Except for the strides of the all-white women’s college found around the region, little was known about the history of Quakertown in Denton, a former middle-class black neighborhood, until the 1980s.
According to historical reports, roughly 27 families arrived in the small agricultural town in north-central Texas in the late 1870s, in the years following Reconstruction, to not only escape previous masters who pressed them to return to the plantations, but also to establish a better life.
These Southern black families cut logs from the surrounding woods, erected their own huts, and established the first community in the new colony two miles south of Denton Square.
Following the opening of Fred Douglass School, Denton’s first public school for African-Americans, the community relocated and settled along the banks of Pecan Creek in Denton.
Because the land was good and water was plentiful, some of the families were able to start enterprises and live in “well-built, wood-paneled houses.”
After the Quakers of the northeast who assisted escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad, this new hamlet was dubbed Quakertown.
By 1900, Quakertown was thriving, and because blacks did not have access to the same resources as whites, they tended to take care of themselves by opening a grocery store, funeral home, confectionary, churches, lodges, restaurants, and a doctor’s office within the neighborhood.
Ford Crawford, who ran a general store that also acted as a community center where people purchased and traded items, and Joe and Alice Skinner, “a couple who operated their own companies,” were two important businesspeople. Joe ran a shoe store, while Alice ran a daycare from their house. Joe would also fix toys for the many youngsters of Quakertown on the side.
Dr. Edwin Moten, Denton’s only black physician at the time, also ran his practice from his house. The community’s mortician was Ford Crawford’s son. According to the Denton County Office of History and Culture, “plenty of people would take in the laundry as a means to work from home.”
People who did not own their own companies in Quakertown worked for white families or universities in Denton as chefs, bakers, and gardeners.
Most crucially, according to researcher Letitia DeBurgos, Quakertown provided people with a comfortable lifestyle since “the majority of the citizens owned their own homes.” Everyone had their own veggie patch. Chickens, cows, goats, and pigs also made their homes here. There was no such thing as hunger. Water was provided by wells, and plumbing consisted of an outhouse and a washtub, with a kerosene lamp providing light. The streets were covered with dirt and served as a playground for the kids. There was very little crime since the churches had such a significant influence on the populace.”
Simultaneously, the adjacent College of Industrial Arts, which had started in 1903, was thriving and in need of expansion. F.M. Bralley, the College’s president, began campaigning for the abolition of Quakertown in order to gain parliamentary appropriations and recognition as a full-fledged liberal arts college.
“The college saw Quaker as a threat and an embarrassment in their admissions process. The mud-strewn streets, laundry-strewn yards, and swarms of black children did not give visitors the impression they wanted them to have as they approached the school. Local companies backed Brally enthusiastically in his endeavors, knowing how important the college is to Denton’s economic prosperity. According to a Denton History page article, “the Quakertown story arises within this dynamic.”
Bralley submitted his plan to replace Quakertown with a city park to the Denton Rotary Club in November 1920, and residents began receiving notices of the intention to remove them the following month.
A petition was presented to authorities in March 1921, pushing for a bond election to decide Quakertown’s fate, implying that a vote would be held on whether or not all of Quakertown’s land would be purchased in order to build a new park.
Residents of Quakertown were unable to vote since black people were barred from doing so, meaning they had no voice in what would happen to them in the future.
Some people wanted to protest, but many were concerned that doing so might jeopardize their connection with their white employers.
Following the victory of Denton people in favor of the park, city officials handed inhabitants of Quakertown an ultimatum: either have your property bought by the city and find a new house or transfer your existing home to land allocated for you on Solomon Hill in Southeast Denton.
As the enclave was encroached upon by the KKK, several Quakertown families departed Denton city entirely, and those who threatened to sue abandoned the plan.
Others who were given land in Southeast Denton had a difficult time because the land was undeveloped and lacked the utilities available in Quakertown, such as water, roads, and electricity.
By 1923, all of the residents of Quakertown had gone, the institution had been accredited, and the city had begun construction on the new park.
The park, which was formerly known as Civic Center Park, was eventually renamed Quakertown Park, and officials have subsequently sought measures to compensate the residents of Quakertown by erecting murals in their honor and placing other historical markers at the site.
However, none of this can diminish the magnitude of the harm done to the black community by past events.
“The community lost its vision and means to improve the quality of black life with the departure of most Quaker merchants, and the black business community recovered slowly.” The psychological toll, on the other hand, was possibly the most severe. In dentonhistory.net, Michele Powers Glaze writes, “The black community once again found themselves at the mercy of white society; their years of independence and toil appeared pointless.”
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