This area of Texas was developed for cotton plantations. Planters brought slaves with them from other regions or bought them in the domestic slave trade. It had a higher proportion of slaves than other regions of the state, and the wealth of the county depended on slave labor and the cotton market.
Republic of Texas and Civil War (1841–1860)
The city was founded in 1841 as the seat of Harrison County after failed attempts to establish a county seat on the Sabine River. It was incorporated in 1843. The Republic of Texas decided to choose the land donated for the seat by Peter Whetstone and Isaac Van Zandt after Whetstone had proven that the hilly location had a good water source.
The city quickly became a major city in the state because of its position as a gateway to Texas; it was on the route of several major stagecoach lines, and one of the first railroad lines constructed into Texas ran through it. The founding of several colleges, including a number of seminaries, teaching colleges, and incipient universities, earned Marshall the nickname "the Athens of Texas", in reference to the ancient Greek city-state. The city's growing importance was confirmed when Marshall was linked by a telegraph line to New Orleans; it was the first city in Texas to have a telegraph service.
The Wyalucing plantation was the childhood home of Lucy Holcombe Pickens
, the only woman whose image was used on Confederate currency
. It housed the office of the Trans-Mississippi Postal Department of the Confederacy. In 1880 freedmen
bought the plantation and used it for the campus of Bishop College
, founded for black students; the main house was used as the president's house.
By 1860, Marshall was the fourth-largest city in Texas and the seat of its richest county. Developed as cotton plantations, the county held more slaves than any other in the state. Many planters and other whites were strongly anti-Union because of their investment in slavery, but some residents of Marshall fought for the North. For example, brothers Lionel and Emmanuel Kahn, Jewish merchants in Marshall, fought on opposing sides in the conflict.
When Governor Sam Houston refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, Marshall's Edward Clark was sworn in as governor. Pendleton Murrah, Texas's third Confederate governor, was also from Marshall. The city became a major Confederate supply depot and manufactory of gunpowder for the Confederate Army, and hosted three conferences of Trans-Mississippi and Indian Territory leaders. The city was used as the capital of Missouri's Confederate government-in-exile, earning it the nickname the "City of Seven Flags". This was a nod to the flag of Missouri, in addition to the six flags of nations and republics that have flown over the city.
Marshall became the seat of Confederate civil authority and headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Postal Department after the fall of Vicksburg. The city may have been the intended target of a failed Union advance that was rebuffed at Mansfield, Louisiana. Toward the end of the Civil War, the Confederate government had $9.0 million in Treasury notes and $3.0 million in postage stamps shipped to Marshall. They may have intended Marshall as the destination of a government preparing to flee from advancing armies.
Reconstruction and the Railroad era (1865–1895)
A former slave displays a horn in 1939 that was formerly used by planters to call slaves on the outskirts of Marshall. Many freedmen
moved to Marshall from rural areas during Reconstruction
, creating their own community and seeking the chance to live away from the supervision of whites. After Union troops departed at the end of Reconstruction, Democrats formed the White Citizens Party, establishing an insurgent militia
dedicated to white supremacy
Marshall was occupied by Union forces on June 17, 1865. During Reconstruction, the city was home to an office of the Freedmen's Bureau and was the base for federal troops. In 1873 the Methodist Episcopal Church founded Wiley College to educate freedmen. African Americans came to the city seeking opportunities and protection until 1878.
The White Citizens Party, led by former Confederate General Walter P. Lane and his brother George, took control of the city and county governments. Their militia ran Unionists, Republicans and many African Americans out of town. The Lanes ultimately declared Marshall and Harrison County "redeemed" from Union and African-American control. Despite this the African-American community continued to progress. Bishop College was founded in 1881, and Wiley College was certified by the Freedman's Aid Society in 1882.
Marshall's "Railroad Era" began in the early 1870s. Harrison County citizens voted to offer $300,000 bond subsidy, and the City of Marshall offered to donate land north of the downtown to the Texas and Pacific Railway if the company would establish a center in Marshall. T&P President Jay Gould accepted the business incentive, locating the T&P's workshops and general offices for Texas in Marshall. The city immediately had a population explosion from workers attracted to the potential for new jobs here.
By 1880 the city was one of the South's largest cotton markets, with crops and other products shipped by the railroad. The city's new prosperity was shown by the opening of J. Weisman and Co., the first department store in Texas. When one light bulb was installed in the Texas and Pacific Depot, Marshall became the first city in Texas to have electricity. Some nationally known crimes were tried here, including the trials for the attempted murder of Maurice Barrymore. During this period of wealth, many of the city's now historic homes were constructed. The city's most prominent industry, pottery manufacturing, began with the establishment of Marshall Pottery in 1895.
Despite the prosperity of the railroad era, some city residents struggled with poverty. Blacks were severely discriminated against. At the turn of the 20th century, the Democratic-dominated state legislature passed segregation laws and disenfranchised most blacks and Hispanics, as did all the states of the former Confederacy. They were essentially excluded from the political system for more than 60 years.
In the rural areas of Harrison County, there was more interaction between white people and African Americans than in the city, and whites and blacks were often neighbors. But Jim Crow rules were prominently imposed on African Americans. Several planters divided up sizable tracts of land and gave them to their former slaves, which angered poor whites.
Early and mid- 20th century
The community has developed in and around Whetstone Square, shown here in 1939. Guests lodged in the Capitol Hotel, right, and the taller Hotel Marshall directly behind it. In the 1960s the Harrison County Courthouse, center, was the site of the first sit-ins
in Texas by the civil rights movement.
In 1909 a field of natural gas was discovered near Caddo Lake and began to supply city needs. Under the leadership of John L. Lancaster, the Texas and Pacific Railway experienced its height during the first half of the 20th century, and Marshall's ceramics industry expanded to the point that the city was called by boosters the "Pottery Capital of the World". In 1930 what was then the largest oil field in the world was discovered at nearby Kilgore. The first student at Marshall High School to have a car was Lady Bird Johnson, a kind of progress that excited many students.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, children of both races were forced into accepting the law of racial segregation in the state. Marshall resident George Dawson became a writer, later describing his childhood under segregation in his memoir Life Is So Good. He described how, in some instances, he and other African Americans refused the demands of Jim Crow. He rejected one employer who expected him to eat with her dogs.
As blacks were being excluded from politics and tensions rose, more lynchings of black men took place, a form of extrajudicial punishment and social control. Beginning in the late 19th century, a total of 14 African-American men were lynched in the county, the third-highest total in the state. Suspects were often brought to Marshall for their murders, or taken from the county jail before trial and hanged in the courthouse square for maximum effect of terrorizing the black population. Between October 1903 and August 1917 at least twelve people were lynched in Marshall, all black men. Not all instances of lynching were reported by authorities, so this number is likely an undercount.
In the early and mid-20th century, Marshall's traditionally black colleges, Wiley and Bishop, were thriving intellectual and cultural centers. The writer Melvin B. Tolson, who was part of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City, taught at Wiley College.
Elks Building, Marshall, Texas (postcard, 1909)
Inspired by the teachings of professors such as Tolson, students and former students of the colleges mobilized to challenge and dismantle Jim Crow in the 1950s and 1960s. Fred Lewis, as the secretary of the Harrison County NAACP, challenged the White Citizens Party in Harrison County, the oldest chapter in Texas, and the laws it enforced. This suit overturned Jim Crow in the county with the Perry v. Cyphers ruling. Heman Sweatt, a Wiley graduate, tried to enroll in the University of Texas at Austin Law School, but was denied entry because of his race. He sued and the United States Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of postgraduate studies in public universities in Texas in its ruling in Sweatt v. Painter (1950). James L. Farmer Jr., another Wiley graduate, became an organizer of the Freedom Rides and a founder of the Congress of Racial Equality, which were active throughout the South.
Late 20th century
Downtown Marshall to the north of the former Harrison County Courthouse
The Civil Rights Movement reached into the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In the 1960s, students organized the first sit-ins in Texas, in the rotunda of the county courthouse on Whetstone Square, protesting continuing segregation of public schools. This governmental practice had been declared unconstitutional in 1954 by the US Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. In 1970, all Marshall public schools were finally integrated.
Also in that year, Carolyn Abney became the first woman to be elected to the Marshall City Commission. In April 1975, nearly a decade after passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, local businessman Sam Birmingham became the first African American to be elected to the city commission. In the 1980s, he was elected as the city's first African-American mayor. Birmingham retired in 1989 for health concerns and was succeeded by his wife, Jean Birmingham.
Marshall's railroad industry declined during the restructuring of the industry; most trains were converted to diesel fuel, and many lines merged. Expansion of airlines and the construction of the Interstate Highway System after World War II also led to railway declines. The T&P Shops closed in the 1960s, and T&P passenger service ceased in 1970. The Texas oil bust of the 1980s devastated the local economy. The city's population declined by about 1,000 between 1980 and 1990.
During the mid-20th century, the city lost many of its historic landmarks to redevelopment or neglect. For a time people preferred "modern" structures; other buildings were demolished because tax laws favored new construction. By 1990, Marshall's opera house, the Missouri Capitol, the Moses Montefiore Synagogue, the original Viaduct, the Capitol Hotel, and the campus of Bishop College (including the Wyalucing plantation house) had been demolished. In the 1970s the city began to study historic preservation efforts of nearby Jefferson, and has since emphasized preservation of historic assets throughout the remainder of the 20th century.
Due to newly completed construction projects, the city was one of ten designated in 1976 as an All-America City by the National Civic League. In 1978, Taipei mayor Lee Teng-hui, and Marshall mayor William Q. Burns, signed legislation recognizing Marshall as a sister city to the much larger Taipei. During this period Bill Moyers won an Emmy for his documentary, Marshall, Texas: Marshall, Texas, chronicling the history of race relations in the city.
In terms of the city's economy, the 1960s through 1980s were a period of social and economic decline, largely because of the oil industry and manufacturing changes. Longview surpassed it in population and economy.
In the 1980s and 1990s the city began to concentrate on diversifying its economy; tourism has been increasingly important. Two new festivals were established, the Fire Ant Festival, and the Wonderland of Lights, joining the longstanding Stagecoach Days. The Fire Ant Festival gained national attention through being featured on television in programs such as The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The Wonderland of Lights became the most popular and one of the largest light festivals in the United States. By 2000, the Wonderland of Lights had become such a part of the cityscape that the lighted dome of the Old Courthouse was the most recognizable symbol of the city. 2011 marked the 25th anniversary of the Wonderland of Lights festival. The city expected more than 200,000 visitors during the event's 40-day run, beginning with the official lighting ceremony on November 23, 2011.
In the 2000s, the Sam B. Hall Jr.
U.S. Court House became one of the busiest federal courts because of a high number of patent suits, the second highest total in the nation.
During the 2000s, the downtown had moderate economic growth, which supported restoration of significant buildings. By 2005, the Joe Weisman & Company building, the T&P Depot, the former Hotel Marshall (now known as "The Marshall"), and the former Harrison County Courthouse were either restored or under restoration. Restaurants, boutiques, and loft apartments were developed in downtown, adding to the variety of its daily life and pedestrians on the streets. Some projects adapted historic structures for re-use. Many historic homes outside of downtown continue to deteriorate. Some structures in moderate condition were approved for demolition for replacement by prefabricated or tin structures. Whetstone Square has become quite busy again, with few empty buildings around it. Lack of funding and manpower has slowed movement on demolition and salvage of historic homes.
The Sam B. Hall, Jr. Federal Courthouse has been the venue for several cases challenging state practices under provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For instance, the Democratic Party challenged the 2003 redistricting by the state legislature, arguing that it diluted minority rights. Combined with two other cases, these issues were heard by the US Supreme Court in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (2006). It upheld the state's actions, with the exception of Texas's 23rd congressional district; redistricting was required that affected neighboring districts as well. It had little effect on the new Republican majority of the Texas Congressional delegation after the 2004 elections.
An unusually high number of patent lawsuits are being filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas which includes Marshall, Tyler, and Texarkana. TiVo sued EchoStar over DVR patent rights. Marshall has a reputation for plaintiff-friendly juries for the 5% of patent lawsuits that reach trial. This has resulted in 78% plaintiff wins. The number of patent suits filed in 2002 was 32, and the number for 2006 has been estimated at 234.
The second-highest number of patent suits nationally are filed here, after the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles. The trend continued through 2011 in the Eastern District of Texas, which includes Marshall, with the number of patent lawsuits more than doubling from 2010.
Marshall was profiled on This American Life, as its juries' support of plaintiffs in patent suits has generated controversy.
The city entered into a legal battle with local residents and environmentalists about the amount of water it could draw from Caddo Lake, the source of the city’s water. This issue dominated city-county relations during the decade.
On January 18, 2010, Dr. John Tennison, a San Antonio physician and musicologist, publicized his research that found that boogie-woogie music was first developed in the Marshall area in the early 1870s. It originated among African Americans working with the T&P Railroad and the logging industry. On May 13, 2010, the Marshall City Commission unanimously passed an ordinance declaring Marshall to be "the Birthplace of Boogie Woogie."
On September 2, 2018, the Harrison County Historic Commission unveiled a Texas Historic Marker declaring Marshall as the birthplace of Boogie Woogie. The marker stands near the entrance to the T&P Railroad Museum in the historic Ginocchio district north of downtown.