Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Texas Troubles

This summer is the 150th anniversary of the "Texas Troubles," a forgotten spate of pre-Civil War racial hysteria started by a fire of disputed origin that destroyed the Dallas business district. The most likely cause of the fire was high temperatures combined with highly combustible phosphorus matches. However, other fires in Denton and Pilot Point fueled the notion that a coordinated slave revolt was underway.

Without any proof of the latter, the editor of the burned-out Dallas Herald called for vigilante justice to be carried out against suspect slaves and white abolitionists. This ultimately led to the public lynching of three slaves near Dealey Plaza. All told, at least 30 and as many as 100 blacks and whites alike died at the hands of vigilantes across North and East Texas. Some credit the Texas Troubles as a major-but-largely-unexamined factor in the South's swing toward succession.

Dallas-based writer Julia Barton has an very interesting story about the Troubles and their aftermath in this month's Texas Observer.

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