African Americans in Waco

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. When the South lost the Civil War within 10 years of the city’s incorporation, 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. New institutions in the areas of education, finance, and religion fostered the betterment of Black lives.

African American success was evident in many fields, including politics, the military, sports, and the arts. Notable names include NFL Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, Broadway artist Jules Bledsoe, and World War II Hero Doris Miller, whose legacy is memorialized along the Eastern bank of the Brazos River.

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