Today in Texas History – September 6

From the Annals of the Racists –  In 1888,  the Jaybirds, a whites-only political association, met in Richmond and ordered Charles Ferguson and several other black political leaders to leave Fort Bend County within ten hours. The Jaybirds represented the resentful white population (all Democrats) who were still smarting over the Republican government that controlled the county during Reconstruction.  The  competing faction was the Woodpeckers who were nominally Democrats but held office as a result of Republican and black voters.   The Woodpeckers had controlled the county for about 20 years.  The so-called Jaybird-Woodpecker War was fight between these two factions for control of Fort Bend County.  The Jaybirds met in Richmond and “expelled” a number of Woodpecker leaders.

The Woodpeckers won the election despite the expulsion, and the violence continued.  In the spring of 1889, Tax Assesstor Kyle Terry, a Woodpecker, murdered Ned Gibson, a leader of the Jaybirds who was set to testify against one of Terry’s friends in an unrelated cattle-rustling trial. Terry was arrested but posted bail and decamped to Galveston where he was later killed by the Jaybirds.  The cycle of violence continued culminating in the Battle of Richmond, on August 16, 1889, when Woodpecker Sheriff Garvey was killed.  After that, the Woodpeckers were driven from office.

The Jaybirds had a long-lasting influence mostly through the creation of the “Whites Only” Democratic primary system in Fort Bend County which effectively ended any political strength for black voters.  The system was so successful that the Legislature adopted a similar Whites Only primary measure which ensured that the Jaybird Democrats would retain control.  The blatantly unconstitutional and discriminatory practice continued until it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953).

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