The Handbook of Texas is free-to-use thanks to the support of readers like you. Support the Handbook today.

Font size: A / A reset

Support Texas History Now

Join TSHA to support quality Texas history programs and receive exclusive benefits.

Become a TSHA Member Today »

Kennedy, Major (1881–1952)

Nolan Thompson Biography Entry

Major Kennedy, oilman and philanthropist, was born to former slave parents, Dink and Betty (Portley) Kennedy, in Rusk County in 1881. He received his early education at the Star Bailey public school in Rusk County. He was encouraged at an early age to seek higher education in the North, but resolved to make his way with the resources available to him in East Texas. He worked at odd jobs for several white families while he was going to school at Star Bailey and is said to have saved nine cents out of every dime he earned. He received a teaching certificate upon graduation and in 1900 began work in Rusk County as the teaching principal at Freeman Ridge School. After two years he moved to Possum Trot School and later to Pine Hill School, both in Rusk County. Kennedy left Pine Hill to attend Texas College. He returned to teach in East Texas, but frustration with inequality in distribution of funds and supplies for Black schools motivated him to quit teaching. He married Mary E. Britton, of Rusk County, and concentrated on farming. He found work in nearby towns to supplement his income and began investing in land and cattle. He bought whole sections at a time since land was inexpensive. By 1930, when the East Texas oil boom hit, he had acquired substantial land and livestock. The oil discovered on his land brought him greater wealth, and he joined with other East Texas Blacks to form the Tiger Oil and Gas Company. Kennedy became a leader among African Americans because of his financial power and built the all-Black town of Easton, on the border of Gregg and Rusk counties. He owned a mercantile store, a garment factory, a sawmill, a number of rent houses, and most of the land in the town by the time of his death. He supported the Pirtle Baptist Church in Easton and donated land for its cemetery.

He also made generous contributions to Butler College, the Progressive Voters' League, the YMCA, and various civil rights causes. He also constructed churches and schools in East Texas, financed the studies of a number of students, and donated fifty acres of land to the Boy Scouts of America for Camp Kennedy, which included a lake with swimming and fishing facilities. He and Mary had ten children. Kennedy died on July 12, 1952.

Effie Kaye Adams, Tall Black Texans: Men of Courage (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt, 1972).


  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Business

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

Nolan Thompson, “Kennedy, Major,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: