Fort Bend County TX Term Paper

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Fort Bend County, Texas

Urbanization is the process of becoming urban. Living together in villages, towns, and cities is a natural condition of human life that has obtained since the beginning of civilization 10,000 years ago. Cities, for better or worse, have been deeply involved in developing the main characteristics of civilization-literacy, government, high arts, commerce, technology (Miller & Sanders 1990).

Urban places have been focal points for action and ideas, and gateways for trade and migration. The future of humanity is to become urban; about half of the world's population will be living in cities in 2000. Texas shares this human legacy, for in the 1990s more than eighty percent of its citizens live within city limits (Miller & Sanders 1990). For Texas, therefore, urbanization is practically complete.

In 1990 in Texas, now the third largest state, the urban population reached 81.6%, compared to the 77.5% for the United States. Only slightly more than one percent of the people, however, actually worked on farms and ranches (Miller & Sanders 1990). The remainder simply lived outside a defined urban space.

Influential African-Americans of Fort Bend County

Walter Moses Burton

Walter Moses Burton, black state senator, was brought to Texas as a slave from North Carolina in 1850 at the age of twenty-one. He belonged to a planter, Thomas Burke Burton, who owned a plantation and several large farms in Fort Bend County (Wharton 1939). While a slave, Walter Burton was taught how to read and write by his master, a skill that served him well in later years.

Thomas Burton sold Walter several large plots of land for $1,900 dollars (Wharton 1939). This land made the freedman one of the wealthiest and most influential blacks in Fort Bend County. He became involved in politics as early as 1869, when he was elected sheriff and tax collector of Fort Bend County. Along with these duties, he also served as the president of the Fort Bend County Union League.

In 1873 Burton campaigned for and won a seat in the Texas Senate, where he served for seven years - from 1874 to 1875 and from 1876 to 1882. In the Senate he championed the education of blacks (Wharton 1939). Among the many bills that he helped push through was one that called for the establishment of Prairie View Normal School (now Prairie View A&M University). In the Republican party Burton served as a member of the State Executive Committee at the state convention of 1873, as a vice president of the 1878 and 1880 conventions, and as a member of the Committee on Platform and Resolutions at the 1892 convention. His first term in the Senate was shortened by a contested election, as well as the calling of the Constitutional Convention of 1875 (Wharton 1939).

In January 1874 he was granted a certificate of election from the Thirteenth Senatorial District, but a white Democrat contested the election on the grounds that Burton's name was listed three different ways on the ballot and that, consequently, each name received votes in various counties of the district (Wharton 1939). The Senate committee on election at first recommended the seating of the Democratic candidate but later reconsidered its decision and based the outcome of the election on the intent of the voters who cast ballots for the different Burtons.

The Senate confirmed Burton's election on February 20, 1874. By that time, half of the first session of the Fourteenth Legislature was over, and the second session was abbreviated because of the call for a constitutional convention. Burton ran for and was reelected to the Senate in 1876. He left the Senate in 1882 and upon the request of a white colleague was given an ebony and gold cane for his service in that chamber (Wharton 1939).

Henry Clay Ferguson

Henry Clay Ferguson, county official and Republican Party chairman, was born in Texas in 1847, probably into slavery. He moved to Houston and became secretary of the Harris County school board (Brewer 1970). He later served with distinction in the State Police. In 1870, after the disbanding of this force, he moved to Fort Bend County, one of the few Texas counties with a black majority (5,510 black residents and 1,604 white ones).

A contemporary who knew Ferguson described him as "a man of great dignity, [who] never talked loud in conversation, and looked one in the face when he talked" (qtd. In Brewer 1970). Ferguson succeeded another African-American, Walter M. Burton, as sheriff, an office in which he took an even-handed approach that gained the respect of many whites. With their support he easily obtained the surety bond, required at the time, to run for public office.

In 1876 he was elected county tax assessor, a position he held until 1888. His brother Charles M. Ferguson, whom Henry supported at Fisk University, returned to Fort Bend County and was elected district clerk in 1882. In 1888, in an effort to eliminate black Republican control of the county, a number of young white men formed the Young Men's Democratic Club, which became known as the Jaybirds (Yelderman 1979). Black Republicans and their white supporters became known as the Woodpeckers. In the hostilities that developed two white men were killed. The Jaybirds blamed black leaders for the deaths, even though no African-Americans were formally charged. The Jaybirds demanded that six prominent black leaders leave the county. Though the club banished Charles, it allowed Henry to remain (Yelderman 1979). Ferguson later gave up his tax-assessor position, sold his property, and left for Houston.

After leaving Fort Bend County, Ferguson obtained a concession from Mexico and proposed to colonize 10,000 blacks to grow cotton. Even though the plan fell through, he gained a position on the committee for permanent organization at the national Republican convention in 1888 (Brewer 1970). His growing prominence in the Texas Republican party and his support for William McKinley led to his election over Norris Wright Cuney as temporary state party chairman in 1896.

Ferguson defeated William Madison McDonald to become permanent chairman at the 1898 state Republican convention, but the split that developed between the Ferguson and McDonald factions weakened black influence within the Republican Party (Brewer 1970).

Recent Times in Fort Bend County

Public libraries, along with the Texas State Library, flourished in the early twentieth century along with the public secondary schools that benefited from state reorganization in the 1880s (Acheson 1977). Rural libraries also existed, of course, but as urbanization progressed libraries and schools became largely urban based. The cities took up the special burden of education to raise the level of urban culture and to provide access to its benefits (Acheson 1977).

Without sufficient education the opportunities of urban life mean little - a newspaper, for instance, is of small use to illiterate people (Barr 1973). United States District Judge Woodrow Seals sensed this role when he ruled in 1977 that the Houston Public School District had to give free education to all children regardless of their citizenship status. The result is that Texas urbanization has led to enormous school districts in the major cities, with attendant problems of integration, staffing, management, expense, and facilities. Big-school problems have become big-city problems (McComb 1989).

Other problems are part of urban development. Racial and ethnic differences have caused explosions of hatred and misunderstanding in Texas, such as the Houston riot of 1917, which left nineteen people dead and led to the largest courts-martial in United States history, and the brutal lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco in 1916 (Martin 1969). The legacy of segregation, at first instituted under slavery and then continued by law and custom, has resulted in de facto housing separation.

Hispanic barrios and black residential areas are still common in Texas cities and have attracted recent study. As the Mexican-American population of Houston began to rebuild in the early twentieth century, for example, a barrio developed near the cotton compresses at the railroad tracks and became a city within a city (Miller & Sanders 1990). It has endured, along with traditional black living areas of the Fifth Ward, where poverty and crime are egregious. The stress between and even within racial and ethnic groups manifests itself repeatedly in city government, school decisions, housing, and local police relations.

The racial and ethnic mix of Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, and Anglo-Americans, for example, is noticeable and varied. For Texas, where more of the Mexican-American minority lives in the southwest and more of the African-American minority in the east, this mix has provided both a basis for disharmony in politics and economics and the opportunity to enrich the culture with language, customs, and foods (Miller & Sanders 1990). Although it is a partly subjective exercise to assign a "character" or "personality" to a city or place, it is commonly done in popular literature to explain uniqueness.

Texas has mixed the social customs of the West and the South, the cotton kingdom and the cattle kingdom. The slavery-cotton plantation system reached into East Texas, and the…[continue]

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