Daina Ramey-Berry & Jermaine Thibodeaux, “‘To Be Swift in Accepting our Legal Equality’: Creating Black Texans & Reproducing Heteropatriarchy at the 1883 Colored Men’s Convention”

On the second Tuesday in July of 1883, dozens of distressed black Texans met in Austin for the Texas State Convention for Negroes to address mounting civil rights and economic concerns. Noticeably absent, however, were black women. This paper then examines how black Texas men, hell-bent on deploying the full range of their newly acquired citizenship prerogatives, neglected their most important partners—black women—as they strategized ways to improve the quality of black life in the Lone Star State. In so doing, the all male delegation perhaps unwittingly reproduced the terms of heteropatriarchy and consequently, minimized the contributions of black Texas women to the arduous political fight for equality in the state. For example, the assembled male delegation harnessed their collective voice to reassert their citizenship rights and to present a five-point list of grievances that highlighted biased miscegenation statutes, unequal school funding, the state’s use of convict labor, segregated public accommodations and the exclusion of blacks from jury service. Their unanimous condemnation of emancipation and Reconstruction’s failed promises put them squarely in the mainstream of southern black voices during this time period. Yet, black women were neither invited nor welcomed at the state convention, and instead, a broad spectrum of black Texas men appointed themselves to explain (read ‘mansplain’) how the newly adopted miscegenation statute, for example, “makes pretensions to preserving public morals, common decency and chastity” yet do little to protect the “most promising” females from white aggressors.1 Though issues affecting women and black families were topics of discussion at the convention, the mere fact that women were absent both physically and intellectually illustrates how both race and gender shaped the destinies of black Texans. Moreover, in addition to a reviewing the convention’s proceedings and expanding the profiles of the present male leadership, this essay also explores black women’s responses to their exclusion from this and subsequent state conventions, and it addresses the erasure of Texas State Conventions from the larger historiography on the Long Civil Rights Movement in the nineteenth century South.