Walter Moses Burton was brought to Texas as a slave from North Carolina in 1850 at the age of 21. While a slave, he was taught how to read and write by his master, which was prohibited in most Southern states.
After the Civil War, he purchased several large plots from his former owner, making the freedman one of the wealthiest and most influential blacks in Fort Bend County.
He became involved in politics as early as 1869, when he was elected sheriff and tax collector of Fort Bend County. In 1873, Burton won a seat in the Texas Senate, where he served for seven years. In the Senate, he championed the education of blacks; one of the many bills he helped push through was one that called for the establishment of Prairie View Normal School (now Prairie View A&M University).
He remained active in state and local politics until his death in 1913.