African American History

Tour curated by: Baylor University Institute for Oral History & The Texas Collection

African Americans have held a central role in the development of Waco and McLennan County since the first permanent settlements were established in the mid-nineteenth century. The first black residents came to Central Texas primarily as slaves to white cotton farmers. Within ten years of the city’s incorporation, however, the South had lost the Civil War and African Americans worked to build new lives as freedmen and freedwomen. Within this work toward social and economic equality, African Americans shaped the history of local communities as they moved into the twentieth century. Tenant farmers and sharecroppers produced the cash crop which brought prosperity to the city, and black entrepreneurs opened businesses on Waco’s Bridge Street. In the areas of education, finance, and religion, new institutions fostered the betterment of black lives. African American success was evident in many fields, including politics, the military, sports, and the arts.

This tour invites you to explore the local landscape of African American history through some of the people, places, and events which have helped to shape that story.

Locations for Tour

Dan “Uncle Dan” McLennan was born in 1849 as a slave to Neil McLennan in what would a year later become known as McLennan County, named for his master. Uncle Dan became a beloved member of not only the McLennan family but of the Waco community as…

For nearly half a century, cotton reigned as king of Waco's economy, establishing the once small frontier town as a thriving urban center known throughout the country. The area later named Waco held a long history of agricultural pursuits…

Organized in 1866, New Hope Baptist Church is one of the oldest African American churches in Waco. Noted throughout its history for its excellent church music programs, New Hope is still a vibrant center of worship for Waco’s black community. The…

Although born of humble beginnings, Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church has been lifting Wacoans up in worship for over a century. The church now known as Greater Ebenezer Baptist began as Oak Street Baptist Church in East Waco in 1915, when Rev. J. S.…

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Farmers’ Improvement Society (FIS) worked to help poor farmers escape the cycle of debt caused by the share cropping and credit system which developed in the wake of the Civil War. Although…

In 1875, Professor Alexander James Moore of Paul Quinn College, concerned at the lack of quality education for African American children in Waco, began teaching small groups of young children out of his home. Though Reconstruction Legislature of 1870…

Paul Quinn College is the oldest historically black college in Texas. Though it is no longer located in Waco, it remains an important part of the city’s history as the “Athens on the Brazos.” In 1872 the African Methodist Episcopalian Church…

An African American-owned hotel during the period of segregation and Jim Crow laws, the College View Court-Hotel provided respite for black travelers on the road. The College View Court-Hotel offered guests modern comfort with its thirty-five…

Bridge Street holds an important legacy of connecting North, South, and East Waco, and serving as a center of community for the city’s many ethnic groups. Known as Main Street during Waco’s early days, this historic street earned its new name…

In the early part of the twentieth century, the area around Bridge Street on the west side of the Brazos River, known as the square, was home to various bars, restaurants, grocery stores, offices, insurance agencies, and other businesses that were…

Julius “Jules” Bledsoe’s extraordinary musical talent transcended racial discrimination of the nineteenth century and established him as a pioneer in American music. Bledsoe was born on December 29, 1897, to Henry and Jessie Bledsoe in Waco.…

Society in the South evolved ensuing the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War. The Reconstruction of the South ended in 1877 and only added to the bad racial tensions in the region. Whites instituted laws that held blacks back from education,…

Among the names of the many individuals who served valiantly during World War II, Waco’s own Doris Miller was a hero of national and international acclaim. Although many noted the valor he displayed during the war, some argue he still has not…

Waco native Vivienne Lucille Malone-Mayes possessed a sharp mind with a resilient spirit to match. In an age where few women, let alone women of color, went on to become prominent figures in higher education, Malone-Mayes made her mark as an…

The first African American mayor of a major city in Texas, Oscar DuCongé rose to local prominence through his civil service and selfless dedication to improving life for all Wacoans. Born in Pass Christian, Mississippi, on April 19, 1909, Oscar…

Jeffie Obrea Allen Conner was born in 1895 on her family’s farm in Harrison Switch, Texas. She was the oldest of three children born to Meddie Lilian and Jeff D. Allen. Harrison Switch, later known as Harrison, was a small African American…

In 1852, John Robinson arrived in Central Texas, from Demopolis, Alabama, with his family and six slaves, founding what would soon become known as Robinsonville. Two years later, his brother Levi joined him, bringing his own family and an additional…