As Texas Republicans get their guns up downtown, not much has changed since former party Chairman “Gooseneck Bill” McDonald’s day.
“We shall have some disturbers,” McDonald predicted before the 1898 convention here.
“They may kick and protest up to the convention floor, but at that place their kicking will stop.”
One of Fort Worth’s most famous Republicans, McDonald was also Texas’ first African-American millionaire and a successful banker throughout the Depression.
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He is also one of Texas’ most forgotten Republicans, a model of the African-American business leader whom the Texas party hopes to lure back.
McDonald’s Fraternal Bank & Trust was three blocks east of the current Fort Worth Convention Center. Near the site, a transit station mural remembers Fort Worth’s old African-American downtown business district.
As party chairman and a national delegate, he first represented his home Kaufman County east of Dallas, where he was born the son of a freed slave whose former masters included the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.
He was paid the handsome sum of $575 per month — nearly $200,000 per year in today’s dollars — as Terrell railroad executive Ned Green’s political connection to Texas’ freed slaves, most of them McKinley voters loyal to the party of Lincoln.
Later, he brought his bank, businesses, Masonic lodge connections and legend to Fort Worth, where he lived until 1950 in an East Terrell Avenue mansion that he said was a copy of a Tennessee slave owner’s.
“He lived four blocks from me,” said Reby Cary, 93, a former Fort Worth state representative who has seen African-American voters swing from Republicans to Democrats and sometimes back again.
“He always said Republicans have a hard time because the Democrats want to keep black voters locked in on the plantation,” Cary said.
(Resentful after the Civil War and Reconstruction, Texas Democrats didn’t attract African-American voters until the New Deal and still barred them from primaries until 1945.)
“His philosophy was to be independent, not to look to the government for help,” Cary said.
“He taught a lot of Texans to believe in the capitalist society and free enterprise, not this big government we have today.”
In a 1919 speech in Shreveport, McDonald said: “Do you wish to have grocery stores? Go and establish such stores. Do you wish to have Negro bank clerks and cashiers? Go and establish a bank.”
Fort Worth author William Bundy’s 1925 biography, William Madison McDonald, calls him Texas’ version of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.
In later years, he tangled with the party’s “Lily-White” faction and endorsed some Democrats, although his last endorsement was for Republican Thomas Dewey.
In 1908, for example, he wrote that Democrat William Jennings Bryan would best serve black Americans.
“We shall get just what all American citizens will get — American fair play, even-handed justice and an honest administration of the affairs of national government,” he wrote.
His 1950 funeral at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church included a 21/2-mile procession, with two Cadillacs completely covered with flowers.
He is buried today in Old Trinity Cemetery inside Oakwood Cemetery, with a four-story obelisk marker.
He deserves to be remembered by Texas Republicans.