County Government has Racist Beginnings

March 28, 2018

Texas has 254 counties that vary in population, size, and politics. Many counties were developed as a result of class conflict and racism between farmers and ranchers. These counties were also developed to dwindle Mexican American and African American political power. According to numerous researchers in the area of political science and history, these counties were the carved out of Texas as the result of racial and political conflicts. Let’s look at the little known history of a few of these counties.




By the 1880s, Mexican landowners were forced out or killed by racist Anglos in Dimmit, Jim Wells, Kleberg, and Nueces counties. In 1914, the “White Man’s Primary Association” was established in Dimmit County.  Even before this, in 1902, the poll tax was established requiring voters to pay to vote. Under the Terrell Election Law, which has racist beginnings, and is still used in part to this day, Mr. Terrell himself was quoted saying that the intent of the law was to prevent “illegal voting as one person could buy up Mexican and Negro votes.”  In part, the poll tax in Texas was used to prevent the political machines of African American and Mexican American voters from winning or influencing elections. Many of the minority political machines were set up after the Civil War in 1867. African Americans Charles Bellinger and Lafayette Walker before him developed political machines in San Antonio. 


Also, white racism sought to break up African American and Mexican American voting blocks by charging people to vote and preventing anyone that was white or did not call themselves “white” from voting in the primary. In San Antonio, this is one of the reasons why former mayor Maury Maverick tried to break up the machine politics of Charles Bellinger, a powerful black political boss on the city’s Eastside. Former segregationist Mayor Walter McAllister would join forces with Maverick, the so-called liberal, to disenfranchise blacks in San Antonio by getting rid of the commission form of government and replacing it with a council-manager form of city government in 1951. Of course, these two men claimed that they were only fighting corruption. But corruption gave them the excuse to carry out their racist agenda and create the council manager forms we see today.


When white farmers began to come to Texas in large numbers the ranchers saw this as a threat to their way of life. Some of the ranch owners were sympathetic to blacks and browns, but not so for many of the farmers who desired white political control. When clusters of minorities were situated in certain areas and machine politics gave them some power, farmers sought to divide and carve out farmland away from ranch land. There were political and physical fights in the Texas legislature about creating counties because of these issues, but racism triumphed. Racist ranchers often rounded up Mexican and African Americans to vote for the candidate of their choice, while the racist farmers drew up county boundary lines to prevent minorities from voting.


When the ranchers began to lose the fight they sold their lands to rich farmers and developers, and in South Texas 7 counties were subdivided into 13 counties by 1930 for racist reasons. Often, when the ranchers won the battle against the farmers the old form of using Mexican and African American votes prevailed, but when the farmers won, new counties were created to protect white racism and take away the Mexican American and Black voting power. Mexicans were hurt the most in South Texas because of their historical association to the ranch system. As the farmers began to attack and kill Mexicans, the white ranchers refused to protect the Mexicans from the murderous acts of the Texas Rangers. Texas Rangers were used to brutally kill and murder minorities on farms and ranches.


In short, many Texas counties were broken into smaller counties in order for the racist Anglo farmers to control county government. These racist farmers wanted to get rid of the more racially sympathetic ranch system that allowed for Mexican American and black voters to support a patronage system. Though this patronage system was racist, it nevertheless allowed for Mexican and Black participation in the electoral process. Under the farmer set-up a poll tax, a white primary, and pro-racist county lines were draw up to enhance Jim Crow laws and hence white racist privilege. 


When the farm system replaced the ranch system, Mexican immigrants escaping the 1910 Mexican revolution, became useful for picking spinach and other crops in a farm system that treated them like slaves. Because many blacks would no longer passively work in the fields, after being freed from slavery, black labor in Texas fields was replaced with Mexican labor. This was in part accomplished by creating farm counties that took away power from the ranchers and destroyed Mexican American and African American voting blocks.



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