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More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:
Tune in every Friday for a brand new episode of the Galveston Unscripted podcast.
We begin this story in post-Civil War Texas. The political and racial dynamic was complicated and intricate. Enter Norris Wright Cuney, a Galvestonian whose journey through the complexities of post-Civil War Texas reflects resilience and triumph in the face of adversity.
Norris Wright Cuney's journey begins against the backdrop of Hempstead, Texas. He was born in 1846 and raised in the crucible of biracial heritage. His father was a white planter named Philip Minor Cuney, and his mother was Adeline Stewart, an enslaved woman. Cuney's early experiences laid the foundation for a life dedicated to overcoming adversity and advocating for change.
As a biracial boy, Norris Wright Cuney attended George B. Vashon's Wiley Street School for Blacks in Pennsylvania. He attended school from 1859 to the beginning of the Civil War. 1865, after the Civil War ended, he worked odd jobs here and there before returning to Texas and settling in Galveston. By 1871, he married Adelina Dowdie, began studying law, and was swiftly appointed president of the Galveston Union League.
As we delve into the reconstruction era, a pivotal chapter in American history, Cuney's political trajectory takes center stage. Despite the economic, political, and racial challenges of the time, he found a political home with the Republican Party, aligning himself with its ideals during a period marked by the redefinition of race relations and the rebuilding of the South after the American Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people throughout the United States.
Cuney's career in the 1870s and 1880s was a mixture of success and failure. After being appointed Secretary of the Republican State Executive Committee in 1873, he was defeated in the race for Mayor of Galveston in 1875 and then defeated for the State House in 1876 and Senate in 1882. Although he was losing these political races, Cuney gained respect and power throughout Galveston and Texas. He was appointed as the first assistant to the Sergeant at Arms of the 12th Legislature in 1870, served as a delegate in every National Republican Convention from 1872 to 1892, and presided at the State Convention of Black Leaders at Brenham in 1873.
He became Inspector of Customs at the Port of Galveston and Revenue Inspector at Sabine Pass in 1872, and by 1889, he became the Collector of Customs at the Port of Galveston. Cuney was solidifying his reputation and political power in the state of Texas. His role as the Texas National Committeeman of the Republican Party from 1886, a position of significant influence, marked the pinnacle of his political career.
Galveston became the backdrop for Cuney's political endeavors and his impact resonated locally and throughout the state, earning him the moniker of a Galvestonian statesman. This time frame is referred to as the Cuney era. From 1884 to 1896, this era revealed heightened biracial and black influence within the Texas Republican Party. Galveston, as his home base, served as the epicenter of his political activities, and his leadership was instrumental in shaping the political landscape during this transformative era. His position as the committeeman of the Republican Party was the most important political position given to a black man of the South in the 19th century.
With one of the most diverse populations in Texas, Galveston became a microcosm of the broader challenges and opportunities facing Texas during post-Civil War reconstruction in the South. Cuney's commitment to economic empowerment and education further solidified his legacy. He was appointed as school director of Galveston County in 1871 and supported the Black State College at Prairie View, known today as Prairie View A&M University.
Galveston became the canvas on which he painted a vision of prosperity for the Black community. He established the Screwmen's Benevolent Association in 1883. A Screwman is similar to a longshoreman. Experience labor working to load cargo onto ships at the Port of Galveston. Specifically, Screwmen load as much cotton onto a cargo ship as possible. The establishment of the Screwmen's Benevolent Association and his support for education through roles such as a school director in Galveston County showcased his holistic approach to community advancement. Norris Wright Cuney died in San Antonio on March 3rd, 1898, and was buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Galveston.
Norris Wright Cuney was not born in Galveston but got here as quickly as he could. Cuney's story unfolds as a testament to vision and political justice. Norris Wright Cuney, a beacon of inspiration who defied the odds, Galveston became the backdrop of his political power in Texas, and his accomplishments became seeds that blossomed into a legacy that continues to shape the narrative of Texas history. Norris Wright Cuney, and the Cuney era.