Every local knows and has enjoyed our beloved Quakertown Park, but few may recall the haunted history of an African-American community that once thrived there as a township-within-a-town. In part one of this series, Shaun Treat offered a glimpse into the fascinating early history of Dentons’ Black pioneers and the growth of “The Quaker.” In part two, Treat explores the troubling demise and slow recovery of Quakertown’s historical significance to Denton.
This is the second portion of a two-part story. If you missed part 1, click here to check it out.
Most Denton residents recognize the Confederate Monument on the South side of our courthouse square, and at least two unsuccessful attempts have been made to remove it, but it stands as a physical reminder of Texas episodes both sinister and tragic that some would rather forget while others intentionally misremember. Quakertown at the turn of the century was its own remarkably thriving and self-sufficient community. It was the business center for Denton’s five African-American neighborhoods, carving out a post-Civil War haven for freedmen and former slaves in the post-Reconstruction 1860s even as KKK violence festered in nearby counties. For reasons that are complex and historically contested, the racially-charged political tensions of the early 1900s and Denton’s own internal conflicts would soon seethe into a full-blown eradication of the “Quaker.”
When Denton’s new “Girl’s Industrial College of Texas” opened in 1903, just a few blocks north of Quakertown, the stage was set for a confrontation. With constant need for expanded facilities as the school quickly grew, school president F.M. Bralley began courting state officials for legislative appropriations as a full-fledged liberal arts college (renamed in 1905 as the College of Industrial Arts). But the close proximity of the all-white women’s college to the African-American Quakertown was believed to be an obstacle to such a lucrative formal recognition.
Contextualized within the public beautification efforts of the New South, and the bigotries fueling racial segregation, the City of Denton soon found itself embroiled in the troubling politics of its time. In 1913, The Colored Teachers County Institute run by Fred Douglas Moore was burned to the ground on the eve its first day of classes, the official cause “unknown” but the fire was accompanied by a racist warning nailed to a church door.
City beautification drives to establish a public park in Denton had begun earnestly discussing Quaker as a possible site by 1915, the same year D.W. Griffith’s wildly influential silent film Birth of the Nation would romanticize the “Lost Southern Cause” of the Ku Klux Klan, and only three years before the United Daughters of the Confederacy Monument was swiftly designated a Texas Historical marker then donated to the city in 1918. By the early 1920s, KKK membership in Texas swelled into the tens of thousands as its hooded “invisible empire” openly paraded through cities and towns, became a dominant force in state politics, and intimidated the public with acts of brutality, violence, and cross-burnings. Soon, their attention turned to Denton’s Quakertown controversy.
Quakertown was being surveyed in 1919 as the preferred site for a city park, at precisely the same time the College of Industrial Arts for women seemed poised for its long-sought state accreditation. CIA President Dr. Bralley insisted to local Rotarians in November 1920 that Denton “could rid the college of the menace of the negro quarters in close proximity to the college and thereby remove the danger that is always present so long as the situation remains as it is, and that could be done in a business way without friction.”
A few weeks later in December, when presented with the city’s plans for a bond issue to fund either forced relocation of homes or municipal purchase of Quakertown properties at a ‘fair’ current market value, an altercation erupted at the African-American Lodge over the issue that resulted in five arrests for aggrevated assault. By January of 1921, The Denton Chamber of Commerce with the support of numerous civic groups petitioned for a bond election to fund the Quakertown eviction, and the April vote succeeded by a mere margin of 127 votes. An editorial in the DRC urged Dentonians to “give the negroes the benefit of unselfish assistance in protecting them from profiteering,” but this public plea betrays the predicted inequities to follow. By 1923, every resident of The Quaker had involuntarily relocated or moved out of the state, the CIA finally became an accredited member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and the Denton City Park began construction.
These troubled times were punctuated by epic acts of racist intimidation and courageous displays of heroic defiance. As the city park campaign raged in 1921, a rolling caravan of hooded Kluxers travelled from Ft. Worth to Denton, taking 30 minutes to thunder through the Square and Quakertown as courthouse alarm bells rang before arriving at the Robert E. Lee schoolhouse to make a symbolic $50 donation toward city beautification charities. This was done, they explained in a communique to the DRC, in “protection of the sanctity” of “young college girls” who are “without immediate parental guidance.”
KKK Night Riders continued an overt campaign of terror and arson while Quakertown residents who refused to sell also faced ruthless City Commisioners condemning disputed properties for demolition. 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, he soon dropped his lawsuit and moved out-of-state along with many others denied legal recourse under Jim Crow laws.
70-year-old Henry Taylor, former-cowboy-turned-gardener for Denton elite and inspiration for the quasi-fictional Quakertown novel White Lilacs, was likewise underbid on his lush arboretum homestead then forced to move despite protests to Solomon Hill in East Denton. Stubbornly refusing to vacate for compulsory relocation, Mrs. Mary Ellen Taylor sat unmoved in her living room rocking chair as her home was forcibly dragged away on mule-drawn sleds to its new location. Similarly, educator Fred Douglas Moore and a few other African-American leaders remained to defiantly forge a new community on far less desireable land and amidst institutional inequities that persisted well into the 1960s Civil Rights era.
It wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that this rich yet troubled legacy of Quakertown was actively recovered by dedicated local historians, researchers, and descendants. Due to their efforts, and the courage of Denton’s resilient African-American communities, the story of Quakertown serves as a cautionary reminder of past triumphs and tragedy. Today, with a new historical marker in Quakertown Park and an African-American Museum that chronicles the struggles of Denton’s Black pioneers, we can be proud that these stories are preserved for future generations.
Next to the Confederate Monument on the South side of our Courthouse Square there also sits a far more humble plaque as “testimony that God created all men equal with certain inalienable rights” and a reminder that “We are all one, citizens of Denton County.” For such noble sentiments to ring true, however, requires the dedicated vigilance of every citizen. After all, if Denton is to grow into a stronger and just community for all our neighbors, its essential that we look to our future as we also remember hard-learned lessons from a sometimes unflattering past. Luckily, that past provides us with some darn inspiring teachers: Mrs. Taylor would help revive her church, Fred Douglas made it his life’s mission to educate and inspire the children of his community, and ole Henry Taylor in the twilight of his long life delicately transplanted his rare lilac bush to grow a new lush green garden.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.