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Jan 10, 2018 in History

Texas and Civil Rights


According to, civil rights are the rights of individuals to receive a fair and equal treatment in the number of settings. They include: employment and education in Texas. Civil rights' campaigns are generally involved with the two predominant ethnic minorities, i.e. the African Americans and Mexican Americans. The two of them have fought for the improved political conditions since the domination of whites in the state of Texas from the year 1836 and the emancipation from slavery in 1865 respectively. Organized campaigns, however, started in the 1900s.

The term "civil rights" is coined from the Latin terms "ius civis", which stand for the rights of citizens. Many African Americans in the Southern states have been facing one or another form of discrimination almost for 100 years after the emancipation proclamation.(Wikipedia)

On 12 December 1840, the Ashworth Act was passed by Texas Congress in response to an at that was passed on the 5th of February 1840. The latter one prohibited the immigration of free blacks and ordered them to vacate the new republic of Texas within two years. Otherwise, they would be sold into slavery. The purpose of the act was to make the color as a basis of servitude in that state and revoked any laws that had been contrary to its provisions. onOne of the laws it had nullified was that of 5 June 1837. That act permitted the residency of free blacks in Texas. This happened before Texas declared its independence.

Immediately, after the act of February 5th was passed, many whites petitioned against it seeking some exemptions of their neighbors, friends, and servants from disenfranchisement. Three of the petitions were for a couple of black families under the name Ashworth. These families resided in the county of Jefferson. The first of these petitions sought the exemptions of William and Abner Ashworth, Aaron and David Ashworth and Elisha Thomas that was a brother-in-law of William and Abner Ashworth. Six white citizens signed the petitions that claimed that David and Aaron had been the residents for two years and had, as a matter of fact, failed to give the sufficient attention towards getting the necessary permission to stay in Texas. The second petition, which was signed by more than 70 whites, pursued the plight of William and Abner. The petitioner's claimed the Ashworth's had contributed significantly to Texas' cause. They had stayed on Texas soil for more than six years and, thus, presented a stronger case. The third petition supported Elisha Thomas on the grounds that he served in the army immediately after the battle of San Jacinto. It was signed by sixty one citizens. Apart from the significant number of people that supported the petitions, prominent officials from the county of Jefferson also gave their support.

This case was handled by a special committee which reported in favor. This is the first civil case that had been won without any kind of contest from others. On 20 November 1840, the Ashworth Bill got to the Senate. It was successfully amended and the words as well as all free persons of color together with their families were residing in Texas at the time of the Declaration of Independence. The president signed the Bill on 12 December 1840 making David and Abner Ashworth the only free blacks that immigrated after the Declaration of Independence to be given the congressional sanctions to remain in Texas.

In 1850, Tejanos were almost expelled from their homes by the whites on the grounds that they had helped the slaves to escape to Mexico. In the Goliad area, many became the victims of the wrath of whites especially during the cart war that happened in 1857. After Brownsville was captured by Juan N. Cortina (in 1859), those in South Texas were also not spared. In the 1880s, the whites used to accuse both Tejanos and Blacks for raping their women. Thereafter, they retaliated by lynching them. A good number of the white authorities, including law officials, Ku Klux Klan, Texas' Rangers and the White Caps used to terrorize either an ethnic group unnecessarily at any given occasion.

On the Political front, everything was not so good for either of the two races; on the contrary, segregation existed. The whites invented a method of disfranchising them and also weakening their political powers. For instance, the two races faced some terrorist tactics, ballots, literacy tests and claims of incompetence if they were lucky enough to get into office. In the attempt to control the Mexican's domination, "political bosses in both South Texas and the El Paso valley" controlled the franchise.

In the year 1866, the Eleventh legislatures passed the Black codes. These were laws that defined the legal place for black people in the society after the civil war. The laws sought to reaffirm the inferior position held by the blacks in the society. Also, they wanted to regulate labor from the blacks. The codes reflected the unwillingness of white Texans to hold blacks as equal ones. The Act for Defining and Declaring the Rights of Persons Lately Known as Slaves and Free Persons of Color was passed in 1866. It gave blacks the basic property rights. The black man (and also Tejanos were also considered inferior) now had the ability to enforce contracts, sue and be sued, to make the will, to lease hold or dispose of the real and personal property as he wished. The state also assured blacks that it would protect their rights for the personal security, legal restrictions, liberty and prohibited discrimination against them. However, as much as this was the way forward glaring legal restrictions and were still present. They could neither vote nor hold office. They could not serve juries and testify only on cases that involved other colored people and they could never marry whites.

However, this is the introduction of the poll tax laws by the legislature in 1902 and the implementation of the white primaries by Texas' democrats in 1903. That successfully disenfranchised the blacks and the Mexican Americans. In the 1920s, the Texas' Politicians had successfully ensured that the African Americans were not eligible to vote legally through court cases. They identified political parties as "private clubs" which had the power to exclude members.

In the mid-50s, the Supreme Court in the US destroyed the 'separate but equal' doctrine which formed a basis of the discrimination this act, brought the attention to the black men's plight in America.

Civil rights' protestors used non-violent protestors and disobedience to bring a change. The fruits of this were seen as the Federal government initiated some acts such as the Voting Rights' Act of 1965 and Civil Rights' Act in 1968. Many people rose to prominence as a result of this. Among them were Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. However, the struggle for Civil Rights was not so simple, especially in the Southern states like Texas.

Racism and segregation were the matters which were the most campaigned against in the pre-civil rights' era. New Jim Crow's laws in the 20th century ensured that the segregations had been at the maximum. In the cities, the Negroes and the Tejanos lived in the ghettos and other relegated residential areas. Also, they only used some delegated public facilities, for example, churches.

The schools in those communities were not the best ones, thus, resulting in low education levels among those children living in those areas. The philosophy that used to run in the South was that if the non-white races were given the ill education, they would stay on their place in the society. The low education levels ensured that there had been no advancement whatsoever in the segregated groups. Thus, the kind of a poor lifestyle they exhibited. At first, Blacks' and Mexican schools were considered inferior. Then, there were the whites' schools being superior to others. When the Supreme Court allowed blacks to study at the whites' schools, the former ones were forced to use different resources like libraries and diners. These laws were not targeted at Mexican Americans but were nevertheless enforced on the assumption that the Mexicans had been inferior to the whites and very unhygienic.

The time period between 1900 and 1930 had been dominated by the attempts of the minorities to break down the racial barriers. 1n 1919, J.T Canales, a Brownsville legislator, pushed for the reduction of the population of Texas' rangers on the basis of atrocities they had performed in the past decade. He was successful. La Agrupacion Protectora Mexicana was, thus, founded two years later. Its goals were mainly to protect laborers from unfair layoffs. There existed also many other organizations like the Orden Hijos de America (The Order of Sons of America). They succeeded by the League of the United Latin American Citizens. These organizations were all focused on the goals of the racial equality.

In their plight, both the Mexican Texans and Black Texans enjoyed small victories here and there. In San Antonio, the La Liga Pro-Defensa Escolar or the School Improvement League succeeded in convincing the city school board to construct a few new elementary schools and improve the already existing facilities. A black movement under the name of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching won the increased support from the whites due to such prominent ones like the congressman Maury Maverick.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in the year 1909 with the purpose of ensuring the political, educational, social and economic equality of all people and to eliminate any kind of racial hatred and discrimination. For this goal to be met, this organization needed the cooperation of citizens living in the South and being in constant to the exposure to any kind of the racial segregation. In the year 1930, throughout the state, there existed thirty chapters of the association. The organization pursued such goals as the elimination of the so called 'white primary' and all other obstacles towards voting and the desegregation of institutions and basic facilities such as schools and public places.

However, cooperating with the NAACP was the danger to the colored people living in the South. An example of someone that had done this was a local farmer named Levi Pearson, an African American. Soon after the whites learned of this, the banks that provided Pearson with loans before refused to advance the loans for buying fertilizers. The white friendly farmers that had given him the equipment used for harvesting in the past, watched as his produce rot in the fields. There were also shots aimed at his house with the obvious intention of hurting him and his family. In 1953, many reports against the segregation at schools reached the Supreme Court. One of the biggest cases led to one of the most famous civil rights' decisions of the 1950s, i.e. Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka.

Reverent Oliver Brown, a plaintiff, had an eight year old daughter that went to school with 21 blocks from their home. This was despite the fact that there had been the school merely of 7 blocks away with the whites only. Although the judge had vowed to rid the South of such abuses that related to education, he had a problem in swaying other judges to agree with him. The judges argued that enforcement would not work. The only method which would work was the persuasion of schools to stop discriminating minor communities. He tried his best to persuade the other judges that his way the promotion of the social equality legally was the right way. He was successful in this venture and on 17 May 1954 the segregation at schools was outlawed by the Supreme Court.

This decision took America by storm especially the Southern states being extremely racist. It also gave legitimacy to the civil rights' movement. By the end of 1957, 723 districts in the South had their schools.

However, as much as there was the desegregation theoretically the black kids and other colored ones still faced the hostility at their new schools. Also, in some Southern states like Mississippi the ruling by Judge Warren stimulated the racism to the extreme levels. Political leaders from Georgia and South Carolina declared that they would not adhere to the decision. The judge did not provide the date as to when the desegregation had to occur. As a result, Southern politicians flouted the law.

A year later, the issue of implementation came up. The fact that implementing the rule of law was faced with unforeseen complexities and the now fully grown anti- Supreme Court feeling among citizens made the highest body in the land effectively shun enforcing the law. A couple of problems appeared. For instance, what could be the terms of the desegregation? Was that the basis of 50 to 50? Was the 90/10 ratio of whites to blacks enough?

In 1956, two years after the rule of law was passed, a girl was nearly lynched for trying to enroll in the University of Alabama. In the same year, a mob of more than two thousand whites blocked the African American kids from entering their school in Clinton, Tennessee. The same kind of obstruction happened in Mansfield, Texas. In both cases, the National Guard that used some military vehicles and tanks to ensure the kids got to school and rangers were used respectively to enforce the law. This showed the weakness of courts in the land. It showed that if the states deliberately refused to adhere to the law there was nothing the court would do.

On 22 March 1956, 22 senators from the South and 82 representatives signed the manifesto which claimed that the Supreme Court had abused the judicial powers vested on them. Everybody whose signature was in the document would do whatever it took to overturn the forceful desegregation at schools. The less educated whites got themselves recruited into the Ku Klux Klan (K.K.K). The goal of the K.K.K was to frustrate the African Americans into going back to their own schools so that the desegregation talk would exist only in the statutory books. The methods they used to achieve their goals included the house and church burning as well as the violence against individuals.

The Southern states, including Texas, did all they could to discourage the desegregation. The state gave grants to any white children who wanted to change schools and attend the private ones. Teachers that showed the desire towards working at mixed schools had their licenses revoked. Pupil placement tests were put up. They placed pupils to schools depending how they performed in the tests. The test results obviously did not matter, race did. Virginia went too far and shut down all the public schools allowing only the private ones to function.

By the year 1954, only 2% of African American children had attended multiracial schools in the Southern states including Texas. In 1963, about 900 protestors consisting of African Americans, Mexican Americans and some whites demonstrated slow desegregation in the state. In the mid sixties, the section of blacks joined the 'black power' and supported its cause. They also accepted violence as a part of social redress. On a similar vein, some Tejanos even participated in the Chicano movement. They believed in militancy, denunciation of 'gringos' and the separation from the American society.

A Mexican American party, the Raza Unida Party, headed the Chicano movement in the 1970s. As a political party, it proposed some solutions to the racism issues and inequalities, which other groups had been trying to address and had no success. The major courses of action by the party were boycotts of merchants and any other racial activities and demonstrations. There were seldom significant acts of violence during its tenure. In the mid-1970s, the movement declined.

During this era, the Federal government set agendas which sought to encourage the racial equality, both the black Texans and the Mexican Texans benefited from this agenda. The 24th Amendment was ratified in the year 1964. The amendment barred the poll taxes in federal elections. Still in 1964, the Congress passed laws which outlawed Jim Crow's tradition. In the year 1969, Texas followed the suit by revoking its own separatist statutes. In the year 1965, another act of parliament, the Federal Voting Rights' Act was passed. The act removed all restrictions for voting. Federal marshals were mobilized to oversee the election proceedings.

A civil rights' group known as the Defense and Education Fund was founded in the year 1968. It is arguably the most successful civil rights' group of the late 20th century. The group focused on the inequitable financing of schools and related problems.

The Southwestern voter registration education project participated in increasing the participation of Tejanos in politics and also removed the obstacles for Tejano empowerment.

The Southern States, including Texas, were extremely racist from the 1800s rights to the late 20th century. Although, this made it difficult for the oppressed minority to overcome the oppressions, it was not impossible. From the state's sanctions making life harder for the minorities, to the outright show of hatred from the white citizens themselves, the unity of oppressed minorities played a great role in revolutionizing the world. Although there have been a lot of casualties of war, lives lost in the battle field have not been wasted they were significant in the battle. Although, equality had not been reached, a great part of the war was eliminated.

The federal government has rid itself of any laws or any motives of oppression whatsoever. All that remains is to rid the people of the hate and the discriminations. Also, the stereotypes have to be rid by doing the opposite of what is expected. The black community has been portrayed as petty thieves. If the stereotyped people forced the offenders among them to actually stopped petty crimes it would be a start in the eradicating racial hatred. A society of love and everyone enjoying their civil rights is possible to get, even in Texas.

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