The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000

Black Labor, the Black Middle Class,
and Organized Protest along the
Upper Texas Gulf Coast, 1883-z945
ERNEST OBADELE-STARKS*
FROM THE LATTER PART OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY THROUGH THE
first half of the twentieth century the black working and middle class-
es along the Upper Texas Gulf Coast, a region that served as the model
of industrialization in the New South, developed a variety of strategies to
combat racial inequities in several key industries.' The wide range of
responses to racial biases in this region's workplaces indicated that
African Americans shared distinct perspectives on organized protest
against race and class domination. While the black working class strug-
gled to establish itself as a vital force in the Texas labor movement, black
politicians, community leaders, and newspaper editors presented them-
selves as allies of, and in some instances, the leaders and spokespersons
of black workers and used a variety of tactics to combat oppression.
Black elites used their education, community influence, and resources,
and often resorted to controversial protest strategies to achieve their
goal of a well organized and racially unified black laboring class.
Gradual changes in the labor movement, however, brought about new
outlooks on the role of the black middle class, and over a period of time,
their long standing alliance with black workers diminished.2
* Ernest Obadele-Starks is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University in College
Station.
' The Upper Texas Gulf Coast includes Chambers, Galveston, Harris, and Jefferson counties. On
the industrial growth of the Upper Texas Gulf Coast see Ray Marshall, "Some Reflections on Labor
History," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 75 (Oct., 1971), 137-185; Joe Feagin, Free Enterprise City:
Houston in Political-Economic Perspective (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988); Joseph
A. Pratt, The Growth of a Refining Region (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1980). For general studies on
the working class in Texas see Ruth Allen, Chapters in the History of Organized Labor in Texas (Austin:
Umversity of Texas Publication, 1941); Robert E. Zeigler, "The Workingman in Houston, Texas,
1865-1914" (Ph.D. diss., Texas Tech University, 1972); and James C. Maroney "Organized Labor in
Texas, 19oo-1929" (Ph.D. diss., University of Houston, 1975).
2 Recently, historians have begun to re-evaluate the role of the African-American labor com-
munity in the American labor movement. These historians agree that black labor, particularly in

SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY

VOL. CIII, NO. 1I

JULY, 1999

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/. Accessed August 27, 2014.