll taxes, property tests, and literacy tests. Texas perpetrated these highly segregate procedures though with the risk that the poor and illiterate whites could too, lose their voting rights! These disfranchisement initiatives were led by Alexander Terrell who proposed poll tax to eliminate the “thriftless idle and semi-vagrant element of both races” (Kypig 148).
Texas had one of the most racially discriminative labor laws in the 19th and 20th century. The whites felt that Black Americans were a serious threat for their privileged positions in the skilled ranks. As such, repressive measures were adopted in towns and farms, such as vagrancy laws, labor contracts and convict leasing to block the blacks from travelling to the cities (Hine et al. 8). In 1866, the state legislature enacted a Black Code which contained these provisions. For example, they allowed labor contracts to be broken in addition to binding the entire family and youths above fourteen years to be apprenticed if the parents were unable to support the child. As such, the labor contracts resulted to loss of pay for the blacks due to the fact that wages could be reduced due to sickness, failure to labor to employer’s satisfaction, or even to damage equipment (Kypig 154). In essence, the vagrancy and sharecropping laws left the employers%u2015the whites, so much discretion and control that the conditions they put blacks in would approximate to slavery.
In conclusion, this paper provided a means of understanding Texas’s past. Historians do generally agree that the past comes to the present entangled as memory and history. This is what makes writing history, irrespective of its imperfections a worthy rational endeavor. Texas story is both horrific and terrible. It is a story of helpless blacks who struggled years on end to comprehend the deepening racial divide and unrelenting violence. They indeed, lived difficult times characterized by segregation, disfranchisement and legal repression.