USA :The Texas slave who became a millionaire by posing as a Mexican

A spectacular act of reinvention.

boldest in history of the United States “.” data-reactid = “38”> He was investigated by the FBI, met then-president Theodore Roosevelt, maintained close relations with the Mexican Porfiriato, led a diplomatic mission to Ethiopia, and, among other feats, orchestrated “one of the emigration efforts of African-Americans boldest in history of the United States. “

Last year, American documentary filmmaker Phillip Rodríguez acquired the television and film rights to the book and is in the process of developing the project.

supposedly not supposed to do. ““data-reactid =” 65 “> One of the things that most caught Jacoby’s attention was that Ellis” did all the things that an African American of his time did supposedly not supposed to do. “

Jim Crow He was institutionalizing himself, and yet he found the fissures in the system and was able to do remarkable things, “Jacoby tells BBC Mundo.” data-reactid = “66”> “This is the time when [las leyes de segregación racial] Jim Crow he was institutionalizing and even so, he found the cracks in the system and was able to do remarkable things, “Jacoby tells BBC Mundo.

as it did?“data-reactid =” 70 “> His” strange “career, as Jacoby mentions, raises the most basic question and yet the one that assails the mind at once: as it did?

Born in Victoria, South Texas, a year before the slavery institution was abolished in 1865, Ellis shared with “Mexicans, Texans, Anglo-Americans, and African-Americans who lived close to each other,” Jacoby describes.

On the plantation of Joseph Weisiger, a white patriarch from Kentucky, the Ellis family came into contact with Mexicans who summoned in the busy cotton-picking seasons.

“McNamara not only buys the raw materials in Texas but along the border with Mexico and the young Ellis accompanies him and speaks for him,” Jacoby describes.

It helped that in his time, the end of the 19th century, “no one had a passport, no driver’s license or birth certificates, there was very little paper trail,” says the historian.

At the same time, the development of railways in the 1880s facilitated faster, longer distance travel.

Mexico’s longing

4,000 slaves fled the United States to Mexico before the Civil War [entre 1861 y 1865]”indicates the book.” data-reactid = “111”> “An estimate of 4,000 slaves fled the United States to Mexico before the Civil War [entre 1861 y 1865]”indicates the book.

This is how Felix Haywood, a former slave from Texas, described it in a testimony cited in the book: “There was no reason to run north. All we had to do was walk, but walk south, and there we would be free as soon how we crossed the Rio Grande “.

“An estimated 4,000 slaves fled the United States to Mexico before the Civil War [entre 1861 y 1865]”indicates the book.

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African slavery existed in Mexico since 1519, Jacoby says. But after independence in 1821, the country “took steps to ban the slave trade and emancipate all slave children under the age of 14.”

“It is difficult for Americans to understand the fact that the true beacon of freedom during these times was not part of the United States, but Mexico,” says Jacoby.

It was common for those who started a new life as “whites” to distance themselves forever from their families, and for this reason sometimes the act was seen as “turning their backs on the community to which they belonged.”

“But this is not possible, especially considering that during the period of slavery, there was tremendous sexual exploitation of black women by their enslavers,” he says.

Conveniently, Ellis posed as a Mexican in San Antonio, a city where 20% of the population was of that origin.

get the basic amenities of a white traveler, “he said then.” data-reactid = “167”> He explained that traveling by rail was what motivated him to do so: “I am obliged to pose as a Mexican to be able to get the basic amenities of a white traveler, “he said then.

A man “who made himself”

Gilded Age from the United States, when the country went through great changes with the arrival of industrialization and many made fortunes thanks to it. “data-reactid =” 169 “> Ellis developed during the call” golden age “or Gilded Age of the United States, when the country went through great changes with the arrival of industrialization and many made fortunes thanks to it.

The merchant traveled to Mexico City in 1889 with a partner, and both brought letters of introduction to senior members of the Porfirio Díaz government.

20,000 people in Mexico“explains the book.” data-reactid = “174”> “They convinced [Carlos] Pacheco (development secretary) to approve a 10-year contract to colonize until 20,000 people in Mexico“explains the book.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, “there was considerable discussion about the so-called ‘colonization’ of African-Americans by both the black and white communities,” albeit for different reasons, Jacoby explains.

A map of the US-Mexico border area in 1911

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send them to Africa“.” data-reactid = “196”> Among whites, he points out, there was “this fantasy of ethnically ‘cleansing’ the country, of not wanting slavery but also not free African-Americans, so there was a need then send them to Africa

Among blacks, by contrast, structural racism opened the door to thinking that “it made sense to move somewhere else.”

In parallel, during the Porfiriato, Mexico invested efforts to attract more immigrants, mainly from Europe, to “modernize like the United States,” says Jacoby.

managed to persuade them of taking blacks from the United States. ” data-reactid = “199”> “But Ellis managed to persuade them of taking blacks from the United States. “

Under the argument that “blacks were exceptional cotton farmers, ‘the best in the world’”, the Mexican Senate approved in 1889 his colonization plan.

But the entrepreneurs did not raise the necessary funds to finance the program, although it did generate interest in Texas, Jacoby explains in the book.

This, combined with internal changes in Mexican politics (Pacheco passed away), caused the plan to be annulled in 1891.

Second try

But Ellis would not rest until she did.

“I think this was the largest number of African-Americans to emigrate from the United States as a group throughout the 19th century,” Jacoby says.

The website that Karl Jacoby created with the story of William Ellis, williamhellis.com

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the dream of my life has come true. I have lived to see the African American in the Land of God and Liberty. ” data-reactid = “230”> Ellis said then: “Seven children have been born [en la hacienda] and the dream of my life has come true. I have lived to see the African American in the Land of God and Liberty. “

Soon, however, his yearning to create a thriving community was frustrated.

The appearance of diseases, “something similar to malaria” as diagnosed by a doctor at the time, and complaints about poor working conditions for the residents ended the project.

The uncovering

Back in San Antonio, Ellis had already cemented himself as a reputation figure, but that status would not go very far.

“Soon after, the new San Antonio city directory was published. For the first time, Ellis’s name appeared with a letter ‘c’ next to it, which meant man of color,” the text describes.

“His story is revealed and although he could stay there as an African American man, he decides to leave,” says Jacoby.

William Ellis in a passport photo from 1919.

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A year later, in 1898, documents show Ellis already had a residence at the Imperial Hotel in New York.

From then on, the historian points out, their activism around their community “becomes much more moderate because they don’t want them to rediscover it.”

Ellis, however, does not cut relationships with her family, as was the case with many who decided to “move” to the world of whites.

A distinguished Mexican in New York

“He became a very useful person because on Wall Street they were obsessed with investing in Mexico and he was very well connected with key Porfiriato figures,” explains Jacoby.

In the capital of industrialization, Ellis “sold the discourse of Mexico as a land of tropical riches, and of himself, Guillermo Eliseo, as the person to be known.”

He became the first African-American to visit that country, Jacoby documents, and on his return to the U.S. he held meetings with then-President Roosevelt in 1904.

For some reason, Ellis lied about his wife’s origins by claiming in a press release about his marriage that he belonged to the nobility of England.

“One of the difficult things at the time of writing this book was that he tried to hide his life story and always tried to reinvent himself,” explains Jacoby.

Dark times

His ambitions for industrialization in Ethiopia stagnated, among other things, due to lack of financing, as had happened in the past.

When the US finally recognized the Obregón government in 1923, “Ellis was already working on a new project: a tariff reduction agreement for several ports in order to attract more trade.”

But the disease did not allow him to carry out his new ventures.

During her residency in Mexico, Ellis avoided getting involved with the American community and always stayed at a hotel owned by an English immigrant.

A few years later, his wife and children moved to Mexico.

The African-American press reviewed his death highlighting his true origin, but Jacoby highlights that, instead of judging him, a certain celebration of his life sneaked in.

was ours“the newspaper highlighted then Dallas Express. “data-reactid =” 349 “>” (…) Because his life was spectacular, full of big ambitions among the greatest in the world, we must feel a certain degree of satisfaction when we realize that he was ours“the Dallas Express newspaper said then.

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