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John Henry Brown

John Henry Brown (October 29, 1820 – May 31, 1895) was an American historian, journalist, author, military leader, and a politician who served as a state legislator and as mayor of both Dallas and Galveston, Texas. Brown was among the first to publish scholarly histories of the state of Texas and the city of Dallas. In recent decades, Brown has been the subject of significant criticism as researchers and the media have revealed a strong and consistent theme in his writing and speeches of rhetoric bigoted against African Americans and those who advocated their rights.

Life and career[]

John Henry Brown was born in Pike County, Missouri Territory, the son of Henry S. Brown and Margaret Jones Brown. He received little formal schooling but apprenticed as a youth in a printer's office and various newspapers in Missouri. At age 17, Brown moved to the Republic of Texas and soon thereafter worked for a newspaper in Austin. His military career began in 1840 in skirmishes with Indians, and by 1841 he had attained the rank of first sergeant. He was involved in several battles in the succeeding two years.

In April 1843 Brown returned to Missouri, where in July of that year he married Marion F. Mitchel, with whom he would eventually have five children. In 1845 the couple came to Texas to live. In 1846, Brown was given the rank of major in the militia of Texas, which had joined the union as a state in December 1845. He resumed his newspaper career the same year.

In 1848, the Brown family moved to Indianola, Texas. There Brown founded a newspaper and published a number of documents on the history of Texas and the Southwest.

Brown became the associate editor of a newspaper in Galveston in 1854. He was elected that year to the Texas legislature, and in 1856 he became mayor of Galveston. He returned to the state legislature in 1857, following which he moved to Belton, Texas, and continued activities in both journalism and the military.

As the Civil War approached, Brown was selected in 1861 to chair the committee that prepared Texas's articles of secession. Beginning service in the Confederate States Army as a private, he rose to the rank of major, serving on the staff of Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch, then as assistant adjutant general on Gen. Henry E. McCulloch's staff. Because of health issues, Brown returned to Texas in 1863 and served the remainder of the war in the Texas militia.

Brown was displeased with the outcome of the war and moved with his family to Mexico in June 1865, where they remained until 1871, at which time they returned to the U.S. and settled in Dallas. In 1872 Brown returned to the Texas state legislature. He held numerous state and local appointments and offices for the remainder of his life, most notably serving as Dallas's mayor from 1885 to 1887.

From 1880 until his death in 1895 Brown wrote and edited several books on the history of the region, including The History of Dallas County, 1837-1887, The Life and Times of Henry Smith, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas, and The History of Texas from 1685 to 1892.

Brown died in Dallas at the age of 74.


A newspaper report of John Henry Brown's funeral recorded that the procession "was one of the longest ever seen in Dallas"; another one four years later said Brown "had a state-wide reputation and probably knew more persons in Texas than any other one man." Brown's papers are preserved in the Texas Hall of State in Dallas's Fair Park. Brown Street, in Dallas's Oak Lawn neighborhood, was named for him, as was a public school: in 1912, the Dallas Independent School District opened John Henry Brown School, an elementary school, in South Dallas. During the 1950s the demographics of the neighborhood in which the school was located shifted significantly from exclusively Anglo (and largely Jewish) to primarily African-American. In 1955, Brown Elementary School was the focus of Dallas's first desegregation-related legal action, as an African-American family sued for the right of their children to attend the segregated whites-only school that was half a block from their home; the suit was dismissed. In succeeding decades, desegregation did occur and was in fact made mandatory under court orders in the 1970s. Meanwhile, community resentment grew as local residents were made aware of the racist nature of much of John Henry Brown's rhetoric, as illustrated in these excerpts from Phillips, 2006:

  • "'[A]malgamation of the white with the black race, inevitably leads to disease, decline and death,' Galveston State Representative and later Dallas mayor John Henry Brown warned in 1857."
  • "In December 1857 Brown proposed a joint resolution calling for resumption of the African slave trade that had been prohibited by the U.S. Constitution since 1808. Brown argued that the Negro was 'indisputably adapted by nature, to the condition of servitude' and, rescued from the savagery and disease of Africa by the white man, enjoyed 'a degree of health unequalled' by slaves anywhere else in the world."
  • "'[A] free negro population is a curse to any people,' John Henry Brown warned in a state House committee hearing in 1857. Free blacks and mixed-blood persons had been allowed to remain in Texas, Brown said, due to white 'humanity and generosity.'"
  • "Brown advised slaveowners to 'whip no abolitionist, drive off no abolitionist—hang them, or let them alone.'"

In 1999, the Dallas school board responded to the community, authorizing the changing of the name of John Henry Brown Elementary School to Billy E. Dade Elementary School (Dade was an African-American public-school educator in Dallas). As of 2006, the Dade school became the Billy E. Dade Middle Learning Center.


  • "Are Rushing School Buildings," The Dallas Morning News, May 30, 1912.
  • Baker, Erma. Brown, John Henry in The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved August 27, 2007.
  • Benton, Joshua. (weblog of a Dallas Morning News staff writer and columnist). Retrieved August 27, 2007.
  • Billy Earl Dade Middle Learning Center (Dallas Independent School District website). Retrieved August 27, 2007.
  • "Brown: Dallas' Mayor Wrote History" by Sam Acheson. The Dallas Morning News, April 21, 1962.
  • Cristol, Gerry. A Light in the Prairie: Temple Emanu-El of Dallas 1872–1997. Fort Worth TX: TCU Press, 1998. ISBN 0-87565-184-4.
  • "John Henry Brown." The Dallas Morning News, June 3, 1895.
  • "John Henry Brown's Will." The Dallas Morning News, March 7, 1899.
  • Phillips, Michael. White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. ISBN 0-29271-274-X.
  • Rumbley, Rose-Mary. A Century of Class: Public Education in Dallas. Austin TX: Eakin Press, 1984. ISBN 0-89015-457-0.
  • "Woman's Club Notes." The Dallas Morning News, November 24, 1912.

External links[]

Template:Start box |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
William Lewis Cabell |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Mayors of Dallas
1885-1887 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Winship C. Connor |- Template:TXHouseSuccession box Template:TXHouseSuccession box Template:TXHouseSuccession box |}