The Black Community in Waco, Texas: a study of place, family, and work, 1880-1900


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"The Black Community in Waco, Texas: A Study of Place, Family, and Work, 1880-1900," is a-local study which analyzes residential patterns, family structures, and occupational status of the city's black population in the late nineteenth century. Comparisons between 1880 and 1900 are made concerning these different aspects of life. This study relies heavily on data for Waco recorded in the United States Manuscript Census of 1880 and of 1900. The census documented basic information on family and household composition, kin relations, occupational background, and residential patterns. City directories of Waco for the time period from 1880 to 1900 provided another important source of information. These volumes contain a brief history of the city, identify the location of black businesses, and introduce black social organizations. This research project results in a five-chapter thesis. The introductory chapter provides a brief history of Waco's blacks and discusses the development of the black community from the 1830s (when Negro slaves were brought to the central part of Texas for the first time) to the post-Civil War period, which witnessed a great increase in Waco's black population and brought about a more diversified social life in the city's black community. The 1870 census indicates that the population of Waco was almost equally divided between blacks and whites. Soon the balance was broken as more white people moved into Waco, and the 1880 census shows that blacks represented about one third of the total population. By 1900, black Wacoans made up only twenty-eight percent of the total population. The distribution of these blacks in the city was relatively even among the five wards, and there was not much change in the residential patterns during the twenty-year period under study. Most of the blacks in the city lived on the west side of the Brazos River, with the largest number residing in the Fourth Ward. The findings also suggest that whites comprised a majority of the residents of East Waco, an area traditionally considered as a "black district." Through the distribution of the blacks in the city, the situation of residential segregation was revealed. On some streets, there were no blacks. On others, the only Negroes were single women or men working for white families. On the other hand, some streets were chiefly occupied by blacks, only a few white families could be found. Contributing to the development of a sense of community was the educational and religious life of black Wacoans. After the Civil War, black Wacoans built their own public schools, among which was the first black liberal arts college in the state—Paul Quinn College. They also organized their own church organizations, where ministers and pastors became leaders of black people. There were also social organizations, such as clubs and a musical band. It is through family, education, religion, and other social activities that the black Wacoans began to overcome difficulties on their way to improve themselves. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the black family structure in Waco did not change much. Twoparent nuclear families were in the majority, followed by female-headed nuclear families. From 1880 to 1900, however, the number of nuclear families decreased, and the extendedaugmented families increased. Families in this latter category were characterized by the presence of relatives or boarders. Some sociologists suggest that extended-kinship relations played an important part in the black family life, especially in the development of a black child's character. The data also reveals a decrease in the number of families consisting solely of mothers and children. This perhaps reflected the sex and age structure of black Wacoans in which females outnumbered males in almost all age groups. The ratio of females to males, however, decreased from 1880 to 1900. Moreover, Waco's black household size followed the national trend toward smaller households from 1880 to 1900. The largest percentage of households consisted of single blacks who either lived alone or with a white family. An examination of occupational status reveals few surprises. Most black Wacoans worked in the areas of service or manual labor as cooks, servants, washwomen, and laborers, occupations which did not require much skill. Most blackowned businesses were limited to grocery stores, barber shops, and restaurants. The percentage of blacks in professional, proprietary, and skilled occupational categories to the total working population was also limited. The narrow range toward low-paying and less-skilled occupations reflects the blacks' relatively low position in the city's social and economic ladder. It also reveals that the city's black community was not large nor strong enough to reflect a distinct social, political, and economic division within the community. This study suggests that after the Civil War, black Wacoans made some progress in improving their social conditions and organizing their own community life. In order to raise their social status and to become equal to whites in every respect, it seems that they still have a long way to go.



Negro, black, segregation