A Visual Guide to the HISTORIC QUAKERTOWN Mural

Posted: February 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

In celebration of Black History Month, I’m going to share some of the inside history behind a very special art instillation that you’ve maybe spotted in the entry foyer of the Denton Civic Center during one of your visits. It is surely a uniquely wonderful artifact that conveys a lot of amazing Denton history, based upon actual photos with powerful stories behind them.

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This brick mural of “Historic Quakertown” by local artist Paula Blincoe Collins was the very first commissioned artwork by Denton’s Public Art Committee, dedicated in 2008. The two-piece mural is forged from Texas red clay brick, created in the forge of Denton’s own Acme Brick Company. The mural depicts several notable people and places of Quakertown as a tribute to the resilience of Denton’s African-American community, inspired by actual people and places from Denton history.

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MURAL #1 (counter-clockwise from bottom left of “Historic” panel)

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Henry Taylor of Quakertown

Henry Taylor and his wife Mary Ellen moved to Denton from Decatur in 1895 so their five children could receive education at the Frederic Douglas Colored School, established in 1878.  Henry had been a cowboy, but now worked as a sought-after gardener for several businesses and wealthy white families in Denton.  His own home’s lush garden was as grand as a city park itself and boasted a rare white lilac bush alongside a magnificent elder elm tree.  When Quakertown residents were forcibly evicted to create a city park, the city only paid him half of the value of his property, despite angry protests from Quakertown residents. City workers moved houses in the middle of the night on rolling log skids, pulled by mule-team through the rough dirt streets. When the move to Solomon Hill took place, Henry’s beloved wife Mary Ellen Taylor refused to come out of their home. A defiant Mary Ellen rode along on this jostling journey to their new homestead. [NOTE the rebellious Mary Ellen depicted in a rocking chair on her cabin porch, bottom right corner, but we’ve heard on good authority she was inside to insure none of her furnishings or keepsakes were broken during the rough ride.]

Henry lovingly replanted his delicate rare White Lilac bush at their new homesite in Solomon Hill, however, and regrew a lush green garden. Mary Ellen helped rejuvenate her church in the Southeast Denton community, and continued to work at the Evers Hardware store on the Denton Square.

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TWU’s Old Main is visible on the upper left.

Joe and Alice Skinner pose in front of their home with the Old Main Building of CIA (now TWU) looming in the background. Theirs was a late-life romance, and this photo was taken on their wedding day. Joe was a cobbler who ran a shoe shop in Quakertown, and Alice ran a day care center and preschool out of her home.

Most African-American residents of the Quakertown and Freeman Town neighborhoods worked in low-paying service jobs, but saved money to buy small modest homesteads. Women took in laundry or worked in white homes to supplement their husband’s incomes, sometimes as nannys or housekeepers.

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Dr. E. D. Moten was the only African-American doctor in Denton County in the early 1900s, and a prominent community member of Quakertown. He was recruited in 1907 to move here with his wife Anita and their 2 small children, and remained until the Quakertown eviction plans were announced in 1921. He and his family then moved to Indiana.

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Jack Cook was a stableman at Women’s College for Industrial Arts (now TWU); Many Quakertown residents worked for the colleges or for wealthy white patrons or white-owned businesses. As the black settlements grew in the early part of the century, so did the nearby College of Industrial Arts (CIA now TWU), which had opened in 1903.  As the college expanded and began to search for State funding to win recognition as a full-fledged liberal arts college for women, some regarded the Black Quakertown district as a danger and an embarrassment in their bid for accreditation as a State University.

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Ford Crawford was one of the original 1873 Freemantown settlers in Denton, and he was an active community leader. Crawford’s Store was also a civic center, where many met to trade goods, discuss news, or play checkers. The upper floor of Crawford’s Store was the meeting hall for the Black Odd Fellows,  and other important organizations or civic groups.

When the Quaker residents were told about the City’s plans for mandatory relocation during a December 1921 lodge meeting, heated arguments and fights erupted at Crawford’s Store, leading to five arrests for brawling. Since the votes of African-Americans were still facing systemic discrimination with literacy tests and poll taxes of Jim Crow, it was a decision they had little say about. Crawford’s Store was at the intersection of Oakland Avenue and Holt Street.

Quakertown’s Will Hill boldly enacted his motto to “respect every man but fear none” by publicly suing the City of Denton for undercompensation yet, as dissenters faced threats to their families and moonlight arson by the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, he soon dropped his lawsuit with almost no legal recourse under Jim Crow laws.

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Saint James African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest African-American church in Denton and the third oldest Black church in Texas. It is depicted just next to the Skinners in Collins’ mural as one of the community’s iconic civic centers.

In 1875, only eleven years after slavery was abolished, a group of freed slaves who lived in the White Rock settlement in Dallas County began looking for land. 27 families acquired property southeast of the Denton Square on land that was wooded and well-watered in the Freedmantown community. They harvested logs from the surrounding woods to build their log cabins. For the first year, one of the settlers, the Rev. M.P. Lambert, ministered to the tightly-knit flock. The settlers met weekly from house to house for prayer meetings and church classes. Within a year, Reverend J.V.B. Goins was called as a full-time preacher and the congregation organized into the Saint James AME Church.

The Saint James congregation built a small church on Oakland Avenue, with a shady grove next door to the church where they gathered for picnics and Easter egg hunts while children played in the evening. Church women held fried fish suppers or sold homemade ice cream and pies in the grove to raise money for the church and parsonage.

When the city of Denton evicted Quakertown in the early 1920s, the City of Denton paid Saint James AME Church $1,032 for the 50- by 120-foot lot on Oakland Street. With unwavering faith, church members used the money to buy a lot at 1107 East Oak Street and rebuild a new church.

 

MURAL #2 (“Quakertown,” counter-clockwise)

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Cuvier and Dolores Bell ca. 1919 on Bell Ave.

Some of Quaker’s nicest residences lined the east side of Bell Avenue south of Withers Street.  On the corner stood the home of Marcellus C. Bell and his family, leaders within the tight-knight community.  Their son A. Cuvier Bell was one of the oldest living survivors of the Quakertown move and lived in Denton until the ripe old age of 88. He would go speak to Denton schoolchildren when invited by Denton ISD teachers, as they studied the novel WHITE LILACS, based on the Quakertown Story. Today, Alma Clark carries the story of Quakertown when called.

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A 1910 photograph that belonged to Erma Peace shows the funeral procession for Rosetta Crawford traveling south on Bell Avenue through Quakertown, Denton’s black neighborhood that was razed in the 1920s. The Old Main building of Texas Woman’s University can be seen in the background.

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Young women of Quakertown pose dressed in White. Note the neat houses lining the street and electricity poles in the streets behind the girls, which were cast in Blincoe-Collins mural. The repurposed pasture lots at Solomon Hill, where most residents moved, was without electricity and proper sewage drainage, and its dirt roads would not be paved until the 1960s. As a result, their standard of living in Southeast Denton was like being sent back in time several decades with Quakertown’s forced eviction.

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“Auntie Angeline” Burr (bottom right of Mural #2) came to Denton from Arkansas with four children, and in 1897 became the first African-American to purchase her own homestead land in Quakertown.  She took in laundry and was a midwife who delivered many of the city’s babies, white as well as black. “Auntie Angeline” was the only Quakertown departure specifically noted in the Denton Record Chronicle when she moved with her daughter and son-in-law, the Logans, to California in 1922.

But the history of Southeast Denton is still being written and enriched, as documentaries like “When We Were All Broncos” revisits local desegregation in the 1960s against the backdrop of high school football, or student-led projects like Freedman Town 2.0 that look back to the deep roots that have grown today’s communities. The Denton County Office of History and Culture will soon begin renovation of a new Quakertown house, which will be proudly displayed in the Historic Park for future generations. These efforts always need volunteers to help with the preservation, and there is hardly a more worthwhile cause. All photos and information herein are courtesy of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, so please contact them to help curate this important Denton legacy.

The “Historic Quakertown” mural by Paula Blincoe Collins is today a majestic tribute to the tragic yet also poignantly heroic past of our African-American community, and hopefully this guide to the mural will offer you more awe and appreciation for its significance during your next visit.

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