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Walter Moses Burton, the first African-American elected Sheriff in the United States, Fort Bend County Texas, 1869.

Posted by Walter Gido on

Walter Moses Burton, the first African-American elected Sheriff in the United States, Fort Bend County Texas, 1869.

He served as Sheriff and Tax Collector until 1873 using a white deputy to arrest law breakers due to the racial unrest of that period. Walter Moses Burton was brought to Texas enslaved from North Carolina at the age of 21. He was enslaved by a planter, Thomas Burke Burton, who owned a plantation and several large farms in Fort Bend County. Thomas Burton sold Walter several large plots of land for $1,900 dollars. This land made him one of the wealthiest and influential Blacks in the County. He became involved in politics as early as 1869, when he was elected sheriff and tax collector. He was the first Black sheriff elected to office in Texas and the first Black elected sheriff in the country. Along with these duties, he also served as the president of the Fort Bend County Union League.

In 1873 Burton campaigned for and won a seat in the Texas Senate (1874 to 1875 & from 1876 to 1882) In the Senate he championed the education of Black people. Among the many bills that he helped push through was one that called for the establishment of Prairie View Normal School. In the Republican party Burton served as a member of the State Executive Committee at the state convention of 1873, as a vice president of the 1878 and 1880 conventions, and as a member of the Committee on Platform and Resolutions at the 1892 convention. His first term in the Senate was shortened by a contested election, as well as the calling of the Constitutional Convention of 1875. 

Consequently, each name received votes in various counties of the district. In January 1874 he was granted a certificate of election from the Thirteenth Senatorial District, but a White Democrat contested the election on the grounds that Burton's name was listed three different ways on the ballot. The Senate committee on election at first recommended the seating of the Democratic candidate but later reconsidered its decision and based the outcome of the election on the intent of the voters who cast ballots for the different Burtons. The Senate confirmed Burton's election on February 20, 1874. By that time, half of the first session of the Fourteenth Legislature was over, and the second session was abbreviated because of the call for a constitutional convention.

Burton ran for and was reelected to the Senate in 1876. He left the Senate in January 1883 and upon the request of a White colleague was given an ebony and gold cane for his service in that chamber. He was the last Black state senator elected in Texas until Barbara Jordan’s electoral win in 1966.Walter Moses Burton married Abby “Hattie” Jones on September 26, 1868, in Fort Bend County. In 1869 the couple had one son, Horace, who died in 1895. He remained active in state and local politics until his death on June 4, 1913. He was buried in the Morton Cemetery, where Mirabeau B. Lamar, Jane Long, and Clem Bassett were interred, in Richmond, Texas. In 1996 the Fort Bend Independent School District named an elementary school in his honor.
The school is located in Fresno, Texas, and their mascot is known as the Burton Sheriff."

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