There are many notable black historic figures from Texas. Each of them made significant contributions to black history of not only Texas, but the nation at large. Black Texans have made major contributions in politics, military events, music, and sports. The accomplishments of those Texans continue being discussed in history classes and homes throughout the nation.
After surviving the 1900 Galveston storm, Arthur ‘Jack’ Johnson went on to make a name for himself in the world of boxing. At that time, boxing for money was considered a criminal activity, even though it was popular. In Texas, heavyweight boxing matches were illegal. Some of the governors of that period sent Texas Rangers out to shut down boxing matches.
Johnson became known as “Papa Jack” or the “Galveston Giant”, Johnson won the heavyweight boxing title in 1908, a time filled with racial tensions. He defeated Tommy Burns for the title in Sydney, Australia. Since many whites disliked him winning the title, a follow up match was arranged with James Jeffries, who was brought out of retirement for the special fight. Jeffries was known as “The Great White Hope” in the publicity leading up to the fighting match. When Johnson defeated Jeffries, race riots broke out in many cities in the aftermath. The State of Texas went so far as to pass laws forbidding the showing of films in Texas documenting what occurred based on fears that it would incite race riots. Johnson later claimed further fame as an inventor for inventing a new type of wrench.
Another ground breaking Texan was Bessie Coleman. As a young woman, Bessie was fascinated with airplanes and flight. In the aftermath of World War I, Bessie traveled to France in order to obtainer pilot’s license, since women were not allowed licensure as pilots at that time. She broke ground for being one of the first woman aviators along with being the first black aviator. After obtaining her license, she traveled the nation teaching other black women to fly at her exhibitions.
The Texan, Scott Joplin also established new frontiers in music. Joplin grew up in Texarkana, Texas where a teacher saw his potential musical talent and worked to develop it. Joplin went on to develop a musical style known as ragtime. Joplin referred to himself as the “King of Ragtime”. His music gained popularity through ‘piano rolls’. The rolls enabled the player pianos to reproduce the sounds. Joplin’s distinctive sounds became foundational in the later development of a musical genre known as ‘jazz’. He also produced a grand opera, entitled Treemonisha, which received a Pulitzer Prize after his death.
When the world went to war, one of those who served was Doris Miller. This young man from Texas served as a mess attendant on the battleship, USS West Virginia, stationed at Pearl Harbor. When the Japanese attacked the American naval forces on December 7, 1941, Miller took action. When a nearby machine gun crew could no longer operate their weapon, he stepped up and proceeded to …