Marshall is a city in and the county seat of Harrison County in the northeastern corner of Texas. Marshall is a major cultural and educational center in East Texas and the tri-state area. As of the 2010 census, the population of Marshall was about 23,523.
Marshall was a political and production center of the Confederacy during the Civil War and was a major railroad center of the T&P Railroad from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century. The city's large African American population and the presence of black institutions of higher learning made Marshall a center of the civil rights movement in the American South. The city is known for holding one of the largest light festivals in the United States, the Wonderland of Lights, and, as the self-proclaimed Pottery Capital of the World, for its sizable pottery industry.
Marshall is also referred to by various nicknames; the Cultural Capital of East Texas, the Gateway of Texas, the Athens of Texas, the City of Seven Flags and Center Stage, a branding slogan adopted by the Marshall Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Republic of Texas and the Civil War (1841–1860)
The city was founded in 1841 as the seat of Harrison County, after repeated failed attempts to establish a county seat on the Sabine River since the county was established in 1839, and was incorporated in 1843. The Republic of Texas decided to choose the site of land granted by Peter Whetstone and Isaac Van Zandt after Whetstone had proven that the hilly location had a good water source. The city quickly became a major city in the state because of its position as a gateway to Texas on several major stage coach lines and one of the first railroad lines into Texas. The establishment of several colleges, including a number of seminaries, teaching colleges, and incipient universities, earned Marshall the nickname the Athens of Texas, in reference to the ancient Greek city state. The city's growing importance was confirmed when Marshall was linked by a telegraph line to New Orleans, becoming the first city in Texas to have a telegraph service.
By 1860, the city was the fourth largest city in Texas and the seat of the richest county. The county had more slaves than any other in the state, making it a hotbed of anti-Union sentiment, though some residents of Marshall nonetheless fought for the North. For example, brothers Lionel and Emmanuel Kahn, Jewish merchants in Marshall, fought on opposing sides in the conflict. When Gov. Sam Houston refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, Marshall's Edward Clark was sworn in as governor. Marshall would also produce Texas's third Confederate governor, Pendleton Murrah. Marshall became a major Confederate city; producing gunpowder and other supplies for the Confederate Army, and hosting three conferences of Trans-Mississippi and Indian Territory leaders. The city also became the capital of Missouri's Confederate government-in-exile, earning it the nickname the City of Seven Flags—a nod to the flag of Missouri in addition to the other six flags that have flown over the city.
Marshall became the seat of civil authority and headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Postal Department after the fall of Vicksburg. The city may have been the intended target of a failed Union advance that was rebuffed at Mansfield, Louisiana. Towards the end of the Civil War, the Confederate States government had $9.0 million in Treasury notes and $3.0 million in postage stamps shipped to Marshall, possibly meaning that Marshall was the intended destination of a government preparing to flee from advancing armies.
Reconstruction and the Railroad era (1865–1895)
Marshall was occupied by Union forces on June 17, 1865. During Reconstruction the city was home to an office of the Freedmen's Bureau and was the base for Union troops. In 1873 The Methodist Episcopal Church founded Wiley College to educate free men. African-Americans came to the city seeking opportunities and protection until 1878, when the Citizens Party, led by former Confederate General Walter P. Lane and his brother George, took control of the city and county governments and ran Unionists, Republicans and many African-Americans out of town. The Lanes ultimately declared Marshall and Harrison County "redeemed" from Union and African-American control. Despite this the African-American community would continue to progress with the establishment of Bishop College in 1881 and the certification of Wiley by the Freedman's Aid Society in 1882.
Marshall's "Railroad Era" began in the early 1870s. Harrison County citizens voted to offer $300,000 bond subsidy, and the City of Marshall offered to donate land north of the downtown to the Texas and Pacific Railway if the company would move to Marshall. T&P President Jay Gould accepted and located the T&P's workshops and general offices for Texas in Marshall. The city benefited immediately from a population explosion. By 1880 the city was one of the South's largest cotton markets. The city's new prosperity became apparent with the opening of J. Weisman and Co., the first department store in Texas, and with the installation of a single light bulb in the Texas and Pacific Depot, Marshall became the first city in Texas to have electricity. Prosperity brought out elements which led to some nationally known crimes being tried in the city, including the trials for the attempted murder of Maurice Barrymore. During this period of wealth, many of the city's now historic homes were constructed. The city's most prominent industry, pottery manufacturing, began with the establishment of Marshall Pottery in 1895.
Despite the prosperity of the railroad era, poverty continued to be a problem in the city among all races, but tensions between whites and African-Americans continued to worsen as segregation crystallized in the city. The rural areas of Harrison County saw greater interaction between white people and African-Americans. There, whites and blacks being neighbors was commonplace. Even though the areas surrounding Marshall were somewhat integrated, racism was still apparent in everyday life. The fact that several plantation owners divided up sizable tracts of land and gave them to their former slaves may also have contributed to these tensions.
Early and mid- 20th century
Natural gas arrived in the city from a field on Caddo Lake in 1909. Under the leadership of John L. Lancaster, the Texas and Pacific Railway experienced its height during the first half of the 20th century, Marshall's ceramics industry expanded to the point that the city began to be called the "Pottery Capital of the World." Marshall's industry received a boost with the discovery of what was then the largest oil field in the world at nearby Kilgore in 1930. Small landmarks of progress, such as the first student at Marshall High School to have a car, Lady Bird Johnson, excited the working class and poor.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries children of both races had been raised to accept the status quo of racial segregation. African-American Marshall resident George Dawson later wrote about his childhood experiences with segregation in his book Life Is So Good. He described how, despite African-American children's acceptance of segregation, in some instances its demands were too outrageous to follow. For example, Dawson described how he had refused the demand of one employer who expected him to eat with her dogs. Other racist tactics were more overt; between October 1903 and August 1917 at least twelve people were lynched. Not all instances of lynching were reported by authorities, so the number the number is likely an undercount.
In the early and mid-20th century Marshall's traditionally black colleges were thriving intellectual and cultural centers. Three major civil rights leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and later Jesse Jackson attended Bishop College while James L. Farmer Jr. went to Wiley College, and Texas's member of the Harlem Renaissance, Melvin B. Tolson, wrote while teaching at Wiley.
Inspired by the teachings of professors, such as Melvin B. Tolson, students and former students of the colleges mobilized to challenge and dismantle Jim Crow. Fred Lewis, as the secretary of the Harrison County NAACP, challenged the oldest White Citizens Party in Texas and the laws it enforced; ultimately abolishing Jim Crow in the county with the Perry v. Cyphers verdict. Heman Sweatt, a Wiley graduate, tried to enroll in the University of Texas at Austin Law school, but was denied entry because of the color of his skin; he then sued and the United States Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of postgraduate studies in Texas in the Sweatt v. Painter decision. James L. Farmer Jr., another Wiley graduate, became an organizer of the Freedom Rides and a founder of the Congress of Racial Equality.
Late 20th Century
The progression of civil rights would continue into the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In the 1960s, students organized the first sit-ins in Texas in the rotunda of the county courthouse on Whetstone Square in a move to end segregation of public schools; in 1970, all Marshall public schools were integrated. Also in that year, Carolyn Abney became the first woman to be elected to the city commission. In April 1975 local businessman Sam Birmingham became the first African-American to be elected to the city commission and, in the 1980s, Marshall's first African-American mayor. Birmingham retired in 1989 for health concerns and was succeeded by his wife, Jean Birmingham.
Marshall's railroad industry subsequently declined with the conversion of most trains to diesel fuel, the proliferation of air travel, and the construction of the Interstate highway system after World War II. The T&P Shops closed in the 1960s and T&P passenger service ceased in 1970. The Texas oil bust of the 1980s devastated the local economy and the city's population declined by about a thousand between 1980 and 1990.
During the mid-20th century the city lost many of its landmarks. Some buildings were demolished because their owners disregarded their historic importance and preferred “modern” structures, others were demolished because their owners felt they could no longer afford to maintain them. By 1990, Marshall's opera house, the Missouri Capitol, the Moses Montefiore Synagogue, the original Viaduct, the Capitol Hotel, and the campus of Bishop College (including the Wyalucing plantation house) had been demolished. In the 1970s the city began to look at the preservation efforts of nearby Jefferson, increasingly developing a preservationist trend throughout the remainder of the 20th century.
Due to newly completed construction projects, the city was one of ten designated an All American City in 1976 by the National Civic League. In 1978, then Taipei mayor, Lee Teng-Hui, and Marshall mayor, William Q. Burns, signed legislation recognizing Marshall as a sister city with the much larger Taipei. During this period Bill Moyers won an Emmy for his documentary chronicling the history of race relations in the city. Despite these instance of national and international attention the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s where largely a period of social and economic decline, as the city was surpassed in population and economic clout by its younger rival Longview.
The city began to concentrate on diversifying its economy in the 1980s and 1990s, with tourism emerging as an increasingly important area of the city’s economy. Two new festivals joined the longstanding Stagecoach Days, the Fire Ant Festival and the Wonderland of Lights. The Fire Ant Festival gained national attention through television features on shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, but it was the Wonderland of Lights that by far became the most popular—growing to become one of the largest light festivals in the United States. By 2000, the Wonderland of Lights had become such a part of the cityscape that the lighted dome of the Old Courthouse had become the most recognizable symbol of the city. 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the famed Wonderland of Lights festival and the City expects more than 200,000 visitors during the event's 40 day run beginning with the official lighting ceremony on November 23, 2011.
The 2000s (decade) saw moderate economic growth and a renaissance of the downtown. By 2005, the Joe Weisman & Company building, the T&P Depot, the former Hotel Marshall (now known as "The Marshall"), and the former Harrison County Courthouse were either restored or under restoration. Restaurants, boutiques, and loft apartments infused the downtown economy and saved historic structures in decline. Many historic homes outside of downtown continue to deteriorate and some structures in moderate condition were approved for demolition for replacement by prefabricated or tin structures. The square has become quite busy again, with few empty buildings. However, lack of funding and manpower has slowed movement on demolition and salvage of historic homes.
The Sam B. Hall, Jr. Federal Courthouse became one of the busiest courthouses in the country, the venue for such cases as the Democratic challenge to the 2003 redistricting of Texas and the TiVo suit of EchoStar over DVR patent rights.
An unusual number of patent lawsuits are being filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas which includes Marshall, Tyler, and Texarkana. Marshall has a reputation for plaintiff-friendly juries for the 5% of patent lawsuits that reach trial, resulting in 78% plaintiff wins. The number of patent suits filed in 2002 was 32, and the number for 2006 has been estimated at 234. Only the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles will have more patent suits filed than Marshall. The trend continued through 2011 in the Eastern District of Texas, which includes Marshall, with the number of patent lawsuits more than doubling from 2010. Marshall was profiled on This American Life for the patent suits controversy.
The city entered into a legal battle with local residents and environmentalists about the amount of water it could draw out of Caddo Lake—the source of the city’s water—which dominated city-county relation during the decade.
On January 18, 2010, Dr. John Tennison, a San Antonio physician and musicologist presented to a group of Marshall citizens the findings of his research into the origins of Boogie Woogie music. He concludes that the music first developed in the Marshall area in the early 1870s in close connection with the T&P Railroad and the logging industry. On May 13, 2010, the Marshall City Commission unanimously passed an ordinance declaring Marshall to be "the Birthplace of Boogie Woogie."