- African Americans in South Texas History
Throughout the history of the Lone Star State, the majority of African Americans in Texas have resided in the eastern and northeastern portions of the state. Yet Africans and their decedents have been in South Texas since the arrival of the slave Estevanico in 1528, and, according to Bruce A. Glasrud, their story has been largely untold. Building on his earlier publications concerning African Americans in West and East Texas, Glasrud has edited a fine volume of thirteen essays that deal with the black experience in South Texas from the pre-Civil War era up to the 1960s. Arranged chronologically, Glasrud’s work offers insights into black life in South Texas and traces the impact of African Americans on specific aspects of Texas and southern history.
Almost no facet of life in South Texas is ignored in this volume. Among other things, essayists cover the importance of the railroad, the development of predominantly black communities, Jim Crow, sports, music, and the civil rights movement. [End Page 219] As the reader maneuvers through the collection of essays, a major theme emerges and underlines the book’s importance: that the experience of African Americans in South Texas was different from, but also similar to those of blacks living in other areas of Texas. One essay dealing with Reconstruction, for example, informs the reader that black Texans were able to transition into South Texas society after the Civil War because economic recovery in the region was driven largely by the cattle industry, an industry that depended partly on the labor and skills of freedmen. Yet, however distinct this experience was to blacks in South Texas, another essayist points out that they faced the same violence and intimidation that their fellow freedmen faced across the southern states. Similarly, blacks faced discrimination as passengers and also had difficulty finding and maintaining jobs and gaining equal treatment in the railroad industry. The integration of baseball affected South Texas Negro leagues the same way it influenced leagues across the nation, and while music certainly created a unique sense of multiculturalism at Corpus Christi’s Galvan Ballroom, it could not escape segregation. Of particular interest is an essay by Robert Goldberg, who found that San Antonio whites adopted a policy of gradualism rather than resistance to desegregation, thus establishing the “Texas Way.”
Despite its important strengths, African Americans in South Texas is not without fault. For example, the opening essay on slavery in San Antonio has more to do with the significance of slavery (despite the small population of slaves) in the Alamo City rather than the experience of the slaves themselves. In addition, the book is more of a beginning survey of the subject of African Americans in South Texas than a definitive examination. This does not detract from the overall importance, and the rich material and narrative used in the essays make for an excellent regional study of the lives, experiences, and impacts of African Americans in South Texas. The editor should be commended for his choice of essays and their arrangement. The book flows easily from one essay to the next, and each author’s purpose remains clear and lends itself to the next essay. Any student or scholar of African American history will most certainly find this volume useful in understanding the complex social, political, and economic impact of black Texans in South Texas.