Matthew Gaines was a former slave, black senator and Baptist preacher. He was born on August 4, 1840, on a plantation. He learned to read by candlelight from books smuggled to him by another child, who happened to be white, who lived on the same plantation. Gaines escaped to freedom twice but each time was caught and returned to slavery.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, Gaines established himself as a leader of the black community, both as a minister and a politician. During Reconstruction he was elected as a senator to represent the state of Texas.
Gaines was a vigilant guardian and seeker of the rights and interests of African Americans. Among the many issues he addressed were education, prison reform, the protection of blacks at the polls, the election of blacks to public office, and tenant-farming reform. For example, to encourage educational and religious groups to work toward educational improvement in their communities, Gaines sponsored a bill that called for exempting such organizations from taxation. Buildings and equipment used for charitable or literary associations were also exempted; the bill became law on June 12, 1871. Also, Gaines’s believed that if blacks were protected (via the Militia Bill) in the exercising of the Fifteenth Amendment, they could make a difference at the polls. Hence, after the successful passage of the Militia Bill, Gaines made a determined, but unsuccessful, effort to gain support to elect a black Texan to the United States House of Representatives. Even though this effort was not a success, it demonstrated what can be done if blacks came together and exercised their natural human right—which was to claim their voice and be heard.
Gaines was very sympathetic to the plight of the blacks. He was one of the few blacks who served in the legislature from 1870 to 1900 to voice an opinion on various issues that blacks faced.
There is no doubt that Gaines is a leader whose work and efforts in the black community should be remembered so we can know the power of our voices and the ballot.
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