R. J. Evans, Black politician, was born a slave in Louisiana in 1853. He entered Texas in 1857 and became a schoolteacher after emancipation and before his election as city alderman of Navasota. In 1878 he was elected to the Sixteenth Legislature as a Republican from Grimes County. He won reelection as a Greenbacker in 1880 but ran as a Republican in 1882 and lost. Evans, seeking to obtain the rights of African Americans, became a skillful legislator. In the late 1870s he offered an amendment to the bill for regulation of railroad rates, which if passed would have made refusing to sell a Black person a first-class ticket illegal. At the Colored Men's Convention of 1883 (see BLACK STATE CONVENTIONS) Evans and other Black leaders rejected pleas from the governor not to denounce separate railroad accommodations. In 1879 Evans proposed legislation to do away with the convict lease system, especially as it led to mistreatment of Black convicts. He also introduced a resolution to celebrate the anniversary of Black emancipation in Texas, June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth). In an effort to prevent Blacks from holding state office, the legislature under White leadership began a process of dismembering districts where Blacks could be elected. Through proposed legislation Evans led the effort in the House to prevent this from happening; the White majority prevailed, however. As a former schoolteacher and member of the House education committee, Evans led the fight for better education facilities for Blacks. In an address before the state Republican convention in 1882 he called for the establishment of a Black state university, an important Black aspiration for many years afterward. When a split developed in the 1884 Texas Republican convention, a splinter group, the Straight-Out Republicans, nominated Evans for General Land Office commissioner. After the 1884 campaign ended in defeat, he moved to Houston, where he remained active in the Republican party; he was a delegate to the national Republican convention in 1884. He died on September 27, 1921, in Harris County.
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Paul D. Casdorph, A History of the Republican Party in Texas, 1865–1965 (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1965). Merline Pitre, Through Many Dangers, Toils and Snares: The Black Leadership of Texas, 1868–1900 (Austin: Eakin, 1985).
Politics and Government
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Evans, R. J.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 21, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: