3 African Americans Who Have Left a Lasting Legacy in Texas

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On July 28, 1868, the congress of the United States adopted the 14th amendment, solidifying the rights of African Americans to be treated as fellow citizens in the post-Civil War era. Though it was an important step in the fight for equality, people of color would still face many years of segregation and mistreatment. To honor the passing of this landmark event, here are three African Americans who made significant contributions to the legacy of the Lone Star State.

1. Sam McCulloch Jr.

African American Family

Photo: Facebook/American Slavery

Sam McCulloch Jr. moved to Texas in 1835. Soon after, the battle for Texas’ Independence from Mexico began. Due to Mexico’s recent outlawing of slavery, McCulloch was considered a free man, something not many people could boast of during that period of history. He fought alongside his fellow Texans and eventually, at a skirmish in Goliad, he took a Mexican officer’s bullet in his shoulder, becoming the first person to be wounded in the revolution.

However, his story does not end there. Once Texas had gained its independence, it was quick to address the issue of free people of color residing in the state. In 1840, an act was set into motion which required all free persons of color to vacate the state by January 1, 1842, or risk being sold into slavery. According to the Bullock Museum’s African American article, it would take, “a literal act of congress for a free person of color to stay in the Republic of Texas.”

As a Mexican citizen and wounded veteran, McCulloch was entitled to land regardless of the color of his skin. In 1837 he petitioned the Texas Congress to allow him to remain with his family. Finally, in 1840, an exemption to the existing act was created that would allow him, members of his family, and their descendants to remain in Texas.

2. Etta Barnett

Etta Barnett

Photo: Facebook/Black History Historical Archive 365 24/7

Born to an African Methodist Episcopal ministerial family in Weimar, Texas, Barnett would eventually find herself a fixture on Broadway and would pioneer the way for African American entertainers in the years to come. Her first onscreen appearance in the film “Gold Diggers of 1933” showed the world that women of color could fill roles other than those of housekeepers and nannies. (Barnett played a homemaker whose husband had passed away.) That same year, Barnett took on the role of a Brazilian singer for “Flying Down to Rio.” According to the Texas State Historical Association, the film would become her most well-known venture, as she acted alongside movie stars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

In what was perhaps one of the highlights of her life, Barnett was invited to the White House in 1934. She was the first African American woman to ever perform at the President’s home. She was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1979.

Throughout her lifetime, Barnett was heavily involved in several philanthropic agencies and was considered one of the Top 100 Most Influential Women of the 20th Century by the Texas Women’s Chamber of Commerce. A mere 102 years after her humble beginnings, the ground breaking singer and actress passed away due to pancreatic cancer.

3. Richard Arvin Overton

Richard Overton

Photo: Facebook/Black Americans

Born in 1906 in Bastrop Country, Overton is the oldest living American veteran at a spry 111 years old. He served in the military from 1941 to 1945, and according to a recently published interview with the Dallas Morning News, his unit—made up of African American soldiers—was one of the first to arrive at Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attack.

In 2013, Overton made an appearance at the White House and at the Veteran’s Day Ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery. During his visit, he met President Obama, who showered him with praise during the ceremony. He celebrated his birthday on May 11 of this year. As a gift, the city of Austin renamed the street where he lives, Richard Overton Avenue.


The Handbook of Texas Online