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Joshua Houston: Slave to Legislator

Among the illustrious speakers at the 1888 Republican National Convention was Frederick Douglass, an American social reformer known for his mesmerizing oratory. Douglass was also an escaped slave who pushed for equality and human rights until his death in 1895.

Part of Douglass’ Convention speech included these thoughts: “I believe that the Republican party will prove itself equally faithful to its friends, and those friends during the [Civil] war were men with black face’s. A government that can give liberty in its constitution ought to have the power to protect liberty in its administration. I speak in behalf of the millions who are disfranchised today. I thank you.”

Seated in the audience was first time delegate Joshua Houston, representing the great state of Texas. Like Douglass, Houston was a former slave who became an African American leader. Born in Alabama in 1822, Joshua was a slave to Temple Lea. On his deathbed, Lea gave Joshua to his daughter Margaret. When Margaret married Sam Houston, Joshua became part of one of the most famous families in Texas.

The Houston family taught Joshua to read and write, along with their own children. Joshua became a skilled blacksmith and even managed the financial accounts of the Houston family. Because Sam Houston was opposed to slavery, he made Joshua a freeman in 1862. But Joshua chose to remain with the family until 1866.

Joshua was allowed to assume the Houston name, and soon purchased land in Huntsville, Texas. Here, he prospered as a blacksmith, and was beloved by the townspeople. He was a founding member of Union church, the first church that was solely owned by former slaves.

Due to his success, Joshua was elected to represent the people as an alderman and county commissioner, before being elected to serve as a member of the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1888. This was quite an accomplishment for anyone, but especially a recently freed slave.

In his book “My Master,” by a former slave named “Jeff,” he wrote that after Sam Houston died, Margaret became destitute. Concerned, Joshua went to visit her and “laid an old leather bag on the table ... and told her there was over $2,000 gold and United States currency in the bag and that he wanted her to use every cent of it.”

Though grateful, Margaret would not take the gift, but commended Joshua and told him to use it for his own children and their Christian education.

Joshua fulfilled Deuteronomy 15:7-8 ESV which says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need.”

May we all learn this valuable lesson, and care for others, too.

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