Never Forget: The Black Founders of the Southern GOP

Never Forget: The Black Founders of the Southern GOP

“Throughout Reconstruction, African Americans comprised about 90% of GOP membership, and 44 African Americans served in the Texas legislature as Republicans.”

(TexasGOP.org) – Today’s Republican Party was founded in 1854 by a group of Mid-Western abolitionists opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which allowed a choice of slavery in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Texas, which had become a state in 1845, was right in the middle of the heated slavery controversy. Most state leaders were Democrats prior to the Civil War, and thus supported the pro-slavery Confederacy. But President Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, gained the support of Texas Republicans and several prominent state leaders, like Sam Houston, Texas’ first Governor. However, most of those who decided to support Lincoln’s decision to defend the Union were forced from office, and Democrats succeeded in allying Texas with the Confederacy.

The effects of the Civil War and its aftermath would be felt for more than a century throughout the South, and especially in Texas. For its first two generations, Texas had known only honor, victory and valor. Though Texans never lost a battle at home during the Civil War, the Union army under orders from a Republican President marched in and occupied the Lone Star State after the Confederacy surrendered. For the first time, Texas would not be victorious. The next four generations of Texans would not forgive the Republican Party.

Early Support

African Americans were one group of Texans that would consistently support the Republican Party in Texas in those early years. In fact, throughout Reconstruction, African Americans comprised about 90% of GOP membership, and 44 African Americans served in the Texas legislature as Republicans.

It was through the hard work of a number of dedicated African American men and women that the earliest foundations of the Republican Party of Texas were laid. The first ever state Republican convention that met in Houston on July 4, 1867 was predominantly African American in composition, with about 150 African American Texans attending, and 20 Anglos.

The second State GOP Chairman, Norris Wright Cuney, an African-American from Galveston who led the Republican Party from 1883 to 1897, is said by State historians to have held “the most important political position given to a black man of the South in the nineteenth century.

Jefferson’s Rebels

Many former slaves left a political legacy that’s been ignored or completely forgotten by their descendants–even during Black History Month.

As they struggled against the violence and racism of the mid-1800’s, it’s likely they thought this heritage would continue to improve the lives of their descendants.

This legacy is the Republican Party.

For over 50 years, Black people have given over 90 percent of its votes to the Democrat Party. The Democrat Party can always count on strong support from the Black Community.

But that’s certainly wasn’t the case during the mid-1800’s. During that time, the Republican Party led the fight against strong Democrat opposition to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. These changes abolished slavery, granted blacks citizenship and the right to vote. It was clear to all Black people who their friends were in the political arena.

General sentiments towards the Republicans were very hostile, in the south, after the Civil War. Most, if not all, southern citizens had a friend or a family member that died in the Civil War. That made it was very difficult for the GOP to get a solid foothold in southern states–even among southerner’s that agreed with them.

Blacks built the GOP in Southern States. As documented in Helen Edmonds’ book, The Negro in Fusion Politics in North Carolina, 1894-1901, the black founders of the North Carolina GOP helped build local organizations and establish Republican voter majorities in 16 counties by 1896. So why did blacks switch from giving over 90 percent of their support from Republicans to Democrats? Especially since the Democrats were staunchly pro-slavery, established the Klu Klux Klan, and anti-civil rights?


It started in 1892 when Democrat President Grover Cleveland was elected and the Democrats took control of Congress. Their first act was to repeal the Enforcement Act and the Civil Rights laws passed by Republicans. These laws were replaced with the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws — which severely limited economic, educational, social, and political opportunities of blacks. 

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