Meshack (Shack) Roberts, Black legislator during Reconstruction, was probably born in Arkansas. In 1844 O. B. Roberts moved him to the area of Gilmer, Texas, as a slave. During Roberts's service in the Confederate Army, Shack Roberts took care of his master's family and property. After the war O. B. Roberts returned and provided him with some land and material with which to build a double log cabin for his family. Two years later the Ku Klux Klan whipped Roberts and left him for dead by a roadside near Gilmer. The exact reason for the attack is unknown. Roberts survived and soon moved to Marshall, where he worked as a blacksmith, served as a Methodist minister, and involved himself in politics. In 1873, at a time when the Democratic party was again gaining strength throughout the state, Roberts, a Republican, was elected to the Thirteenth Legislature as a representative from the Fifth District, which included Rusk and Harrison counties. He replaced Mitchell Kendall. As a legislator Roberts was interested in improving the education of Blacks in the state. One observer noted that his use of humor and sarcasm when addressing the House elicited the laughter and favor of his fellow legislators. He also served as a vice president at the Republican state convention of 1873 and helped to establish Wiley College, the first Black college-level institution west of the Mississippi. Roberts won reelection to the Texas House of Representatives in 1874. In 1875 he campaigned in support of a constitutional convention and spoke at the Radical Republican convention in Henderson alongside David Abner, Sr., another Black legislator from Harrison County. Although Roberts was a Republican, he endorsed Democratic governor Richard Coke at the convention. In 1876, facing only token opposition, Roberts was reelected to a third term in the Texas House as the only representative of the Tenth District (Harrison County). In 1878 he supported the gubernatorial candidacy of Democrat Oran M. Roberts. When Governor Roberts took office, conservative Harrison County Democrats were concerned that he might commission Republicans to county offices. In a letter to Governor Roberts dated February 10, 1879, and signed with Meshack Roberts's mark (he was illiterate), the governor was advised to retain the officers who were already serving. It is still unclear why Meshack Roberts wrote this letter. His service in the Texas legislature, and the service of all other Black officials in Harrison County, ended with the rise of the Citizen's party of Harrison County in 1878.
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J. Mason Brewer, Negro Legislators of Texas and Their Descendants (Dallas: Mathis, 1935; 2d ed., Austin: Jenkins, 1970). Harrel Budd, The Negro in Politics in Texas, 1867–1898 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1925). Randolph B. Campbell, A Southern Community in Crisis: Harrison County, Texas, 1850–1880 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983). Lawrence D. Rice, The Negro in Texas, 1874–1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971). James Smallwood, Time of Hope, Time of Despair: Black Texans during Reconstruction (London: Kennikat, 1981). E. W. Winkler, Platforms of Political Parties in Texas (Austin: University of Texas, 1916).
Activism and Social Reform
Founders and Pioneers
Politics and Government
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 14, 2022,
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September 28, 2020
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