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Texas Slavery Project


UH Professor Working on First-of-Its-Kind Project to Document Every Black Slave Who Ever Lived in the State

University of Houston history professor Eric Walther has embarked on a project the size of Texas. He is working to get documentation on every black slave who ever lived in the state of Texas.

The "Texas Slavery Project" is the first-ever project of its kind in the United States and involves cataloging the names and biographies of slaves who lived in the state at any time. The unofficial estimate on the population of slaves in Texas was around 250,000, says Walther, who is predicting that the project should produce at least a name and a sentence on 80 percent of the slaves.

"The information is all there, we just need to go through it," says Walther. "Some of the records that will be used are slave manifests, marriage licenses, birth records and census data." Walther says though the project may take many years to complete, he is up to the challenge.

Walther has written and researched extensively on the political culture of the Old South, focusing on the interplay between black slavery and white liberty. His book, The Fire-Eaters, was the first to study leaders of the secession movement. Walther served as editorial assistant for The Papers of Jefferson Davis (vol. 6) and on the editorial advisory board of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Currently he is completing a biography of William Lowndes Yancey, one of the primary leaders of disunion.

The seed for Walther's idea for documenting Texas slaves was planted nearly two years ago. As he was driving past the Allen Parkway Village construction project where a slave cemetery had been found, Walther began thinking about what kinds of other physical evidence there might be to document Houston's history during slavery. After sharing his thoughts with colleagues at various Texas universities, he not only decided to take action but also to expand his search for physical evidence from just Houston to the entire state.

"I'm a curious person by nature," says Walther, "and I am the type of person who believes in giving something back to the community. I've lived here in Houston for 12 years now, and I've watched the building over and the paving over of cemeteries. Though there seems to be no well-established way to save Houston's past, I'd like to do what I can to bring glimpses of it back."

In conducting his research, Walther has met with some of the country's leading authorities on slave data and cemeteries. Though still in its infancy, Walther has a Web site where the curious can go to see how the project is progressing. People with information about Texas slaves can share it and receive feedback. The Web address is www.texasslaveryproject.uh.edu.

Walther hopes to open a lot of eyes with this project. He already has received support from other Texas universities in filtering information to the Web site. "I hope this will help educate people how Texas and Houston developed. White people did it, black people did it, free and enslaved people did it.

"We have a very incomplete understanding of our own past. Slavery has been studied to death, but there has been very little done on the study of slavery in Texas."

--Tanya Deason-Sharp


Get more information from: Texas Slavery Project
See images of Levi Jordan Plantation.



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