1920s: “a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school.” (Foley, The White Scourge)

Miscegenation laws forbade the marriage of blacks with whites, but because Mexicans were often regarded as nonwhite, even if they were legally white, they were rarely, if ever, prosecuted.[13] In one particular case the law was applied for entirely different reasons than that of intermarriage. During the 1920s a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school. Mexican children in this township attended the white school in separate classrooms for the first two or three years; afterwards, only a token few, usually the ones Anglo teachers singled out as being “clean” and “not like the others,” were permitted to continue their education. A judge from Dimmit County, where the case was tried, told Paul Taylor: “The Negroes with Negro-Mexican children and the Mexicans wanted to send their children to the white school, so when that started… they just indicted and tried them for violating the law against intermarriage. Then they tipped off the women that if they had nigger blood they could not put the men in jail.”[14] Lemmon’s Mexican [209] wife confessed that she must be part black in order to have charges dropped against her husband for marrying a white person. This “proved that all the Mexicans were black,” reported one county resident, “so we put the Mexicans and Negroes together in school and employed a part Negro to teach them.”[15] The judge solved the problem of segregating Mexicans from whites in a town that had only two schools for three ethnic groups by changing the racial classification of Mexicans to black.

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 208-209.

 

  1. [13]Interview with H. H. Schultz, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Austin, Texas, no. 192-363, folder “American Government Officials,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. When whites married Mexicans, especially of the “peon” class (dark-skinned), they were said to have descended “to the level of the Mexicans” (interview with Mr. Martin, county agent, El Paso County, Texas, no. 85-90, folder “Along Rio Grande,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers). For a fine study of miscegenation law and racial ideology, see Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law,” 44-69.
  2. [14]Interview with Judge Wildenthal, no. 54-644, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers.
  3. [15]Interview with John Asker, no. 42-634, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers, and interview with Bob Lemmons, no. 246-417, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. Asker told Taylor that he liked Mexicans but added, “You can’t make a rose out of an onion.”

“In Texas, unlike in other parts of the South, whiteness meant not only not black but also not Mexican” (Foley)

In rupturing the black-white polarity of southern race relations, the presence of Mexicans in central Texas raises some interesting questions about the way in which “whiteness” itself fissured along race and class lines. White Texans had a long history of invoking the color line in their social, economic, and political interactions with African Americans, but they had little experience in plantation society with what one contemporary sociologist called “partly colored races.”[12] Were partly colored Mexicans, in other words, white or nonwhite? As a racially mixed group, Mexicans, like Indians or Asians, lived in a black-and-white nation that regarded them neither as black nor as white. Although small numbers of Mexicans–usually light-skinned, middle-class Mexican Americans–claimed to be Spanish and therefore white, the overwhelming majority of Texas whites regarded Mexicans as a “mongrelized” race of Indian, African, and Spanish ancestry. In Texas, unlike in other parts of the South, whiteness meant not only not black but also not Mexican.[13]

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 5.

 

  1. [12]Mnax Sylvius Hindman, “Economic Reasons for the Coming of the Mexican Immigrant,” American Journal of Sociology 35 (January 1930): 609-10; and idem, “The Mexican Immigrant in Texas,” Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly 7 (June 1926): 37.
  2. [13]For the growing literature on working-class constructions of whiteness, see David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London and New York: Verso, 1991); idem, Towards the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics, and Working-Class History (London and New York: Verso, 1994); Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, vol. 1, Racial Oppression and Social Control (London and New York: Verso, 1994); Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York and London: Routledge, 1995); and Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (London and New york: Verso, 1990). On the legal construction of whiteness, see Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996); and Cheryl I. Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106 (June 1993): 1709-91. On racial formation and the gendered construction of racial ideologies, see Howard Winant, Racial Conditions: Politics, Theory, Comparisons (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994); Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs 17 (Winter 1992): 251-74; Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of American History 83 (June 1996): 44-69; Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993); and Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History (London and New York: Verso, 1992). See also Barbara J. Fields, “Ideology and Race in America,” in Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, ed. J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 143-77; Thomas C. Holt, “Marking: Race, Race-Making, and the Writing of History,” American Historical Review 100 (February 1995), 1-20; and Ronald Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979).

“while longhorns, Stetson hats, and the romance of ranching have replaced cotton, mules, and overalls in the historical imagination of Anglo Texans today, the fact remains that most Anglo Texans were descended from transplanted Southerners who had fought hard to maintain the ‘color line’ in Texas and to extend its barriers to Mexicans” (Foley)

Southern vs. Southwestern Image and Orientation / WS, 2

The postbellum image of the South also overlooks twentieth-century Texas and its large population of Mexicans, both native-born and immigrant, who came increasingly to displace Anglos and blacks on cotton farms in central Texas after 1910. As part of the Spanish borderlands before 1821 and as a Mexican state until 1836, Texas has had a long history of interaction between Mexicans and Anglos, as well as between masters and slaves in east Texas.[2] East [2] Texas, for example, fits comfortably within the cultural and historiographical boundaries of the South, with its history of slavery, cotton, and postemancipation society. South Texas, however, shares more commonalities with the history of the “trans-Rio Grande North” and Mexico than with the U.S. South. These discrete cultural regions of east and south Texas overlap in south-central Texas from Waco to Corpus Christi, where cultural elements of the South, the West, and Mexico have come to form a unique borderlands culture. Spanish, French, German, African, Mexican, English, Polish, Czech, and other groups have left their cultural mark in a society of such great social heterogeneity and hybridity that one geographer has called it the “shatter belt.” Texas is thus culturally and historiographically at some distance from the “most southern place on earth,” but its cotton culture nevertheless makes it recognizably southern, even if the state’s large Mexican population continues to link it with other western states and Mexico (see Maps 1 and 2).[3]

As the cotton culture of the South advanced westward, Texas retained the image of a state more western than southern, in part because, as one Texas historian has noted, cotton makes Texas seem “too southern, hence Confederate, defeated, poor, and prosaic.”[4] In Texas, “unlike the Deep South,” wrote the anthropologist Oscar Lewis, “there was no leisure class to romanticize cotton farming, and it could at no time compete with ranching in capturing the imagination of the people as an ideal way of life.”[5] Tourists flock to San Antonio more than any other Texas city because it alone captures the image that Texans most like to project of themselves–defenders of the Alamo, victors in the war against Mexico, pioneers in the western wilderness, manly cowboys and rich cattle barons. But while longhorns, Stetson hats, and the romance of ranching have replaced cotton, mules, and overalls in the historical imagination of Anglo Texans today, the fact remains that most Anglo Texans were descended from transplanted Southerners who had fought hard to maintain the “color line” in Texas and to extend its barriers to Mexicans. Many Anglo Texans thus often wore two hats: the ten-gallon variety as well as the white hood of the Invisible Empire.[6]

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 1-2.
  1. [2]On interactions between Mexicans and Anglos in Texas, see David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987); Américo Paredes, “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958); and Arnoldo de León, The Tejano Community, 1836-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982). On slavery in Texas, see Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989); Paul D. Lack, The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History, 1835-1836 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992), 238-52; and Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin: Founder of Texas, 1793-1836 (1926; reprint, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), 201-25.
  2. [3]Terry D. Jordan, John L. Bean Jr., and William M. Holmes, Texas: A Geography, Geographies of the United States Series (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1984), 5, 91.
  3. [4]Robert A. Calvert, “Agrarian Texas,” in Texas through Time: Evolving Interpretations, ed. Walter L. Buenger and Robert a. Calvert (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991), 197.
  4. [5]Oscar Lewis, On the Edge of the Black Waxy: A Cultural Survey of Bell County, Texas (Saint Louis, Mo.: Washington University Studies, New Series, 1948), 2.
  5. [6]On the resistance of many white Texans to identify with the Texas of the South and the Confederacy, see Campbell, Empire for Slavery, 1. For a long-overdue discussion of the burden of Western history, see Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987), esp. 17-32. On the connection between southern and western regional identities, see David M. Emmons, “Constructed Province: History and the Making of the Last American West,” Western Historical Quarterly 25 (Winter 1994): 437-59, and, in the same issue, the responses by Joan M. Jensen (pp. 461-63), A. Yvette Huginnie (pp. 463-66), Albert L. Hurtado (pp. 467-69), Charles Reagan Wilson (pp. 470-73), Edward L. Ayers (pp. 473-76), and William Cronon (pp. 476-81). See also Edward L. Ayers, “What We Talk about When We Talk About the South,” and Patricia Nelson Limerick, “Region and Reason,” in All over the Map: Rethinking American Regions, ed. Edward L. Ayers et al. (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 62-104.

“became the nation’s leading cotton-producing state by 1890” (Foley)

Whatever image of the South one summons, it largely excludes Texas cotton farmers, even though Texas, as a slave state of the Confederacy, experienced defeat and Reconstruction and became the nation’s leading cotton-producing state by 1890.

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 1.