NORRIS WRIGHT CUNEYby
Archie P. McDonald
Wright Cuney, though born in 1846 on a plantation located near Hempstead,
became a powerful figure in Texas' Republican circles, especially in Galveston.|
Cuney was the child of a white planter, Philip Minor Cuney. His mother, Adeline
Stuart, was Cuney's slave. Evidently recognized as Cuney's child, he was educated
in Pennsylvania at the Wylie Street School for blacks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Civil War and the end of slavery also ended Cuney's preparatory education.
Photo Courtesy Texas State Library and Archives
returned to Texas after the war and settled in Galveston.
He became active in the Union League, the political arm of Radical Republican
Reconstruction in Texas. Cuney was an ideal candidate for advancement at a time
when the party sought exceptional blacks to place in positions of leadership.
Cuney studied law, but politics became his ladder to success through
his support of Radical Republican Governor Edmund J. Davis. Cuney became president
of the Galveston chapter of the Union League in 1871, then was appointed secretary
of the Republican State Executive Committee in 1873. He ran for the post of mayor
of Galveston in 1875, and for the state legislature in 1876 and 1882, and lost
because of the return of white voters in the electoral process.
remained powerful within the Republican Party because he could influence African
American voters and because he remained the party's primary advisor in patronage
to that constituency. And he prospered in appointed positions, such as customs
inspector in Galveston and eventually as collector of customs there in 1889. Such
federal appointments were not blocked by the "redemption" of Texas by white Democrats
in 1875-1876. In 1886, Cuney became the Republican Party's national committeeman
from Texas, the highest party rank achieved by a Southern African American in
the remaining decades of the century.
Cuney finally won election as alderman
in Galveston in 1883, but a contribution of greater significance was his founding
of the Negro Screwman's Benevolent Association. White screwmen, or longshoremen
worked on the docks improve working conditions, but would not admit blacks, who
did the same work, into their labor union. Cuney provided African Americans with
a vehicle for collective bargaining.
Cuney died in 1889, and is buried
He was the most remarkable African American leader in Texas in the nineteenth
© Archie P. McDonald
1, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association.
Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books
Also: Cuney, Texas