Sul Ross

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Brig. Gen. Lawrence Sullivan Ross, CSA (Ret.), 1838-1898

One of the most revered individuals in the history of Texas A&M University is Brig. Gen. Lawrence Sullivan Ross, CSA (Ret.), a former “Indian killer” and Confederate general who is widely accepted as being responsible for ordering the Civil War-era cold-blooded murder of African American troops serving in the U.S. Army who had been taken prisoner outside Yazoo City, Mississippi, in February 1864. For this reason, and many others, southern wartime papers pridefully referred to Ross as “the gallant Texas negro killer,” a name that stays with him to this day. Seen by his contemporaries as "a lying four flusher," Ross was held in low esteem by many who knew him well. [1]

Sul Ross "The Gallant Texas Negro Killer"

Brig. Gen. Lawrence Sullivan Ross, CSA (Ret.)
Ross’ motivations for engaging in warfare against Native Americans from 1858-1861, and against the United States Constitution from 1861-1865, have been claimed by his supporters to be supremely virtuous and honorable. In reality, Ross’ motivations were clearly summed up in a 1920s-era biography of Ross written by his daughter, Elizabeth "Bessie" R. Clarke[2]. Clarke states unequivocally that Lawrence Sullivan Ross’ military actions were driven by one ambition — to establish the supremacy of the white man. Hence, it is from his own direct flesh and blood that we know Lawrence Sullivan Ross killed people of color because he was a white supremacist.

Elizabeth "Bessie" R. Clarke foreword
Today, many on the Texas A&M campus openly worship and venerate the memory of Sul Ross and what he stood for. To say the least, it is not a stretch to identify those who worship, venerate, or lay themselves prostrate before idols created in Ross’ image (or venerate “what Ross stood for") as also being white supremacists.

In 1886 Ross, the white supremacist candidate for Texas governor, prevailed in an election as corrupt as one could imagine. Ross’ election sowed the seeds of the Jim Crow era in Texas and lead directly to the disenfranchisement of Blacks at the state level until the U.S. Supreme Court mandated massive change in Texas elections starting in the 1950s. It was while Ross was governor that racially segregated rail cars became state law. During Ross’ governorship, Blacks were excluded from state organizations such as the State Medical Association because of a strictly enforced requirement for all applicants to be white. Public lynchings, racial cleansing, election fraud, and judicial misconduct characterized the era of Ross’ public “leadership.”

Sul Ross - "Gallant Texas Negro Killer"
There are no credible accounts of Ross personally involved in the murder of any Black Texans or persons of color after the time he gained his reputation as "the gallant Texas negro killer.” But whether it was tacitly encouraging blatant and widespread civil rights abuses while he was governor, or not reforming the virulently racist curriculum being taught on the Texas A&M campus while he was the institution’s highest ranking administrator, time and time again Ross failed in the duty he owed his fellow Texans.

Sul Ross as Texas Governor

U.S. Senate Report on Texas Election Outrages

The lynchings, immolations, and other atrocities committed against Blacks by white supremacists during the 1886 Texas election so appalled the nation, the U.S. Senate initiated an investigation that produced a report of over 800 pages detailing atrocities committed to suppress Black suffrage. The 1886 Texas election was the first to result in no Black elected officials whatsoever at the state level since Blacks obtained the right to vote. Under Ross’ governorship, atrocities against Blacks by white supremacists and racial cleansing of entire counties became commonplace. Anti-Black terrorism, murder, and apartheid defined Texas while Ross was governor.

By ensuring state law enforcement and state courts were corrupt, Ross used his office to influence events far more than if he personally participated in the racial atrocities. When Blacks stood up for their civil rights, white supremacists would cry "riot" or "insurrection," and Ross dependably called out the (white) militia to quell the “uprising.” But when Black Texans were doused with kerosene in their sleep and set on fire by whites or found hanging from trees in public spaces, Gov. Ross repeatedly reacted with casual indifference. Gov. Ross, "the Black man's best friend," simply did nothing other than announce a “reward” that all knew would never be paid because, as history has well documented, the white supremacist sheriffs who dominated Texas law enforcement at the time were loath to arrest their fellow white supremacists for crimes against Black Texans. Those very few white supremacists brought to trial were overwhelmingly found not guilty by juries composed of fellow white supremacists.

In one instance in 1889, called the “Jaybird-Woodpecker War,” militant white supremacists intent on the racial cleansing of yet another majority Black population Texas county, and Black Texans faced with the hostility to Black civil rights openly practiced by Ross’ government, resorted to open gunfire. True to form, Gov. Ross called out the (white) militia. Ross “negotiated a resolution” to the conflict. He claimed as governor, he lacked sufficient powers to help terrorized Blacks obtain justice. Ross insisted Blacks seeking justice had no recourse other than to rely on courts Ross knew to be run by fellow white supremacists. As an example, after the Jaybird-Woodpecker War was quelled, over 20 white supremacists were arrested. In a travesty of justice typical under Ross’ governorship, the sham trials that followed failed to result in a single conviction. Completely denied justice by a corrupt governor and knowing if they stayed in their homes they would be killed by white supremacists, Blacks were forced from their land and a system of racial vote suppression was put in place that lasted until it was dismantled by the U.S. Supreme Court over half a century later. This scenario of government supported civil rights violations followed by racial cleansing happened repeatedly in Texas while Brig. Gen. Lawrence Sullivan Ross, CSA (Ret.) was governor of Texas.

As is typical of white supremacists today, Ross was very public about his racial sentiments when speaking of “the negro problem,” letting it be well known he believed whites to be “stronger in intelligence” than Blacks[3]. This and the other exhibitions of his virulent racism made him an extremely questionable choice to be named as the eighth president of Texas A&M in 1890, at least by some. Understanding teachings on the A&M campus included faculty lectures on “the abomination of African citizenship,” delivered mostly by former Confederate soldiers to students seen as “Keepers of the Lost Cause” (and dressed in uniforms of Confederate gray) make the reason for choosing Ross obvious.

Ross at Texas A&M

The Texas A&M of Ross’ time, racially segregated to prohibit Blacks from attending, was unquestionably a virulently racist institution. It was under Ross that white supremacists at Texas A&M began to cloak their racist beliefs with cries of “defending tradition.” To this day, remnants of Ross’ white supremacist beliefs are displayed both in open and in secret on the Texas A&M campus and by A&M alumni. Various aspects of today’s cult-like nature of Texas A&M and many of its rituals (both public and secret) that strike outsiders as odd (usually explained by A&M supporters as being "tradition"), are directly tied to the white supremacist beliefs of Lawrence Sullivan Ross and those passed on to A&M students since the day Jefferson Davis was first chosen to lead the institution.

Unfortunately for Black education and economic advancement, Prairie View A&M University, the Land Grant Act/HBCU in Texas, is by Texas law a branch of Texas A&M University. The effect of this arrangement was that Ross also oversaw operations at Prairie View. He was the top administrator of both schools. To understand just how severely Ross damaged Black education and Black aspirations as a whole, one must remember that prior to the enactment of the state’s 1876 Constitution, there was de facto no public school system available to young, Black Texans. Between 1876 and 1900, when Sul Ross was at the height of his political influence, Black education in Texas desperately needed a strong, far-sighted leader. What it got was a white supremacist who was convinced Blacks were genetically “weaker in intelligence” than whites.

Sul Ross shrine on Texas A&M campus
In Texas in 1885, 2,921 Black teachers taught 123,860 students. Ten years later, the number of teachers had decreased by 400 although the number of students increased by 10,860.[4] Black education under Ross's "leadership" declined. It didn't prosper. Whatever Ross' supporters claim Ross did to support Black education, it had no long-term beneficial effects that lasted even five years past when Ross left the governor's office to take over supervision of A&M and Prairie View. John B Rayner, a prominent Black leader in Texas during Ross' governorship, summed up the Black education system in Texas of the time, saying "The free school system of Texas is a mental blight, a conscience paralyzer, and a soul destroyer."[5]

By 1890, Ross’ last year as governor, there were almost 9,000 schools of all types in Texas but only one Black high school in the entire state. Fort Worth schools reported no black students whatsoever past the eighth grade. When Ross’ term as governor ended, the state school superintendent reported relatively few Black students in History and English Composition courses and almost none in Algebra, Geometry, Philosophy, or Physiology.[6] Unquestionably, Ross had no meaningful or productive long-term impact on Black education in Texas.

Supporters of Ross today claim he enthusiastically supported Prairie View. Some go so far to claim he was both individually and personally responsible for “saving Prairie View from greedy real estate speculators in the state capitol.” In reality, consistent with his white supremacist beliefs, Ross fought those wanting to drive Prairie View curriculum toward instruction in professional pursuits that could offer Black Texans economic mobility.

A population of educated Black professionals would have provided competition with whites for well-paying jobs. In theory, the entire state would have benefited from healthy economic competition. Ross favored (and installed at Prairie View) a curriculum largely designed to keep Black Texans, even at the highest levels of education available to Blacks, mired in low wage and manual labor pursuits such as shoe making, carpentry, and bricklaying. In Ross’ time, Blacks saw education as “the key that would open doors which separated the slave from the freeman as well as divided poverty from wealth.”[7] By limiting the educational opportunities offered Black students at Prairie View and by perpetuating virulent racism on the campus of Texas A&M, Brig. Gen. Lawrence Sullivan Ross, CSA (Ret.), the “gallant Texas negro killer,” the man who killed untold men “to establish the supremacy of the white man,” ensured that key was kept from the hands of Black Texans, depriving those students under his charge of the opportunity for a full, meaningful life and compromising the best interests of the people of Texas to this day. All to "establish the supremacy of the white man."

Today’s white supremacists cloak Ross as having brought munificent wealth to Prairie View, starting in 1890. In reality, it was the U.S. Congress, through the 1890 Land Grant Act (specifically crafted to bring additional financial resources to “separate but equal” Black land grant institutions) that brought the additional financial resources to Prairie View A&M. “The gallant Texas negro killer” had little to do with the additional financial resources for Black education that white supremacists attribute to Ross’ actions.

Ross would continue to lead Texas A&M and Prairie View A&M until early 1898 when, while on a hunting trip with friends, Ross ingested breakfast biscuits laced with rat poison.[8] He died a few days later and is buried in Waco, Texas.

Matthew Gaines 1840-1900

Matthew Gaines, founder of Texas A&M University
Since 1918, A&M has had a statue of “the gallant Texas negro killer” (L.S. Ross) in a highly prominent place on campus. For generations, there have been efforts to similarly honor Matthew Gaines, an educated former slave who was one of the first Black elected officials in Texas and the individual largely credited as the founder of Texas A&M. Gaines was an ardent supporter of public education in Texas and a visionary who fought for integration in schools nearly one hundred years before the Civil Rights Movement.

As explained in 2006 by one member of a committee formed by Texas A&M administrators to “consider” placing a statue of Gaines on the A&M campus, the effort to honor Gaines with a statue was thwarted by white alumni “up in arms over the suggestion a Black man founded Texas A&M.”[9]

To this day, the effort to honor Matthew Gaines on the Texas A&M campus is "under consideration." The statue has been "under consideration" for over a quarter-century.


  1. "What Happened at Pease River Wasn’t a Battle. It Was a Massacre.," Texas Monthly Magazine, January 2021;
  2. Ross Family papers, Inclusive: 1846-1931, undated, Bulk: 1861-1864, 1870-1894, undated; Baylor University
  3. Ross, Governor Lawrence Sullivan (1889). Education of the Colored Race. An Exhibit of What Texas, Under Democratic Rule, Has Done in the Past, and Is Now Doing for the Education and Betterment of the Colored Race. 
  4. Abramowitz, Jack (April 1951). John B. Rayner--A Grass-Roots Leader. The Journal of Negro History Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 160-193. 
  5. Abramowitz, Jack (April 1951). John B. Rayner--A Grass-Roots Leader. The Journal of Negro History Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 160-193. 
  6. Rice, Lawrence Delbert (1968). The Negro in Texas 1874-1900. Doctoral Thesis. 
  7. Fine, Bernice R. (1971). Agrarian Reform and the Texas Negro Farmer 1886-1896. Master of Arts Thesis, North Texas State University. 
  8. "Nephew of Lawrence Sullivan Ross, Indian Fighter, Confederate Veteran, Governor, Says Accidental Poisoning Caused Death," Waco Tribune-Herald, February 17, 1929
  9. Slattery, Patrick (2006). Deconstructing Racism One Statue at a Time: Visual Culture Wars at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. Visual Arts Research Vol. 32, No. 2, Papers Presented at a Visual Culture Gathering November 5-7, 2004. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. p. 28-31.