Juneteenth started in Texas. So did this Black town. Whites destroyed it.

Part 1: How formerly enslaved people created a community of their own

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The community had its own doctor’s office, theater, funeral home, grocery store, midwifery service, nursery school, drugstore, tailor and shoe shop, confectionary, wood yard, meat market, day-care center, and three barber shops, churches, and cafes.

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This story is the first of two parts.

In June 2021, President Biden and Vice President Harris declared Juneteenth a federal holiday. As many readers will know by now, while President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declaring the end of slavery, enslavers and others in the Confederate state of Texas refused to obey. Not until June 19, 1865 — Juneteenth — did the announcement reach many in Texas. For some enslaved people, emancipation didn’t come until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, when holdout Texas enslavers were forced to abide by the proclamation.

Generations of Black Texans have fought since 1866 for the nation to learn about and acknowledge the delayed emancipation of enslaved Black people in the state. Women’s oral histories help expand American awareness of Black Texans’ persistent resilience and struggles post-emancipation, which were never recorded in history textbooks. Ms. Alma Clark (94 years old) and Ms. Betty Kimble (90 years old), two of the co-authors of this article along with Women’s and Gender Studies scholar Danielle Phillips-Cunningham, tell and analyze that history in Denton, Tex. The two have been leading the documentation of Quakertown, a thriving community that formerly enslaved people established in Denton after Juneteenth. The community lasted until the College of Industrial Arts (renamed Texas Woman’s University in 1957) and a local White women’s club played significant roles in getting the city to pass a 1921 bond to build a city park that would demolish and replace Quakertown.

Quakertown -- a thriving community established after Juneteenth

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)

Centering Women’s Memories

We have gotten to know each other through interviews, gatherings, and a town hall meeting as part of Quakertown Stories, a Texas Woman’s University (TWU) faculty-led initiative funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities aimed at integrating the history of Quakertown into TWU’s curriculum. Ms. Clark’s and Ms. Kimble’s memories center our telling of Quakertown’s history because in general, research finds, women anchor and archive community histories.

Ms. Clark preserved the stories that her husband Rev. Willie Clark shared with her about living in Quakertown before he passed away at the age of 90 in 1991. Ms. Kimble held onto memories of her grandmother and great-uncle, who also lived in Quakertown. Ms. Clark and Ms. Kimble have extensive backgrounds in community organizing and leadership and have carefully stored in their recollections and homes rare photographs, notes, newspaper cutouts, and familial conversations about key facts in Quakertown’s history. They have generously shared histories, photographs, and carefully cultivated greens from their gardens.

Something they could call their own

When Ms. Clark describes Quakertown, she says with pride, “It was like a town within a town. Isn’t that something? A bunch of proud people — knowing that with all their skills, their talents, and their knowledge, that they could build it freely and bring others along to sustain each other … It was something they could call their own.”

Quakertown began in 1875, when 27 formerly enslaved Black families who, after emancipation, had originally settled in Dallas, moved two miles south of downtown Denton in search of better living conditions. Originally called Freedman Town, this was one of what urban planning professor Andrea Roberts calls “freedom colonies,” which formerly enslaved people established after emancipation. In 1878, Freedman Town residents established the Frederick Douglass Colored School. Black families migrated to Denton from across Texas and the country to enroll their children in the school. They also purchased land near the school, and renamed the community Quakertown in honor of the Quakers, a religious group that had advocated for the abolition of slavery.

By the early 1900s, Quakertown consisted of 295 buildings and approximately 305 people. Residents established several businesses and organizations, including a doctor’s office, funeral home, grocery store, midwifery service, nursery school, drugstore, tailor and shoe shop, confectionary, wood yard, meat market, day-care center, three barber shops, three churches, three cafes, and a venue where people watched films and performed plays and songs of the Harlem Renaissance era. Community members were socially and politically active, founding fraternal lodges, women’s organizations, and a business league.

Numerous women in Quakertown owned property, which was rare for formerly enslaved Black women in the South. Ms. Clark’s mother-in-law Maude Woods (Clark) Hembry owned a home where Ms. Clark and her husband later raised their three children. Ms. Kimble’s grandmother Kitty Clark moved with her family from Bolivar, Tex., to Quakertown because “all the Blacks were there.” She purchased a spacious home on the immediate outskirts of the community because by the time that she arrived, Quakertown proper didn’t have any land left on which to build more homes. She and her husband Glasco raised their sons Homer Clark (Ms. Kimble’s father) and Andrew Clark while she worked casually as a laundress. As historian and founder of Black history month Carter G. Woodson noted, Black laundresses were respected entrepreneurs in the Black community who preferred doing laundry in their own homes to working inside of White people’s homes after slavery.

Having a doctor in a practically independent Black community was also a source of pride. Edwin Moten, Texas native and graduate of Shaw University and Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, set up his own medical practice in Quakertown. He treated his patients by combining his formal medical training with African medicinal knowledge. White doctors often sought his knowledge about natural treatments. In the words of Ms. Kimble, Angelina Burr was a “stern and no non-sense” property owner and midwife who was a respected women’s healthcare expert and community businesswoman. She also delivered babies for poor White women in Denton who could not afford medical services. Quakertown residents sustained their businesses and close-knit community for nearly 40 years.​​

Growing Hostility

In 1921, Frances M. Bralley, president of the College of Industrial Arts,, the Denton Federation of Women’s Clubs, and other civic leaders lobbied for and voted in favor of a bond that approved funding for the city to a municipal park in place of Quakertown. Their rationale was that the college’s White women students were in danger of being raped by Black men of Quakertown as they walked from the college campus through Quakertown on their way to downtown Denton. The bond — issued through everyday organized harassment and violence — removed physical traces of the vibrant community named Quakertown, but some people who stayed in Denton refused to sell their homes to the city. Rev. Clark’s family and other families moved the physical structure of their homes to the southeastern part of Denton with mules and logs and lived in those same homes for several generations. Ms. Clark’s and Ms. Kimble’s memories and archives teach us that Juneteenth is about both the possibilities of and continuous fight for Black freedom.