A Glimpse at Ft. Worth’s African American Community, 1849 – 2012

Fort Worth, Texas’s black community has a distinctive if not unique history.  Fort Worth was a western community (slogan: “Where the West Begins”) populated overwhelmingly by white Southerners. That means it combined the racial prejudices of the latter with the greater tolerance and openness of the former.    

Slavery existed in Fort Worth from its beginnings as a tiny settlement on the bluff overlooking the Trinity River. Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson, one of the founding fathers of the original Army outpost (1849-53), owned a plantation of 640 acres northwest of the fort worked by 150 slaves. When Tarrant County was created by the Texas legislature on August 26, 1850, the settlement had a population of 599 whites and sixty-five blacks. The 1860 federal census showed the town’s population had declined to 500, but the number of slaves had nearly doubled to 115. The record does not show any free blacks in the little community. 

Fort Worth’s black residents began to develop into a real community with their own schools, churches, and businesses. In 1882, the first black public school opened, with all grades in one building and five teachers, including respected black leaders Isaiah Milligan Terrell and Henry H. Butler. Before this, any black child who wanted to attend school had to enroll in one of two tuition-paying schools that met in Butler’s home or in the African Methodist Church. In 1894, The Item, which proudly proclaimed itself “The Only Negro Newspaper in the City,” began publishing. Fifteen years later it was still going strong…See more

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