Gregg County is a county located in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, its population was 121,730. Its county seat is Longview. The county is named for John Gregg, a Confederate general killed in action during the American Civil War.
Gregg County is part of the Longview, TX Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as the Longview–Marshall, TX Combined Statistical Area. Discovery of oil near Kilgore, Texas in October 1920 was the beginning of an oil boom that attracted workers to the county and expanded the population by more than 500% by 1940, according to the census. By that time, the economy had stabilized but the East Texas Oil Field, extending in five counties, has continued to be important to the county and region's economy.
This area was among early sections settled by United States immigrants before Texas became an independent republic and, after 1848, a state of the United States. It was an area developed as cotton plantations dependent on slave labor of African Americans. Lumbering of the pine forests was also pursued, especially in the early years of clearing the land for cultivation.
Gregg County was organized in 1873 after the American Civil War from portions of existing counties. When the Texas State Legislature convened in January 1873, Democratic representative B. W. Brown of Upshur County introduced a bill to create a new county from parts of Harrison, Rusk, and Upshur counties. He was likely trying to break up the black majority that dominated county politics in Harrison County. Under Brown's proposal, the county was to be named Roanoke, and Longview was to be the county seat. The proposed name was later changed to honor Texas leader and Confederate General John Gregg, and the county seat was determined by popular election.
Harrison and Rusk counties resisted efforts to have portions of their territory assigned to Gregg County. When Gregg County was created, it first consisted of approximately taken from Upshur County, and the Sabine River was its southern boundary. In April 1874 about south of the Sabine River in Rusk County was added to Gregg County. The third portion, of about to be taken from Harrison County, was never realized. Many of its voters continued to elect Republicans to county offices.
By 1919 the county population was a total of 16,700, of which 8,160, or forty-eight percent, was black. Most were sharecroppers or tenant farmers raising cotton as a commodity crop. Members of the Negro Business League set up a cooperative store in Longview to compete with white merchants and offer African-American residents more choices for purchases. Beginning July 10, the town had a short-lived Longview Race Riot in which one black man was killed, and several black homes and properties were burned. It was quelled when the sheriff asked for Texas National Guard and other law enforcement. They established a curfew and military occupation.
Agricultural work declined during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and many African Americans continued to leave in the Great Migration north to find other work. In October 1930, oil was discovered in Henderson, Texas near Kilgore. Suddenly the county economy was booming, and the East Texas Oil Field attracted so many workers that county population increased by more than 500% by 1940. Growth stabilized but oil has continued to be important. County demographics changed as other workers were attracted to the area. In the early 21st century, slightly less than 20% of the population is African American.
Texas Attorney General John Ben Shepperd, who served from 1953-1957, maintained a ranch in Gregg County near his native Gladewater. He also served on the Gregg County Commissioners Court for a brief period in 1949.