Regression to barbarism in Reconstruction Texas: An analysis of white violence against African-Americans from the Texas Freedmen's Bureau records, 1865-1868




Kosary, Rebecca A.

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The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution liberated approximately four million bondsmen from their shackles. But in reality, emancipation meant uncertain freedom for America's newest citizens. Masters who had previously exercised complete control over their human chattel were now forced to recognize the freedom and independence of those who had never known it. White resistance in some form was inevitable; however, the amount and brutality of the violence perpetrated against African-Americans during Reconstruction, was of unimaginable proportions. Texas offers a unique look at Reconstruction violence. Because the state was not physically devastated by the Civil War, it is understandable that white Texans would be more resistant to post-war changes forced upon them, especially with regard to race relations. But the amount of brutality inflicted upon former slaves in the state indicates that whites were violently opposed to black freedom in any form. An analysis of the types of violence inflicted, and the reasons and circumstances surrounding violent incidents in Reconstruction Texas reveal that, underlying the majority of economically, socially, and politically motivated acts, was a deep-seated racism. The records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly known as the Freedmen's Bureau), particularly the "Record of Criminal Offenses Committed in the State of Texas," show the sheer brutality inflicted upon African-Americans by whites, and have far-reaching implications for the history of race relations in Texas. The Bureau, established in the War Department on March 3, 1865, arrived in Texas that same year. From that time until its withdrawal from the state in 1868, the agency's main responsibility was supervising the affairs of the freedmen, which included recording complaints of their mistreatment by whites. Between 1865 and 1868, agents listed over 2,200 violent incidents throughout the state, 1,698 of which involved injury to blacks. These records are important, not only for statistical reasons, but because they demonstrate that, even with federal protection, blacks were brutally mistreated by whites after emancipation. The purpose of this study is to document the surprisingly high incidence and brutality of anti-black violence during Reconstruction in Texas. Whites commonly employed sadistic methods against blacks even though the alleged provocations rarely fit the brutality inflicted. In addition, Texas courts refused to apply laws equally, so blacks were regularly incarcerated for trivial offenses while whites were acquitted for the most heinous atrocities. This task required heavy reliance on the "Record of Criminal Offenses Committed in the State of Texas." By copying the entire report onto a database, it was possible to categorize reported incidents according to the type of violence inflicted and the circumstances surrounding the incidents. The first chapter gives an overview of what has been written about Reconstruction violence in general, and Texas specifically, indicating the necessity for a study of this type. The following two chapters offer a detailed analysis of the Freedmen's Bureau records. The most frequent types of violence and the justifications for such acts are discussed in Chapter 2, while Chapter 3 focuses on the most brutal and senseless incidents. It is in this final chapter that the racism of whites toward blacks and the failure of the Freedmen's Bureau to protect their charges is most evident. Clearly, whites were not hampered by the Bureau's presence, so it is reasonable to assume that violence worsened after the Bureau's departure and the political "Redemption" of the state. Thus, this study is only the first chapter of a long and gruesome story.



Freedmen's Bureau Records, African Americans, reconstruction, violence


Kosary, R. A. (1999). Regression to barbarism in Reconstruction Texas: An analysis of white violence against African-Americans from the Texas Freedmen's Bureau records, 1865-1868 (Unpublished thesis). Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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