In the article below, Fort Worth historian Richard Selcer introduces us to the African American community which has been a presence in this city since its founding in 1849.
Fort Worth, Texas’s black community has a distinctive if not unique history. Fort Worth was a western community (slogan: “Where the West Begins”) populated overwhelmingly by white Southerners. That means it combined the racial prejudices of the latter with the greater tolerance and openness of the former.
Slavery existed in Fort Worth from its beginnings as a tiny settlement on the bluff overlooking the Trinity River. Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson, one of the founding fathers of the original Army outpost (1849-53), owned a plantation of 640 acres northwest of the fort worked by 150 slaves. When Tarrant County was created by the Texas legislature on August 26, 1850, the settlement had a population of 599 whites and sixty-five blacks. The 1860 federal census showed the towns population had declined to 500, but the number of slaves had nearly doubled to 115. The record does not show any free blacks in the little community.
When the Civil War ended, major slave owners like E.M. Daggett and Otis Isbell freed scores of slaves, not so much because Emancipation was the law, but because they could no longer afford to feed and care for so many dependents. A number of African Americans left Fort Worth for east Texas, where blacks were more numerous and jobs, more plentiful. Those who stayed continued working in menial jobs as “servants” (room and board but not wages) or tenant farmers.
In 1873, in an unusual move for that era, the city council hired Hagar Tucker, a former slave, as “special policeman” to the black community. Tucker performed a difficult job successfully but was nonetheless let go within a year when the economy went into a tailspin. Tucker was the first and last black officer in the Fort Worth Police Department until the 1950s.
Also during Reconstruction, John Pratt became the first black businessman of record in Fort Worth