White Man's Union Associations

By: Christopher Long

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 1, 2021

The White Man's Union Associations, or White Men's Primary Associations, were political organizations formed in the wake of Reconstruction to maintain White control in county elections in areas that had large Black or Hispanic populations. Sporadic efforts to limit Black suffrage occurred during the 1870s and 1880s, as Whites intimidated Black voters and candidates and rigged elections. In several counties, including Grimes and Fort Bend, Whites formed political parties to defeat Black candidates. Other counties followed their example and formed so-called White Men's Union or Primary Associations. Among the earliest of these groups was the one in Wharton County, which was formed on November 25, 1889. While the initial group in Wharton was small, the membership gradually increased, and after a few years all qualified White voters automatically became members of the union. The constitution of the organization claimed that its purpose was to ensure better county government, but in actual practice it was much like a political party. By nominating all county officials for the spring Democratic primary elections, the association exercised a stranglehold on the local political scene and kept the county's Black and Hispanic voters from having any voice in elections or other local political matters. Minority voters could vote in the fall general elections, but the gesture was effectively meaningless in a one-party state. White Men's Associations were founded in Marion County in the spring of 1898 and in Jackson County in December 1902. Many other counties, following their example, formed similar organizations or instituted the so-called White Primary, which permitted only White voters to cast ballots in the spring elections. Although state Democratic officials generally defined "White" to include persons of Mexican descent, the definition in fact varied from county to county. In a number of instances, such as in Dimmit County, White Primary associations were formed expressly to exclude Texas Mexican voters. In the 1944 Smith v. Allwright case, the United States Supreme Court found the White Primary to be unconstitutional and in 1952 declared that the Jaybird Democratic Association of Fort Bend County (see JAYBIRD-WOODPECKER WAR) was the Democratic party and not a private organization and must follow the Smith decision.

Alwyn Barr, Reconstruction to Reform: Texas Politics, 1876–1906 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). The Constitution and By-Laws of the White Man's Union Association of Wharton County, Texas (Wharton, Texas, 1938). Darlene Clark Hine, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (Millwood, New York: KTO Press, 1979). David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836–1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987). J. A. R. Moseley, "The Citizens White Primary of Marion County," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 49 (April 1946). Lawrence D. Rice, The Negro in Texas, 1874–1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971). Ira T. Taylor, The Cavalcade of Jackson County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1938). Pauline Yelderman, The Jay Bird Democratic Association of Fort Bend County (Waco: Texian Press, 1979).

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
  • Mexican Americans
  • Organizations
  • Associations

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

Christopher Long, “White Man's Union Associations,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/white-mans-union-associations.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 2021

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