The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

Southwestern Hzstorical Quarterly

Racial Borders: Black Soldzers Along the Rio Grande. By James N. Leiker. (College
Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2oo2. Pp. 264. List of illustrations, ex-
planation of terms, acknowledgments, introduction, appendices, notes, bib-
liography, index. ISBN 1-58544-158-9. $34.95, cloth.)
Racial Borders examines the actions of black soldiers who served along the Rio
Grande from 1866 to 1916. The work also analyzes the impact of black military
involvement along the border on other non-white groups living in the region.
The work departs from mainstream studies that discuss race relations from the
context of the white-black, white-Hispanic, or white-Indian dichotomy. The au-
thor constructs a paradigm that explores race relations from a multifaceted per-
spective: while whites regularly discriminated against non-whites, non-whites also
oppressed. Racial Borders highlights the ways in which non-whites defined them-
selves and each other, the ways in which they interacted with one another, and
their relationship to the dominant race along the 1,8oo-mile long river.
Black regulars stationed at the Rio Grande border, along with white soldiers
and black Seminole Indian scouts, performed many tasks-they escorted Indi-
ans, safeguarded property and railroads, built post roads, and engaged in "trans-
border campaigns" to apprehend alleged criminals. While whites reluctantly
grew dependent on the army-including its black regulars-Hispanics and Indi-
ans, on the other hand, became more uneasy about its presence. As the army in-
creased its presence to protect the region's industrial and commercial
agricultural development, it contributed to intensifying racial violence and the
erosion of the border's previous natural and harmonious cultural diversity that
had transcended race and nationalism.
As members of the army during the Spanish-American War, during subse-
quent uprisings in the Philippines, and during the punitive expedition in Mexi-
co, Texas-based black troops eagerly attempted to prove their loyalty by aiding in
the slaughter and debasement of Cubans, Filipinos, and Mexicans. Desperately
seeking approval and acceptance from the white world, blacks found hope in
the military. By the end of World War I, however, they realized that their note-
worthy actions as soldiers were not enough to secure them equality. As a result, a
"'New Negro"' response emerged, a response that, according to Leiker, put into
motion the antecedents for the modern civil rights movement.
Leiker's work represents a major departure from the typical race-relations
studies. First, he has reconstructed the actions of black regulars stationed in
Texas, a group that until recent years has been absent from African American,
western, Texas, and military history. Second, he has documented how these sol-
diers lived among and interacted with other non-whites. Third, using local, state,
and federal records, the author has challenged historians, for instance John
Weaver in his groundbreaking monograph, The Brownsvzlle Raid, to rethink their
perspectives on race. According to Leiker, Weaver's conclusion that white racism
alone instigated the racial violence that led to the death of a white local and the
dishonorable discharge of 167 black professional soldiers should be reexam-
ined. A closer examination of sources, according to Leiker, would highlight the
significance of poor Mexican-black relations in Brownsville that played a major

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed July 28, 2014.