By Maceo Crenshaw Dailey, Jr., Ph. D.
Director, African American Studies
Associate Professor, Dept. of History
University of Texas at El Paso

The entries on this site are the first for a ground breaking online encyclopedia on Black Texans, a project boldly and brilliantly
undertaken by its editors Michael Hurd and Roxanne Evans. These initial entries explore the era from 1528 to 1836, when blacks
were Spanish according to
Dr. Quintard Taylor, prominent historian of the African American experience in the Western United States.

It begins with the fateful, fatal, but extremely significant foray of the African Esteban into the Southwestern region comprising
Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and the nation of Mexico. It concludes with the period shortly after
Don Juan de Oñate traveled North
with his caravan from Mexico City, crossed the Rio Grande River into what is now the city of El Paso, Texas, and continued onward
in a journey of conquest and rapacious behavior in subsequent confrontation with the
Pueblo Indians of Acoma. The Spanish, as is
evident in Oñate’s behavior, meant to have this land and all its wealth, and to profit from colonial expansion and to subjugate two
immediate groups:  the Indians, upon whose rich land they trekked, and the imported Africans, upon whose backs could be built an

The forced (Africans) and the first (Indians) could be set against each other as was evident in the plight of Esteban.  The stains and
strains of that historical conflict are still with us today. Both groups’ cultures were irrevocably changed in the course of history: one in
its homeland and the other on new terrain. Africans and Indians had one thing in common that placed them in harm’s way:
pigmentation that set them apart from the Europeans. Both Africans and Indians struggled to survive by following the winding road of
history. Both had to recalibrate their thinking to the realization of constant turmoil, stress, and strife; both waged gallant battles—
physical and mental—to defend themselves against the onslaught and total annihilation. The Texas Black History Preservation Project
follows the trail as Africans evolve into African Americans. The project’s parabola is indeed a fascinating one to follow with each
scholarly essay broadening and setting the record straight.(

What better place than Texas for Black Americans to begin revisiting and reconstructing our history, at the dawn of our recorded
experiences in the Americas and, as is the case with some of our most impressive achievements, supinely sandwiched within the state’
s borders, from the blues on one hand to Barbara Jordan on the other; where the word “journeyproud” was coined and the holiday
Juneteenth” established; where former slaves were bold enough to conceive of an all-Black state in the days after the Civil War;
Booker T. Washington found his most reliable aide-de-camp; where a small Black college bested all the national debating
teams; where five black basketball players changed the course of national athletics and sports; where came one of the founders of the
Black Panther Party; where emerged the first black heavyweight boxing champion; where came the challenges to and subsequent
abolishment of the all-white Democratic party primary; where West Point’s first African American graduate took up residency for
over thirty years; where strode the likes of Jane Elkins,
A. Maceo Smith, J. Mason Brewer, Melvin Tolson, Josie Briggs Hall, John
Biggers, Jules Bledsoe, Annie Mae Hunt, Norris Wright Cuney, James Farmer, Wilhemina Delco, Rube Foster, Jamie Foxx, Scott
Joplin, Doris Miller, Percy Sutton, Sutton Griggs, Ruth Simmons, Helen Giddings, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, just to name a few of
the African American landmark accomplishments and doers of the deed!

From where and whence all of this came -- along with the myriad other stellar achievements and attempts to overcome major racial
problems -- must be examined in the light of early black Texas history, and we do well to follow the beginnings of that history, placing
it squarely within the context of the Spanish intrusion into the Southwest and summoning Esteban center stage, identifying and tracing
the significance of those of African descent in Oñate’s caravan of 1598 -- the “three female negro slaves, one mulatto slave and other
men and women servants.”  

The plaintive voice of
Isabel de Olvera in 1600 commands attention. Quintard Taylor readily writes that de Olvera was “the first free
woman of African ancestry to venture in Northern New Spain (encompassing now the state of Texas).  Her appearance in Santa Fe
predates by 19 years the arrival of 20 blacks in Jamestown, Virginia.”  She quickly established and asserted herself by petitioning
authorities that she was “free and not bound by marriage or slavery,” a resounding rejection to patriarchy and bondage! Also in the
region in 1692, now the state of New Mexico, was
Sebastian Rodriguez Brito, described as an “Angolan-born free son of African
slaves,” who rose from the ranks of servant to soldier and eventually acquired land, all prior to marrying Isabel Olguín, an “Espanola

The distant past explored in the "Coming to Texas" package presents many challenges, but they are overcome by the contributors’
clarity of thought on the right set of questions to raise and usage of historical theories, paradigms, and research methodologies to reap
the needed historical lessons. The
Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a boon in sharpening our thinking on the essence of
African American History, gave rise to a new day in universities and African Studies Programs, and spawned “Afrocentricity.”  
Malcolm X, the "Black Prince" of that era (to use the apt term of black actor Ossie Davis), reminded us that of all our studies, history
is best suited to reward all research “because once you know how other people have solved their problems, you will know how to
solve your problems!”  
Malcolm helped to move us away from a preoccupation with “integrationist” history and studies, to revelatory and revolutionary

He presumed to preach many times right outside the
Oscar Micheaux-owned Harlem bookstore where the blunt sign read that “The
Negro was a political tool, economic stool, and religious fool.” Black history was set another task in the 1960s and had other muses
following Malcolm and Micheaux as “righteous indignation” took hold and a new sense of purpose properly propelled practical
consideration and behavior. History had to afford African Americans the opportunity to think anew; and historians, as problem-
solvers, filled the fold, contributing to the development of perspicacious survival skills and chiding the laggards.  

A readjustment of thought and realignment of allegiances occurred based on the revelations of the past. The process continues today,
allowing more readily for curiosity and taking up challenges with a distinct measure of faith that the “bye and bye” is palpably upon us
now. Malcolm X made this plain as day in a speech he gave to a group of young blacks in 1964: “One of the first things I think young
people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself….the most
important thing that we learn to do today is think for ourselves. It’s good to keep wide-open ears and listen to what everybody else
has to say, but when you come to make a decision, you have to weigh all of what you’ve heard.”(

Malcolm as educator meant for blacks to draw on history, self-discovery, and research, and move forward with a new democratic
determination and sense of purpose. He knew this sense of realism was equally important for all Americans. We do well to heed his
advice, as is evident in this historical project which visits the past to illuminate where we are today and to provide a road map to the

This project also takes us back to some of the unfinished business of earlier brilliant black historians and writers while at the same
time pushing us beyond the boundaries and borders in which they were hemmed.
Lt. Henry O. Flipper, West Point’s first African
American graduate, wrote with commendable restraint, but stunning comprehension of the early black experience of the West,
especially in El Paso where he resided. Flipper chided some big time historians of his era, such as
Herbert Bolton, for their
shortsightedness and limited language skills in Spanish that questioned the accuracy of their scholarship. It indeed was bold of Flipper
to take on Bolton and others, but the West Point graduate never found time to continue his research.  

Howard University’s remarkable historian Rayford W. Logan wrote one of the most thoughtful scholarly essays on Esteban, published
in Phylon in the l940s -- and posted on this site -- arguing that Esteban’s major problem was that he left no codicil behind to address
his life. Had Esteban done this, it is problematic to believe that it would have survived given the turmoil of the era and the silencing of
black voices, but we can be more imaginative scholars now in getting at history. Every datum and fact must be squeezed for the
fullness of revelations. We now have black Indian scholars -- of mixed parentage, fluent in Indian languages, and acceptant of the
challenges for reinterpretation -- doing this.(

Benjamin Quarles, the esteemed historian of Morgan State University, wrote prophetically that “because freedom is a deep river to
cross, Negroes would prefer to cross over in calm times, but cross over they must, being Americans.” The river of freedom was not
crossed in calm times, and thus it took nearly a century to move beyond the remnants of slavery to abolish the system of segregation
and stumble into the 21st century with grave concerns about the economic situation of Black Americans, notwithstanding the recent
election of an American president who is African American. President
Barack Obama stands tall, but as I write this my hometown El
Paso, Texas newspaper notes almost casually the high incidents of young black men being killed or killing and the newspaper itself
wrote one of the most disturbing non sequitur editorials painting the then presidential aspirant Obama as having socialist leanings and
hinting that he would ally himself with
Hugo Chavez.(7)

In the
National Urban League’s State of Black America in 2007, then U.S. Senator Barack Obama, in his foreword, presciently wrote:

“There are at least two stories to tell about the state of black America in 2007. One story celebrates the extraordinary fact that some
of this country’s top financial institutions have black chief executives, that a black woman (from Texas) is president of an Ivy League
university, that the current and previous secretaries of state are black Americans, that a black coach led his team to victory in the
Super Bowl, that the college graduation rate of black women has never been higher, that home ownership by blacks is as high as it has
ever been, and that blacks have penetrated nearly every barrier in law, business, medicine, sports, education, politics and public

"Black influence on art and culture is as strong as it has ever been, and black voters should feel empowered by a reauthorized
Rights Act…But another story must also be told about the state of black America. A quarter of all black Americans live below the
federal poverty level, a poverty rate about twice the national rate. More than a third of all black children live in poverty and almost
two-thirds grow up in a home without both parents. In some cities, more than a half of all black boys do not finish high school and by
the time they are in their 30s, almost six in ten black high school dropouts will have spent time in prison. Half of all black men in their
20s are jobless, and one study a few years ago found more black men in prison than enrolled in college. The typical black household
earns only 60% of the earnings of white households and has a net worth only about 10% that of whites. The HIV/AIDS rate is highest
for black Americans, and blacks are more often the victims of inadequate health care and preventable health maladies…This sad story
is a stark reminder that the long march toward true and meaningful equality in America isn’t over. We have a long way to go.”(

With these thoughts in mind we return to black Texas (which generally mirrors the national statistics on African Americans) to ask for
a stimulating, empowering return to the past to ask important historical questions for continued survival: what carryover values did
Africans bring to the state and region; what were their religious values and practices (
Islam, for example, has been given short shrift in
previous scholarship); what were gender roles and prescribed forms of behavior; how were blacks situated in Spanish, French,
English, and subsequently, American culture; what various forms did resistance take; what were black views of those around them --
especially Indians; what did community and socialization mean to blacks; what did they contribute to the syncretic cultures of the area;
and what singular successes can they lay claim to in the arts, sciences, and the study of human behavior?(

The study of the
Olmec culture of Mexico suggests that persons of African descent were in the Americas long before the enigmatic
day in 1492 when
Columbus touched the shoreline in present-day Cuba. The writings of Ivan Van Sertima in "They Came Before
Columbus" (based largely on the earlier archaeological works of
Leo Wiener of Harvard) give indication of Africans arriving in Mexico
as early as the 8th century, but no later than the 12th century. The maritime knowledge was available to Africans and cultural contact
is revealed through the pyramids and phenotype of the Olmecs of Mexico. I had occasion to visit the
Historical Museum of Mexico
City in 1992 to talk with one of its directors who, while guiding me through the site, stated emphatically that the Olmecs were the
mother culture of Mexico. Exploration of this assertion stands as a challenge to the view that “the first Africans arrived in Hispaniola
with Christopher Columbus.”

Many are pulled out of their thought comfort zone in reading Van Sertima and others who conclude this, but this is as it should be as
we attempt to get at the roots of discovery, exploring the sailing ventures of the Africans and Chinese prior to 1492 in this view of
history. The so-called New World becomes more a quilt of different civilizations and cultures connected in some instances, no matter
how tattered. History in superlative -- as
Carter G. Woodson wrote and in the parlance of my students -- must also take some “hits!”

Contact among the various groups and nations, moreover, reveals the transformative nature of survivors.  From the 8th to 15th
centuries, Europeans -- the Spanish in particular -- were struggling in their homeland to emerge, remain sovereign, and ward off the
Moorish/Muslim influence. While the story ultimately became one of European intrusion into Africa and initiation of the slave trade
that would provide the labor for the Americas, the New World accolade is fitting as cultural contacts, conflicts, and cooperations all
prevailed in varying periods. The Africans who were dragged from their homelands were not blank pages awaiting the ink of European
salvation. Those Africans and their progenitors were many times the issues of the proud nation-states of Ghana, Mali, Songhai, and
other communities and villages on the continent. They were steeped in their cultures and brought all that they could salvage to the
Americas, seeking to preserve their core values and beliefs, but having to relinquish some in order to adapt to circumstances in the
New World.
Palmares in Brazil and Mount Orizaba in Mexico are two known, excellent examples of African governance and
communities in the New World, built on rebellion and sustained by the need for familiarity.(

Northern New Spain, however, spawned the southwest region of the United States and left its imprimatur for all to see. Spanish
culture with notable African influences moved northward rapidly from
Veracruz, Mexico to Santa Fe. Mexico, at one point in its
colonial past, had the second largest population of African captives, perhaps as high as 50,000 individuals by 1600. As the early
history of Afro-Texans is reconstructed, it is this path which must be followed as we find progression and regression in race relations
and the African American experience. The Rio Grande River and its surroundings come to look a bit like
Mesopotamia of the New
World, but its growth was retarded, no doubt, by greed and racial antipathies of which Africans and African Americans bore the brunt.

I frequently instruct my students to abandon the code of silence that so often haunts a class in race relations by advising them that “if
you can’t talk about what ails you, how do you expect to find the cure?” This historical project allows for that discussion and places
us -- all Americans and Texans in particular -- on the path to the cure.  

Beyond reaffirmation of African culture and accomplishments and, by extension, black Texans, this initial site is an informative and
delightful historical excursion. Rhonda M. Gonzales gives us a splendid examination of the “enduring presence of Afro-Mexicans on
the Mexico and Texas borders.”  Glenn A. Chambers explores the “Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Origins of the African Diaspora
in Texas,” and the fact that the “culture that developed in Texas represents nearly every facet of the American experience.” Doug
Richmond steps immediately into contested historical territory with an opening sentence that “one must consider the possibility that
[Africans] appeared before 1528” and goes on to give an analysis of the “Emergence of Afro-Tejano Society During The Spanish
Colonial Period In Texas, 1528-1700.”  

When considered as a whole, this first set of writings is sweeping and bold when one takes into account previous scholarship. It
springs importantly, one should note here, from some of the early scholarship of the so-called Texas Tech school of historiography
Bruce Glasrud’s designation) of primarily white historians who wrote as well as trained other white and black students in
graduate school to appreciate the subject matter and seek answers. So many must be credited with providing the backdrop for this
publication project! This will be a source of joy or consternation, depending where one is situated on the historical landscape.
Instructive to some, it will find its “doubting Thomases,” in other quarters. Both groups, however, will profit from a reading if
interested in keeping the disturbing and destructive racial past from maintaining its prologue, prima dona status.  

  1. Dr. Quintard Taylor, “Race and Cultural Borders: African Americans in the l9th Century Southwest,” Speech, El Paso History Museum, 10 April 2008, El
    Paso, Texas.
  2. Interests in the relationship and reconciliation between Indians and African Americans have sharpened over the last four decades. Several major
    conferences -- reflecting this body of scholarship -- have been held. Among the most important conferences were the University of New Mexico in
    Albuquerque in 2003 and the collaborative one between Haskell University and University of Kansas 2006. All the presentations at the 2006 conference
    were impressive.  I found reassuring the presentations by those describing themselves as “Bermuda Pequot,” “Southern Algonquin/Cherokee,”
    “Black/Seminole” “Black/Choctaw,” “Eve/Ewe”, and Yoruba/Choctaw. Another collaborative effort is the Warriors Project involving the UTEP African
    American Studies Program and the Indian Studies Program at Arizona State University.  This project was launched by the National Park Service.
  3. Alwyn Barr, of course, was one of the brilliant early historians who produced scholarly works on the Texas African American Community. Bruce Gladrud
    argues convincingly that Barr and other such early historians (many writing in the tradition of liberal scholarship) can be placed in a “Texas Tech” school of
    historiography. Barr, to me, is the most sensitive and perceptive, reminding me very much of my mentor Dr. Benjamin Quarles. See Alwyn Barr, Black
    Texans: A History of the African Americans in Texas, 1528-l995 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, l996); Alwyn Barr, "The African Texans"
    (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2004).
  4. Maceo Crenshaw Dailey, Jr., and Kristine Navarro, "Wheresoever My People Chance To Dwell: Oral Interviews With African American Women Of El
    Paso" (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 2000); Quintard Taylor, The Racial Frontier: African Americans In The American West, 1528-l990 (New York:
    W. W. Norton, 2000).
  5. See "Malcolm X. Talks To Young People" (New York: Pathfinder Press, l965).
  6. Rayford Logan, “Estevanico, Negro Discoverer of the Southwest: a critical reexamination,Phylon, (Vol. I, No. 4, l940), pp. 305-314; Maceo Crenshaw
    Dailey, Jr., The African American Community of El Paso:  The Convergence of the West and South in Construction of the Black Experience and Identity
    (Handout booklet for UTEP History Class) in this pamphlet is Henry O. Flipper’s essay “Early History of El Paso.” pp. 88-95.
  7. Benjamin Quarles, Lincoln and the Negro (New York: Oxford Press, l962); Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (Boston: Little & Brown,
  8. Senator Barack Obama, “Foreword,” The State of Black America, 2007 (New York: National Urban League, 2007), pp. 9-12.
  9. See for example the excellent research and writings of Michael Gomez in focusing our attention on Islam in the Americas. See Michael Gomez, Black
    Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
  10. Ivan Van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus (New York: Random House, l976); Ivan Van Sertima, African Presence in Early America (New
    Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, l992).  The traveling exhibit, “The African Presence in Mexico,” and companion volume of the same name are
    fascinating examples of what  lay historians and professional curators can do to prod professional historians to explore the past in more comprehensive and
    creative ways.
  11. Ibid, Colin Palmer, Slaves of the White God (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, l976).
Texas Black History Preservation Project
Documenting the Complete African American Experience in Texas -- "Know your history, know yourself"
Civil Rights Movement
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