During the period from 1880 to 1905, and way before Marcus Garvey in 1919, there was an effort for blacks to leave the United States and settle in Mexico. Most of the African efforts failed, in part, because the organizers failed to understand that Africans are not one ethnic group. Africa has hundreds and hundreds of various ethnic groups and languages and with many different religions including Christian, Muslim, and animal and water spirit customs. Additionally, most of these African ethnic societies fought each other, and are still doing so, and before the advent of the African slave trade never identified themselves as “black.” In fact, most identified themselves by their tribal and ethnic group and just like European ethnic groups (Angles and Saxons) they fought each other for dominance in their particular region. Today, many Africans do not even call themselves African, as in many places (Nigeria for an example). Africans fought each other and when they could trade slaves for guns with the Europeans they did so; these were the divide and conquer methods of colonialism. European slave owners took advantage of the ethnic conflicts that were already going on ages before they arrived in Africa.
The same thing happened in America as various Native American tribes fought each other before the arrival of Columbus, but the European colonial powers took advantage of this and used one tribe against another with the intent of killing or conquering them all. This same colonial method was used in Africa. In San Antonio, a man by the name of W.H. Ellis had a different idea. He proposed moving thousands of African Americans to Mexico, which was closer and had a history of being friendly to black folk ever since the days of Vicente Guerrero (Mexico’s only black president) and Santa Anna’s war against Anglo slave owners. In fact, William Ellis led approximately 800 African Americans to settle in Mexico in the area known as Tlahualilo, Mexico in the state of Durango in February of 1895. Hundreds of blacks left Alabama and Georgia and were sent off by cheering crowds in across various cities along the way. After they traveled hundreds of miles they finally crossed the border at Eagle Pass (Piedras Negras, Mexico). This train caravan most likely passed through San Antonio, as W.H. Ellis had an office in San Antonio and was related to the only black doctor in the area named Greene Starnes. Starnes was a resident of San Antonio in the 1880s and may have been the first black doctor in San Antonio.
W.H. Ellis was born in Victoria, Texas and was a slave as a child. He became fluent in Spanish and because of his complexion was able to be accepted by the people of Mexico.He was multi-cultural and was able to navigate his way around the racist structures and Jim Crow law in the United States. Having some wealth, Ellis actually had offices in New York, Mexico City, and San Antonio. Unfortunately, Ellis’ migration plan was short lived, but his efforts had long lasting effects. Many of those African Americans from the South, including some from San Antonio, stayed in Mexico and now only speak Spanish. Their ancestors still live in Mexico and can tell the story of how these families escaped the racist confines of Jim Crow law in the United States. The concept of leaving the land of racism was hatched way back in the 1700s and by 1854 was a project by several African Americans. W.H. Ellis was a pioneer in these efforts and was more successful than Marcus Garvey in many ways.