Richard Nelson, an African American newspaper publisher and political leader, was born on June 16, 1842, in Key West, Florida, where he attended school as a free person. In 1850 his family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and in 1859 continued westward into Texas. In 1866 Nelson moved to Galveston, where he became a commission merchant. He ran unsuccessfully for the legislature as a Republican in 1869. He became a justice of the peace for Galveston County the next year and retained the position until removed by newly elected Democratic officials in 1873. In 1871 he represented Texas at the Washington convention of the National Labor Union, where he served on several committees before returning to organize a state labor meeting. The same year he also campaigned without success for the Republican nomination to Congress.
On May 22, 1871, Nelson published the first issue of The Representative (out of Galveston). This periodical was the first newspaper in Texas with a black man as sole owner, editor, and publisher. In 1873 he established the Galveston Spectator. He continued his weekly paper until 1885 and attended a meeting of the state press association despite opposition from some white editors. During the 1880s he worked as a printer, as an inspector for the federal customs office in Galveston, and as the postmaster for the post office on Virginia Point. In 1880 he was secretary for the Republican state convention. Four years later he ran as an independent Republican for the United States House of Representatives but was defeated by Democrat William H. Crain in a three-way race. He returned to journalism in 1887 to establish the Freeman's Journal, another weekly for the Galveston black community, which continued until 1893. During that decade he also published letters in the Indianapolis Freeman on such issues as political discrimination and lynching. Through the 1890s and into the early twentieth century Nelson worked as a clerk in a club room. In 1901 he served as a vice president for the Southern Negro Congress, which emphasized economic and educational approaches to black advancement. Nelson married his wife, Adie, in 1868, and they had several sons and daughters, four of whom survived him. He died in Galveston on August 7, 1914.