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BLACK, EUGENE (1879–1975). Eugene Black, congressman and judge, was born on July 2, 1879, in Blossom, Texas, the son of Alexander Wesley and Talula Ann (Shackelford) Black. The family moved from Lamar County to Clarksville in neighboring Red River County in the early 1890s. In 1905, after receiving a law degree from Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tennessee, he was admitted to the Texas bar. He first practiced law in Clarksville, where he and his brother Ernest began a wholesale grocery business. Their firm, Black Brothers Company, was an early bottler of Coca-Cola.
Between 1905 and 1914 Black built a prosperous law practice, and his other businesses also did well. In 1914 he ran as a Democrat for the United States Congress and won election in the First District of Texas. Citizens of the district enjoyed relative prosperity in the years before and after World War I as demand improved for agricultural commodities and local small-scale manufacturing increased.
Once in the House, Black became a close ally of John Nance Garner, a friend of the Black family and one of the most influential Democrats in Congress. Though he was never a flamboyant sponsor of legislation, Black was considered a valuable member of the Texas delegation and held several leadership positions in the state's Democratic caucus. In the 1922 election he was opposed by former populist James H. (Cyclone) Davis, who attacked Black as a friend of big business and enemy of the small farmer. Black's support of private ownership of the railroads was a particular issue. He won this contest but lost to J. Wright Patman in 1928. Patman had supported Black in the 1922 election, perhaps because Davis was an outspoken member of the Ku Klux Klan.
By 1928 economic conditions in Black's district, as in the rest of the rural South, had worsened. Texas Democrats had struggled without much success to aid farmers. In this as well as in enforcement of prohibition, Black had been supportive but not boisterous. In a 1927 letter to Patman, Atticus Webb, superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League of Texas, praised Black for being a "sincere prohibitionist" but added, "by nature Mr. Black is not a fighter." Patman's more aggressive and combative manner evidently matched the voters' mood in that difficult year. They listened intently as Patman attacked Black's record in the same style and along the same lines as Davis. Ironically Patman, who subsequently served in Congress until the mid-1970s, also gained votes by claiming it was time to give a younger man a chance. Black lost the election by a vote of 17,938 to 20,886. He won only three of the eleven counties in his district, but he had the satisfaction of carrying the two counties where he was best known, Lamar and Red River, by large margins.
He was soon appointed a judge on what became the United States Tax Court, a job for which his kindness and courtly manner suited him. He was well respected by his peers and wrote many closely studied cases. Black served as a regular member of the court until 1953 and on recall basis until he retired in 1966. By then he was in his mid-eighties but still vigorous. He had represented the First District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives from 1915 to 1929 and served as a judge on the Tax Court of the United States from 1929 to 1966.
Black married Maimie Coleman in 1903. They had six children. One daughter, Margaret, never married and served as Black's secretary through much of his career. The family was active in the Methodist Church and lived primarily in Washington, D.C., after Black's initial election to Congress. There Black died on May 22, 1975.
Naples Monitor, March 30, 1928. Wright Patman Papers, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin. Washington Post, May 27, 1975. Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Vol. 10.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Walter L. Buenger, "BLACK, EUGENE," accessed July 22, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbl62.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on January 16, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.