When I heard that Rick Perry’s leased hunting property, a thousand acres near Paint Creek, Texas, had a secret, offensive name, I was not really surprised.
Though the sign on a rock was painted over – white-washed, as it were – the land had long been known by a local nickname using a familiar racial slur, popularly referred to as the “n” word. Things in the past return to haunt, things sooner forgotten can’t completely be erased.
I wasn’t surprised, because I know that Texas has a long history of racial violence and oppression dating from just after the Civil War. A historian named Barry Crouch once wrote that Texas was the most hostile of ex-Confederate states to the Freedman’s Bureau, because whites there “continued to behave as though the South had won the war.”
Few blacks in Texas were safe in those years, as they suffered political violence aimed at keeping freedmen from the polls in the first elections in which they could vote. In 1868 a Union general said murders of blacks in Texas had become too numerous to permit an accurate count. By 1870 Texas led the nation in homicides, and according to a PhD dissertation by Jesse Dorsett of Texas Christian University, written a hundred years later, between 1870 and 1880 around 400 Texas blacks met death by lynching or mob rule. One tenth of them were charged with only minor offenses.
African American men joined fraternal orders and lodges, they bore arms, and they complained about a prison system where convicts – one could be imprisoned for not paying fines at that time – might be hired out in a manner reminiscent of slave auctions from former times.
It’s hard to read some of the infractions that led to lynchings:
- political activity
- not moving out of the road for a white in a car
- insulting a white man
- demanding pay for work done
- being too prosperous
- being too “uppity”
- serving as a witness
- insisting on eating in a restaurant when refused service
- being a strikebreaker
- using insulting language
- making boastful remarks
- slapping a boy
- insisting on voting
- refusing to turn state’s evidence
Another historian, William D. Carrigan, has said about violence and vigilantism in Texas: “The questions of how, why, and what people remember are central to historical inquiry. … One cannot truly understand how historical memory works in a given community without detailed knowledge of that community’s specific history. The most powerful historical memories, especially before the twentieth century, were intensely local.”