Norris Wright Cuney
May 12, 1846–March 3, 1898
African American leader Norris Wright Cuney forged a remarkable career in post-Civil War Texas. Born into slavery in 1846, he nonetheless studied law and became a civic and political force in the years following Reconstruction.
Cuney was the child of Adeline Stuart, a slave on a Hempstead plantation, and Stuart’s owner, Philip Minor Cuney. At thirteen, Cuney’s father freed him and sent him north to be educated.
Following the Civil War, Cuney returned to Texas, to the bustling port of Galveston, then Texas’s most cosmopolitan city. There, he steadily gained experience and political sway. Over the course of his career, he served as city alderman, collector of customs, and school inspector of Galveston County. In 1886 he was named the Republican Party’s national committeeman from Texas.
Cuney used his education, political connections, and wealth to improve the lives of Texas’s former slaves. He worked to establish and fund schools and colleges for black Texans and opposed segregation in public facilities. He also helped organize and lead the African American Masons. In the 1880s, he helped black laborers loading cotton on the Galveston docks form their own union and fight for equal pay.
Cuney died in 1898, but is still remembered in Galveston, where the city’s Wright Cuney Park stands as a monument to this extraordinary civic leader.
Barr, Alwyn. Black Texans: A History of African Americans, 1528–1995. 2nd ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
Cuney Hare, Maud. Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the Black People. New York: Crisis, 1913.
Casdorph, Paul Douglas. “Norris Wright Cuney and Texas Republican Politics, 1883–1896.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 68, no. 4 (April 1965): 455–464.
Glasrud, Bruce A. and James M. Smallwood. The African American Experience in Texas: An Anthology. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2007.
Hales, Douglas. A Southern Family in White and Black: The Cuneys of Texas. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003.
McComb, David. Galveston: A History. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1986.
Obadele-Starks, Ernest. Black Unionism in the Industrial South. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000.
Pitre, Merline. Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares: The Black Leadership of Texas, 1868–1900. Austin: Eakin Press, 1985.
This episode originally aired on September 7, 2012.