Walter Moses Burton, Black state senator, was brought to Texas as a slave from North Carolina in 1850 at the age of twenty-one. He belonged to a planter, Thomas Burke Burton, who owned a plantation and several large farms in Fort Bend County (see SLAVERY). While a slave, Walter Burton was taught how to read and write by his master, a skill that served him well in later years. Thomas Burton sold Walter several large plots of land for $1,900 dollars. This land made the freedman one of the wealthiest and most influential Blacks in Fort Bend County. He became involved in politics as early as 1869, when he was elected sheriff and tax collector of Fort Bend County. He was the first Black sheriff elected to office in Texas and the first Black elected sheriff in the country. Along with these duties, he also served as the president of the Fort Bend County Union League (see UNION LEAGUE).
In 1873 Burton campaigned for and won a seat in the Texas Senate, where he served for seven years–from 1874 to 1875 and from 1876 to 1882. In the Senate he championed the education of Blacks. Among the many bills that he helped push through was one that called for the establishment of Prairie View Normal School (now Prairie View A&M University). In the Republican party Burton served as a member of the State Executive Committee at the state convention of 1873, as a vice president of the 1878 and 1880 conventions, and as a member of the Committee on Platform and Resolutions at the 1892 convention. His first term in the Senate was shortened by a contested election, as well as the calling of the Constitutional Convention of 1875. In January 1874 he was granted a certificate of election from the Thirteenth Senatorial District, but a White Democrat contested the election on the grounds that Burton's name was listed three different ways on the ballot and that, consequently, each name received votes in various counties of the district. The Senate committee on election at first recommended the seating of the Democratic candidate but later reconsidered its decision and based the outcome of the election on the intent of the voters who cast ballots for the different Burtons. The Senate confirmed Burton's election on February 20, 1874. By that time, half of the first session of the Fourteenth Legislature was over, and the second session was abbreviated because of the call for a constitutional convention. Burton ran for and was reelected to the Senate in 1876. He left the Senate in January 1883 and upon the request of a White colleague was given an ebony and gold cane for his service in that chamber. He was the last Black state senator elected in Texas until Barbara Jordan’s electoral win in 1966.
Walter Moses Burton married Abby “Hattie” Jones on September 26, 1868, in Fort Bend County. In 1869 the couple had one son, Horace, who died in 1895. He remained active in state and local politics until his death on June 4, 1913. He was buried in the Morton Cemetery, where Mirabeau B. Lamar, Jane Long, and Clem Bassett were interred, in Richmond, Texas (see JAYBIRD-WOODPECKER WAR). In 1996 the Fort Bend Independent School District named an elementary school in his honor. The school is located in Fresno, Texas, and their mascot is known as the Burton Sheriff.