The Black voice has been heard in Texas for more than 450 years. Immigrants from Africa have tilled the soil, fought and died in historic battles, owned plantations, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, raised their families, recorded history, and so much more. At a time when slavery was hotly debated, those who were both slave and free, worked for the freedom and liberty of Texas. They should be honored and respected for the heroic contributions they have made.
The first African slave to come to Texas was Estevanico (Black Stephen). A Moor from North Africa, Estevanico came to Texas in 1527 with Captain Andres Dorantes de Carranza on a Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narvaez. As a baptized Christian, Estevanico was treated more as a partner than a slave. He was one of only three that survived the trip to Texas. These three were captured by Indians, but later escaped and explored into New Mexico. With prayer and contemporary medicines, they were revered as “faith healers” by some of the Indian tribes.
Some of the other slaves that impacted Texas history include:
Joe – the slave of William B. Travis. He participated in the March 6, 1836, Battle of the Alamo, but survived. After lengthy interrogation, the Mexican army released Joe and made him a free man. His version of the Alamo battle serves as the best account that we have. Joe was ordered to escort Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson and her baby, Angelina, to Gonzales to tell the story of the siege.
John – a young boy who was killed in the battle of the Alamo. Very little is known of him
Charlie and Sam – the slaves of Jim Bowie and survived the Battle of the Alamo
It is interesting to note that both Baptist and Methodist churches sent trained missionaries to reach slaves. They even provided them with voting membership, and encouraged them to become preachers of the Gospel. The Methodist’s stated that by 1860, over 7540 slaves were in their churches. By 1900, there was a strong witness of Black churches including Pentecostal.
Texas also had a large share of free Black citizens who stepped forward. William Goyens (1794-1856) migrated to Texas in the early nineteenth century. Initially, he served as an interpreter for Sam Houston in negotiations with the East Texas Native Americans. Later, he moved to Nacogdoches and opened a blacksmith shop. As William prospered, he built his own plantation, and developed several businesses in trade and farming. He has been called “The First Black Capitalist.” There is a historical marker in Nacogdoches in honor of Goyens that reads: Born a slave in South Carolina, 1794 - Escaped to Texas in 1821 - Rendered valuable assistance to the Army of Texas, 1836 - Interpreter for the Houston-Forbes Treaty with the Cherokees, 1836 - Acquired wealth and was noted for his charity - Died at his home on Goyens' Hill 1856 - His skin was black - His heart, true blue.
Other notable free Black heroes include:
Samuel McCulloch, Jr – He was the first casualty of the Texas Revolution in Goliad in October, 1835, and lived the rest of his life permanently disabled. He is buried in Bexar County. Because of his love for the Lord and His Church, Samuel deeded 1.5 acres of his own land to the Medina Baptist Church in 1861.
Hendrick Arnold – Served Erastus “Deaf” Smith as a scout and spy for the Texan Army. Hendrick fought for Texas during the siege at Bexar, and the battles of Concepción and San Jacinto. He died in the cholera epidemic of 1849.
Pedro Guízar (Huízar) - Was listed in the 1779 census as a sculptor and is credited with having sculpted the Rose Window and façade of San José Mission.
John Henry Yates – First pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, the first African American Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, which was organized in January 1866 by former slaves.
These are but a few of the many brave Black voices that spoke for Texas. On June 19, 1865, all slaves were set free. The greatest freedom of all is found in knowing Christ.“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 NIV