Degree Level




First Advisor

Van Hoy, Teresa

Second Advisor

Langston, Camille



LCSH subject

African American soldiers -- History, Military -- 19th century; Texas -- History


Texans have long contended that slavery in Texas was marginal. Early scholars depicted Texas as a western state rather than a southern state dedicated to slavery. However, slavery was central to Texas from the 1830s-1860s. The story of Milton Holland offers a window into the importance of slavery in Texas and the importance of enslaved Texans in U.S. history. Holland was the first Texan to win the Medal of Honor (not just the first black Texan to win the Medal of Honor). Despite this achievement and Texas’ affinity for military prowess, Holland remains missing in Texas history textbooks, the Bob Bullock official Texas State History Museum, and other major institutions. Two key details of his story oblige us to face the full force of the history of slavery in Texas: Milton Holland was enslaved by his own father and Milton Holland’s father was a high-ranking Texan—interim Secretary of State for Confederate Texas. Indeed, Milton Holland demonstrates that slavery in Texas was significant and that enslaved Texans and their enslavers, including their fathers, played major roles during the Civil War. Milton Holland went from being an enslaved person in Texas to an enlisted soldier for the Union army in Ohio because Texas had some of the most restrictive laws regarding slavery. For example, enslavers were forbidden from freeing their enslaved people or their enslaved children without state congressional approval, and free blacks were banned from the state of Texas. What began as my modest query into the first Texan Medal of Honor winner unexpectedly uncovered two significant findings: first, a major role of U.S. Colored Troops as formerly enslaved liberators of fellow brother and sister enslaved people and second, a major role for former enslaved Union soldiers as black leaders of equality post-Civil War.

Publication Date

Spring 2024

Document Type