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.