Wright Cuney, though born in 1846 on a plantation located near Hempstead,
became a powerful figure in Texas' Republican circles, especially
Cuney was the child of a white planter, Philip Minor Cuney. His mother,
Adeline Stuart, was Cuney's slave. Evidently recognized as Cuney's
child, he was educated in Pennsylvania at the Wylie Street School
for blacks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Civil War and the end
of slavery also ended Cuney's preparatory education.
Courtesy Texas State Library and Archives
returned to Texas after the war and settled in Galveston.
He became active in the Union League, the political arm of Radical
Republican Reconstruction in Texas. Cuney was an ideal candidate for
advancement at a time when the party sought exceptional blacks to
place in positions of leadership.
Cuney studied law, but politics became his ladder to success through
his support of Radical Republican Governor Edmund J. Davis. Cuney
became president of the Galveston chapter of the Union League in 1871,
then was appointed secretary of the Republican State Executive Committee
in 1873. He ran for the post of mayor of Galveston in 1875, and for
the state legislature in 1876 and 1882, and lost because of the return
of white voters in the electoral process.
Cuney remained powerful within the Republican Party because he could
influence African American voters and because he remained the party's
primary advisor in patronage to that constituency. And he prospered
in appointed positions, such as customs inspector in Galveston and
eventually as collector of customs there in 1889. Such federal appointments
were not blocked by the "redemption" of Texas by white Democrats in
1875-1876. In 1886, Cuney became the Republican Party's national committeeman
from Texas, the highest party rank achieved by a Southern African
American in the remaining decades of the century.
Cuney finally won election as alderman in Galveston in 1883, but a
contribution of greater significance was his founding of the Negro
Screwman's Benevolent Association. White screwmen, or longshoremen
worked on the docks improve working conditions, but would not admit
blacks, who did the same work, into their labor union. Cuney provided
African Americans with a vehicle for collective bargaining.
Cuney died in 1889, and is buried in Galveston.
He was the most remarkable African American leader in Texas in the
P. McDonald, PhD
July 1, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and
author of more than 20 books on Texas.