Waller County, Texas, which lies along the Brazos River, about an hour north-west of Houston, is a place of small towns, cotton fields and a Black university, Prairie View A&M University, its economic anchor (pictured below). In 2010, the county was 24% Black (mostly university students), 29% Hispanic and 45% White.
In 1829, slavery was outlawed in Texas, then part of Mexico. Blacks fled there from the US.
In 1836, Whites took Texas from Mexico. By 1845, some 200 Whites in Waller owned over 1,000 Black slaves.
In 1865, after the Civil War, the US Army arrived in Texas on Juneteenth to free the slaves. In 1868, there was a race riot in Hempstead, the county seat.
In 1876, what would become Prairie View A&M was founded to educate Blacks, built on an old cotton plantation. In 1880, the county was mostly Black – and could vote!
In 1877, the US Army pulled out.
From 1877 to 1950, there were 15 lynchings, the third worst county in Texas. The (largely Black) Republican vote dropped by half from 1896 to 1900.
In 1903, “white primaries” in effect shut out Blacks from politics.
In the 1960s, students boycotted Hempstead businesses to force them to integrate. After Selma, Blacks could vote again.
In 1971, the voting age in the US dropped to 18. Because of the university, that greatly increased the Black vote. The county blocked students from voting unless they or their families owned property in the county. The courts overturned that in 1979.
In 2004, the county tried again: Oliver Kitzman, the White district attorney, threatened to prosecute any out-of-county student who tried to vote, Supreme Court rulings be damned. Students forced him out, but the county still found ways to keep them from voting – until 2008, when a federal judge put the county under Department of Justice (DOJ) oversight.
In 2007, Glenn Smith, the White police chief of Hempstead, was suspended without pay for two weeks and put on probation for six months for his “humiliation and mistreatment of young African American males.” In 2008, after searching a young Black man’s underwear in public, he was fired. He ran for higher office, county sheriff, and won. By a landslide.
In 2014, Elton Mathis, the White district attorney, was accused of texting, “My hounds ain’t even started yet dumb ass,” to Rev. Walter Pendleton, a Black pastor. Pendleton had asked for information on prosecution rates by ethnicity in the county, saying that Mathis practised “selective prosecution”. Mathis: “You are too stupid to know what that word means.”
Also in 2014, Waller County became one of 28 counties nationwide whose elections were monitored by the DOJ.
In 2015, Herschel Smith, a Black police officer and elected constable, was held by police for 45 minutes – while in uniform.
On July 10th, state trooper Brian Encinia, patrolling the road in front of the university, tailed Sandra Bland (pictured), a new employee at the university. After pulling her over for failing to signal a lane change, he arrested her, roughed her up and sent her to the county jail – run by Glenn Smith.
On July 13th, Sandra Bland was found dead in jail.
Glenn Smith is leading the investigation. Elton Mathis will take it to a grand jury.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Sandra Bland
- Race (or Blacks) in:
- Baltimore power structure
- Seeing Texas – I drove through Waller in 2004 – uneventfully!
- district attorneys
- grand jury
- the police