CHASING A CAT'S TAIL: a biography of Norris Wright Cuney
Norris Wright Cuney, frequently referred to as N. Wright Cuney, was born on May 12, 1846 in Hempstead, Texas. Born the fourth child of eight children, his parents were a slave woman named Adeline Stuart and a wealthy, white planter named Philip Minor Cuney. Norris Wright Cuney, himself, was born into slavery but later freed by his white,
slave-owning father and sent North to be educated. (Maud Cuney Hare, Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the Black People: Norris Wright Cuney;,Virginia Neal Hinze, Norris Wright Cuney[MA Thesis, Rice University]).
Adeline Stuart, his mother, was of mixed race being African, European and Native American Indian. Philip Cuney was one of the largest landowners in the state of Texas owning two thousand acres of land and owning 105 slaves. He was an elected state senator who, in addition to fathering eight children with Adeline Stuart, married three white women who died prematurely in either childbirth or from disease.(Wikipedia) He did produce children from these unions. (Virginia Neal Hinze)
It might be argued that Norris Wright Cuney's skill as a politician was due to the gifts of beauty and brains which he inherited from both of his parents.(Virginia Neal Hinze) From his mother he inherited his dark-haired, black-eyed which were said to be more reminiscent of the people of Italy than of Africa. (Maud Cuney Hare) From his father he inherited his gifts as a politician and as a statesman.(Virginia Neal Hinze)
Although born into slavery, Norris Wright Cuney was freed by his father in 1859 and sent to school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at The George B. Vashon's Wylie Street School for blacks until the beginning of The Civil War. He then spent some time in New Orleans where he became friendly with P.B.S. Pinch back who was elected Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana and who eventually became Louisiana's first black Governor. According to Wikipedia: "Cuney...entered into Galveston post war society as a literate, educated, mixed-race son of a wealthy and powerful white politician and landowner which gave him advantages." (Wikipedia.org: Norris Wright Cuney)
As Galveston society rose, so did Cuney's career. In Galveston he met George T. Ruby who was the president of the Union League. Cuney studied law and was eventually appointed, himself, President of the Union League on July 18th, 1871 just days after he married Adelina Dowdie on July 5th, 1871. (Humanities Texas, Tex U Originals, Norris Wright Cuney; Texas Independence Trail, Region: Galveston. Norris Wright Cuney Historical Marker; Maud Cuney Hare: Norris Wright Cuney; Virginia Neal Hinze, MA Thesis)
Although Cuney ran for public office several times he was always defeated. He ran for Mayor of Galveston, the House, and the Texas Senate also. It was as an appointee, however, and as a dispenser of patronage that his stature within The Republican Party Nationally, and within the state of Texas grew. Amongst the positions he was appointed to were: Secretary of The Republican State Executive Committee; Sergeant-at-arms of the twelfth legislature in 1870; and between 1872 and 1892 he was a delegate to every Republican National Convention in Galveston. He was appointed: Custom's Inspector, Revenue Inspector, and as a Collector of Customs. In fact, according to www.tshaonline.org, "the period between 1884 and 1896 in Texas is referred to as 'the Cuney Era' because of the number of political posts Cuney held throughout this period of time." (Www.tshaonline.org/handbook/
Cuney, in addition to being a politician, was a businessman and a union leader. In 1883 he organized The Screwman's Benevolent Society by purchasing $2,500 worth of tools and by organizing a group of skilled, black dock workers. Consequently, according to Wikipedia, " Cuney had the highest ranking appointed position of any African American in the late nineteenth century south...in the 1890's more than 100,000 blacks were voting in Texas. He eventually rose to the Chairmanship of The Texas Republican Party and became a National Committee Man." He was also elected by Black Masons as the Grand Master of The Grand Lodge of Texas in 1875. (Norris Wright Cuney Grand Chapter- Eastern Star of Texas; Maud Cuney Hare; Virginia Neal Hinze; Wikipedia.org)
It was due to Cuney's prominence as a Republican Party member and leader within the state of Texas as well as the number of black men he had at his command and his belief in the equality of black men and his consequent disdain for segregation that the Lily-White Movement was born. (Maud Cuney Hare; Virginia Neal Hinze ) Cuney, himself, coined this term in November of 1888 when whites threatened by Cuney's influence, formed a white man's party in Houston. (Virginia Neal Hinze)
Ironically, The Lily White movement which called for the expulsion of blacks from the Republican Party in Texas, and insisted upon the segregation of black and white Republican Party Members, and which was as a direct result of Cuney's prominence in Republican Party politics, fueled Cuney's activism. (Maud Cuney Hare; Virginia Neal Hinze) Always the champion of the underdog since he was a little boy, Cuney saw segregation and discrimination as an offense and as an insult against black people which he sought to thwart.(Maud Cuney Hare) Not only did he work towards the economic and the political equality of blacks with whites, but he was also a champion of education for blacks believing that black students should be educated alongside their white counterparts. Although he experienced some initial successes against The Lily White Movement, as the movement grew in numbers and as racism and segregation became more entrenched within the United States but particularly the South, and factionalism presented itself within the black Republican Party, The Lily White Movement eventually achieved success. By 1894, Cuney conceded that The Lily White Movement was a direct attack against himself. The success of The Lily White Movement broke Norris Wright Cuney's heart. (Maud Cuney Hare, Virginia Neal Hinze, Wikipedia.org)
By 1896 segregation had become the law of the land. Cuney's wife, Adelina, with whom he had two children named Lloyd Garrison (named after the abolitionist[Wikipedia]) and Maud Cuney Hare, died from Tuberculosis related causes in 1898. It is said that Adelina Cuney once climbed into the window of the first class coach section of a segregated train in defiance of newly adopted Texas segregation laws. (Maud Cuney Hare) Several weeks later, under the care of his loving and devoted daughter Maud, Cuney died on March 3rd, 1898 in San Antonio, Texas. (Virginia Neal Hinze, Joel Williamson: A Rage For Order, Maud Cuney Hare, Wikipedia.org) He is buried at Lake View Cemetery in Galveston, Texas. (Find a Grave: Norris Wright Cuney ) Many schools and parks in Texas today bear Cuney's name as a testament to his accomplishments as an educator and as a humanitarian.(www.tshaonline.
Cleo E. Brown was educated in Northern California earning a B.A. In History and Political Science from Stanislaus State University, and an M.A. in history and education from U.C. Davis. She also worked on a Doctorate in Education from The University of San Francisco. She is the author of In Search of The Republican Party: A History of Minorities in the Republican Party. She has published several volumes of poetry as well as countless single poems in numerous anthologies.
1. Find A Grave: Norris Wright Cuney
2. Humanities Texas, Texas Originals, Norris Wright Cuney
3. Joel Williamson: A Rage For Order
4. Maud Cuney Hare, Norris Wright Cuney: A Tribune of the black people
5. Norris Wright Cuney Grand Chapter- Eastern Star of Texas
6. Texas Independence Trail; Region: Galveston; Norris Wright Cuney Historical Marker
7. Virginia Neal Hinze, Norris Wright Cuney( MA Thesis, Rice University)
8. Wikipedia.org: Norris Wright Cuney