The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

White racism brought down a Black community. Will there be reparations?

Part 2: Groundless panic about White women’s safety razed a town

Betty Kimble and her brother William Clark are descendants of those who lived Quakertown in Denton, Tex., and attended the relocated school. (Photo courtesy of the Betty Kimble collection and Denton County Office of History and Culture)

This story is the second of two parts. Find the first one here.

For many Black people, the racist mass shooting that killed 10 in a Buffalo grocery store echoed a far too familiar history of White supremacist violence, as survivors’ testimonies showed. The 1921 Tulsa massacre was not exceptional, except, perhaps, for its size. For more than a century, Black communities have lived with the constant threat of deadly attacks.

This is the story of one lesser-known incident of violence wreaked on Black communities.

In the 1880s, formerly enslaved people established a prosperous community in Denton, Tex., called Quakertown. In 1921, the city demolished it — ostensibly to protect White female students at the nearby College of Industrial Arts (now the Texas Woman’s University) from being raped by Black men of Quakertown. Two of this article’s co-authors, Ms. Alma Clark, 94, and Ms. Betty Kimble, 90, live in Denton and are documentarians and tellers of Quakertown’s history.

Quakertown, a thriving community established after Juneteenth

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Ms. Alma Clark and her husband, Rev. Willie Clark, in Denton, Tex., in the 1980s. His parents moved to Quakertown in 1905 when he was 5 years old to enroll him in the Frederick Douglass Colored School. When he was 21 years old, Denton ordered his family and other families to leave Quakertown. (Ms. Alma Clark collection)

Black women’s knowledge

Historians have long documented that people who have endured racial and gender discrimination have keen insights into White supremacy. The new Texas law that limits teaching about race comes from an old impulse to “correct” and erase such living memories of racial violence. Ms. Clark and Ms. Kimble generously shared their archival collections with a co-author of this article, Danielle Phillips-Cunningham, through interviews and gatherings as part of Quakertown Stories, a TWU faculty-led project funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Collaboration has been key to writing this history. Along with Ms. Kimble’s and Ms. Clark’s textual and photographic sources, their careful preservation of their loved ones’ Quakertown stories (including Ms. Clark’s late husband Reverend Willie Clark and Ms. Kimble’s grandmother Kitty Clark and great-uncle Jack Cook) are foundational to telling what happened to Quakertown.

“Negro schoolhouse burns”

By the early 1900s, Quakertown was a bustling community of over 305 people and several Black-owned businesses. Most of its families had moved to Quakertown to enroll their children in the Frederick Douglass Colored School. In 1913, the local newspaper reported that the school was “mysteriously” set on fire before school hours. Ms. Clark recalls that the Quakertown community “suspected that it was the Klansmen because they were very prevalent during that time.” No one was arrested.

Determined to keep the school going after the fire, teachers held classes at Quakertown’s Saint James A.M.E. Church and Lodge of Tabor #218 until the community rebuilt the school (renamed Fred Moore School in 1949) in a different location.

Things got worse. In 1920, Frances M. Bralley, president of the College of Industrial Arts, demanded that the city remove “the menace of the negro quarters close proximity to the college,” in hopes of increasing student enrollment at the college and obtaining college accreditation. In 1917, he had promoted the deadly myth that students were in danger of being raped by Black men when he hosted a campus screening of “Birth of a Nation,” the White supremacist propaganda film that portrayed Black men as dangerous to White women.

Messages like these emboldened locals, who threatened to murder the Rev. Willie Clark’s cousin after accusing him of pursuing one of the college students. The cousin fled Quakertown by hopping on a moving train and did not return to Denton until 40 years later.

In a push to bring the City Beautiful Movement to Denton, the Denton Federation of Women’s Clubs urged the construction of a racially-segregated park in place of Quakertown. In the South, the movement destroyed Black communities under the guise of creating “orderly” and “aesthetically pleasing” cities with parks, Confederate statues, and ornate buildings. In 1921, the majority of townspeople voted in favor of a bond that ordered Quakertown residents to abandon or sell their properties.

Ms. Kimble insists that educators tell students the truth about Quakertown’s history. As she put it: “The main thing is to let them know what the Blacks had before they ran them out … It [Quakertown] was a thriving community. It’s not there anymore because of TWU (formerly College of Industrial Arts), and they didn’t want White girls to walk through Quakertown with Black men there. I think they should know all of this.”

Resistance

Quakertown residents did not leave without a fight. Ms. Kimble recalls that one resident, Mary Ellen Taylor, “sat on her porch in her rocking chair when they were moving [her] house. She was not going to give up her house. She was a feisty and stern woman.” Ms. Kimble’s “Aunt Dicie” refused to move to southeast Denton, purchasing a spacious home only a few blocks away from the park. Outspoken and fearless Will Hill sued the city. Edwin Moten, Denton’s first Black doctor, organized a city meeting to prevent the bond from taking effect. Others planned to leave the United States altogether and join Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa Movement.

Refusing to leave the city they helped build, some people resettled in southeast Denton and protected themselves against continued KKK harassment with weapons and by remaining as close-knit as they were in Quakertown.

Reparative justice

Ms. Clark’s and Ms. Kimble’s remembrances of Quakertown have inspired dialogue about reparative justice. In April, the Quakertown Stories team hosted a town hall meeting that brought together Quakertown descendants, the mayor, city council members, and TWU administrators, faculty, and students to discuss pathways forward for reparative justice.

Participants proposed several ideas: creating university scholarships for descendants, integrating Quakertown’s history into school curriculums and lowering disproportionately higher utility rates in southeast Denton. TWU announced its plan to build a Quakertown memorial. Dianne Randolph, the founder of TWU’s Black Alumni Association and a member of the memorial committee, said that “the mission will allow voices of those removed to be heard, remembered, and enable us to glean future lessons of telling an inclusive story, rather than a ‘selective’ one.”

While no consensus has been reached about reparations, Ms. Kimble reminds us that everyday people have the power to address White supremacy today. She says: “Get out there and speak up! Don’t be afraid whenever you feel like justice needs to be done. Voting is the main thing, and learn all you can that led up to all of this.”

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Editor’s note: While it is usually Post style to refer to individuals by last name only after first usage, Ms. Clark and Ms. Kimble explained that they prefer Ms. in front of their names because employers called them by their first names during the Jim Crow era to communicate that they were subordinate. We are honoring their request, given the history of racism that they’ve endured.

Danielle Phillips-Cunningham (@Phillips3D) is an associate professor and program director of women's and gender studies at Texas Women’s University.

Alma Clark was raised in Lampasas, Tex., by a family that stressed the importance of education and was the first Black student to integrate the city’s high school.

Betty Kimble is from Denton, Tex., and is most proud of helping her community while serving in several city and church leadership roles.

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