Family History, Announcements & Links:
Because of the inherent nature of slavery, records were not kept uniformly of statistics concerning our people of African descent before 1865 when slavery was actually abolished in the southern portion of our nation. Therefore, we don't have exact dates and locations for events in our families that predated that year. Most or our people were migratory during the first 5 to 10 years after slavery was abolished. Our first census was the 1870 Federal Census. Because some were afraid of being returned to plantations, they were reluctant to divulge information to government agencies during the taking of the 1870 census and hid from the census takers. We rely mostly on the 1880 Federal Census as the document to use in tracking our ancestry. By that time, most former slaves had settled into the areas of the country that would be their permanent homes and knew for certain that they were truly free.
The Matthews family migrated from Georgia and settled in Bastrop County (Hills Prairie), Texas; while the Shaw family, newly moved from South Carolina, settled in Falls County (Marlin), Texas. Some members of the Shaw family moved to Hill County(Itasca), Texas during the turn of the 19th century while the Matthews moved there later, during the 1920's.
During the turn of the century (from 19th century to 20th century), thousands of African American farm workers traveled from South and West Texas to North, Central and Northeast Texas to work in the vast fertile cotton fields. These migratory workers contracted annually with farmers in these cotton producing areas. These migratory journeys were called "Cotton Picks". Itasca, Texas (along with its surrounding areas) was known as a large cotton producing area during the 1st half of the 20th century and kept that distinction until the late 60's when automation and synthetics took over the agricultural landscape of North and Central Texas. Itasca also had a good sized manufacturing industry and was a world-renown maker of handmade chenille bedspreads, blankets and quilts (Itasca Weavers' Guild). The cotton farms, cotton gins and chenille factories provided more work than the residents of Itasca could handle, so our little town was flooded with migrant workers during the spring, summer and autumn months. Each autumn, the African-American school opening was delayed until after the cotton crops were in, ginned and cargoed out to northern textile factories...usually in late September/early October.
These photos are taken from the archives of the Itasca Texas Railroad Museum located in Itasca: