For most of the last century, the sudden rampage of deadly white-on-black racial violence in July 1910 in and around the quiet little patch of East Texas known as Slocum was the stuff of family lore and hushed talk, passed down from one generation to the next, but rarely broached in mixed racial company in Anderson County and all but lost to Texas history.
But on Thursday, that changed. The Texas Historical Commission unanimously approved placing a marker along a rural byway a dozen miles southeast of Palestine acknowledging what has come to be called the Slocum Massacre.
“The state of Texas already has markers devoted to massacres, cataclysms, hanging trees and great hangings,” Constance Hollie-Jawaid, a Dallas educator whose family lost blood and treasure in what blacks in Anderson County came to call “Bad Saturday,” told the commission before their vote. “Texans aren’t afraid to face the past. Texans aren’t afraid to acknowledge unpleasant historical events and recover or learn from them, and that’s what a Slocum historical marker will do.”
But, even as she said that, Hollie-Jawaid, who has made the marker her personal crusade, was surprised and moved to tears when the commission, after a brief discussion, approved the Slocum marker as one of 159 new markers that will be added to the more than 16,000 markers that dot the Texas landscape.
“History’s bad and history’s good, but it’s all history, and we’ve to tell the complete history of Texas,” said Commissioner Steven L. Highlander, who made a motion for approval of the markers — Slocum included — after reporting to the rest of the commission that he had been satisfied by the commission staff that there was sufficient sound historical evidence to warrant the Slocum designation. He noted that the massacre had been a topic of increasing press and public interest, and that he had read the recent book, “The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas” by E.R. Bills, a freelance writer from Aledo.
“It’s a big deal. In East Texas, it’s huge,” said Bills of the commission’s action. Bills, who helped Hollie-Jawaid prepare the marker application, sat alongside her at the commission meeting on the first floor of the Stephen F. Austin State Office Building, and, had right up until the vote, shared her skepticism that this day would come.
Lack of local support
The application for the marker was unusual in that it didn’t have the backing of the Anderson County Historical Commission, which passed it on to the state commission’s Austin office but with some critical commentary, questioning the soundness of its scholarship and the potential negative impact on Slocum today.
“The Massacre of 1910 was an atrocity committed by a group of ignorant white men,” Jimmy Odom, who chairs the Anderson County Historical Commission, wrote in his critique of the application. “Those men should have paid for their crimes. This event should never be forgotten in the history of Anderson County. However, it is the general view of the Historical Commission that historical markers should represent people, places and events that had a positive influence on our community. This event absolutely did not have a positive influence on anyone and it is a scar to the community of Slocum.”
The Anderson County Commissioners Court also voted against recommending the marker.
But no one from Anderson County came to Thursday’s meeting to speak against the application.
Odom, reached at his home in Palestine, said he had passed the application on to Austin because the state commission has the expertise to evaluate the historical evidence and, “I have faith in Bob Brinkman,” coordinator of the commission’s Historical Markers Program, who recommended its approval.
Odom said he resented being played as the heavy in stories about the Slocum application.
“The fact is we have done and do more black historical markers than any county in the state the last 5, 6, 7 years,” Odom said. “I damn sure didn’t discriminate against black people. I’ve got a lot of black friends in this county. Write that in your newspaper.”
Now it is up to Brinkman, working with the applicants, to come up with the 300 words that can describe what happened and why it is important.
‘We made it, babe’
In 2011, the Texas House unanimously approved a resolution for the first time formally acknowledging the event — “the murder of eight people was confirmed, and reports indicate that many more may have died in what became known as the Slocum Massacre.”
Bills and Hollie-Jawaid think the death toll was many times the official count.
“Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them. And, so far as I was able to ascertain, without any real cause. There was just a hot-headed gang hunting them down and killing them,” Anderson County Sheriff William H. Black told The New York Times the day after the July slaughter.
“My only desire was that it be factual,” David Franklin, a Dallas police officer and local pastor with deep roots in Slocum, said in an email after the vote. Last fall, Odom had forwarded the commission Franklin’s concern that the agreed-upon facts about what had happened were few and far between.
“Certainly all history is not pleasant, but we certainly don’t need legends, rumors or suppositions on historical markers,” Franklin said Thursday.
Hollie-Jawaid sees the marker as a first step toward seeking some kind of reparations. She thinks descendants of victims should have free tuition to Texas public colleges and universities. She said she lost four ancestors in the massacre, and her great-great-grandfather, Jack Holley, who had a dairy, a granary, a store frequented by both blacks and whites, and more than 700 acres of prime land, lost everything.
For the moment, though, Hollie-Jawaid settled Thursday for a long, deep hug from her brother, Leo Hollie.
“We made it, babe,” he told her. “We made it.”