Cain, William D. (1867–1939)

By: Robert J. Duncan

Type: Biography

Published: July 15, 2013

Updated: September 29, 2020

William D. Cain, a railway postal clerk and a prominent African-American resident of Waco, Texas, was born in Texas to Peter C. Cain and Laura A. (Echols) Cain in February 1867.

From at least 1885, the Peter Cain family lived in Austin; around 1885 to 1887, young William worked as a porter and then as a hotel bell boy. William Cain became active in grassroots politics, and in 1888 he was named an alternate delegate to the state Republican convention in Fort Worth. He attended Paul Quinn College in Waco in the early 1890s.

In early 1894 William Cain married Mary A. Blocker. They had at least five children—two sons and three daughters. The family lived on Novelty Avenue in Waco for many years before moving to Taylor Avenue. Cain was the son-in-law of William Blocker, a former slave. Cain’s brother-in-law, Alex Blocker, lived with the Cain family for many years.

The Dallas Morning News, reporting on a convention of Black teachers in Waco in 1897, said: “One of the speakers, who greatly interested his hearers, was W. D. Cain, a young colored man who passed the civil service examination successfully and obtained an appointment as a railway postal clerk.” He continued to work as a railroad postal clerk for many years. Cain became prosperous as well as prominent in the Black community in Waco. He often joined with other prominent African Americans to voice the concerns of his community to local government officials and advocated educational opportunities for Waco’s Black citizens. For this reason, he has been called one of the most outstanding Blacks in Waco’s history, and a local division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was named for him.

Cain was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1904 he was elected as a delegate to that church’s general conference in Chicago. When the Negro Business League of Waco was organized in 1905, Cain became that group’s first secretary. A photograph of W. D. Cain was published in William Bundy’s 1925 biography of William Madison McDonald; the portrait is labeled “fraternal brother.”

W. D. Cain was an active member of the local Black Masonic lodge and often attended the annual weeklong Texas conventions of Black Masons. On several occasions, he was elected as an officer of the statewide group. In 1905 he was a member of the resolutions committee, and in 1912 he chaired the temperance committee. At a meeting in Fort Worth in 1921, Cain was elected to a statewide Masonic office, and he served as master of ceremonies for the meeting. In 1928 he was elected to the position of “Right Worshipful Grand Chaplain.” In 1935 he was serving as “Grand Recorder.” W. D. Cain was editor of the Masonic Quarterly and was recognized as one of the most prominent Masons in Texas. An oil painting of Cain was displayed in the Prince Hall Masonic Mosque in Fort Worth for more than half a century.

Noted as a good public speaker, in 1935 Cain was one of several prominent community leaders statewide who were recruited to help sell bonds to the public in order to finance the Hall of Negro Life at the Texas Centennial. The purpose of this structure was to commemorate the contributions of African Americans to the development of modern Texas. W. D. Cain once sold the Katy Railroad two acres of land in Waco for $6,000. Later the land became the site of the Waco post office.

William D. Cain died in Waco on July 26, 1939, and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

“The Adams Archives of Paul Quinn College” (, accessed on November 21, 2012. E. R. Blocker, Interview by Mrs. Ada Davis, Waco, McLennan County, Texas, District No 8, File No. 230, Page No. 1 (, accessed on November 17, 2012. The Broad Ax, December 16, 1922. Dallas Express, July 23, 1921. Dallas Morning News, June 10, 1897; July 20, 1905; October 29, 1905; July 11, 1912; June 29, 1928; June 14, 28, 1935. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 2, 1995; September 4, 1997. Virginia Lee Spurlin, The Conners of Waco: Black Professionals in Twentieth Century Texas (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Tech University, 1991). Waco Evening News, September 15, 1888; December 28, 1893. Waco Tribune-Herald, June 5, 1955; July 3, 1955. Richard R. Wright, et al., Centennial Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Book Concern of the A.M.E. Church, 1916).

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • Waco

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert J. Duncan, “Cain, William D.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

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July 15, 2013
September 29, 2020

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