Until the 1980s, not much was known about the history of Quakertown in Denton, a former middle-class black neighbourhood, except for the strides of the all-white women’s college found around the area.
Historical accounts state that in the late 1870s, in the years following Reconstruction, about 27 families arrived in the small agricultural community in north-central Texas to not only escape the former owners who pressured them to return to the plantations but also to forge a better life.
In the new settlement, found two miles south of the Denton Square, these Southern black families harvested logs from the surrounding woods, built their own cabins and created the first community for themselves.
The community would later relocate and settle along the banks of the Pecan Creek in Denton following the opening of Fred Douglass School, Denton’s first public school for African-Americans.
There, the land was good and water was easily available, hence, some of the families managed to establish businesses and began living in “well-built, wood-paneled houses”.
This new community became known as Quakertown, after the Quakers of the northeast who helped escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad.
By 1900, Quakertown was flourishing and since the blacks were not entitled to same resources as the whites, they tended to take care of themselves by opening several businesses within the community – there was a grocery store, funeral home, confectionary, churches, lodges, restaurants, and a doctor’s office.
Some of the notable business people were Ford Crawford, who owned a general store that also served as a community center where people bought and traded goods, as well as, Joe and Alice Skinner, “a couple who operated their own businesses. Joe owned a shoe shop and Alice ran a daycare out of their home. On the side, Joe would also repair toys for the many children of Quakertown.
Dr. Edwin Moten, Denton’s only black doctor at the time, operated his practice out of his home as well. Ford Crawford’s son was the community’s mortician. Plenty of others would take in laundry as a way to work from home,” according to accounts by Denton County Office of History and Culture.
People who did not have their own businesses in Quakertown worked as cooks, bakers, and gardeners for white families or universities in Denton.
Most importantly, Quakertown, according to researcher Letitia DeBurgos, made life comfortable for residents as “most of the residents owned their own homes. Everyone had a vegetable garden. Chickens, cows, goats and pigs lived here too. Hunger was not known. Water came from wells and plumbing was an outhouse and a No. 2 washtub, while light was furnished by a kerosene lamp. The streets were dirt and playground for the children. The churches were a strong influence on the citizens and there was very little crime.”
At the same time, the nearby College of Industrial Arts, which had opened in 1903 was flourishing and needed to expand its facilities. The president of the College, F.M. Bralley, soon began advocating the removal of Quakertown in a bid to win legislative appropriations and to be recognized as a full-fledged liberal arts college.
“The college regarded Quaker as a danger and an embarrassment in their bid for acceptance. The mud-lined streets, laundry-filled yards, and profusion of black children did not present the impression they wished visitors to get on their approach to the school. Conscious of the college’s importance to Denton’s economic growth, local businesses supported Brally wholeheartedly in his endeavors. It is within this dynamic that the Quakertown story emerges,” according to an article on Denton History page.
In November of 1920, Bralley presented his idea to replace Quakertown with a city park to the Denton Rotary Club and residents from the following month began getting notices of the decision to evacuate them.
In March of 1921, a petition was presented to authorities, advocating a bond election that would determine Quakertown’s fate, meaning a vote would be held on whether or not all of the Quakertown land would be purchased in order to create a new park.
As blacks were kept from voting, the residents of Quakertown could not even participate in the election, meaning they had no say in what would become of their future.
Some of the residents wanted to protest but many felt that this would mar the relationship they had with their white employers.
After Denton residents in favor of the park won, city authorities gave residents of Quakertown an ultimatum: have your property bought by the city and find a new home, or move your current home to land that has been allocated for you in Southeast Denton on Solomon Hill.
Several Quakertown families left Denton city altogether, and those who threatened to sue abandoned the idea as the community began being encroached on by the KKK.
Others who were given land in the new settlement of Southeast Denton had a tough time as the land was undeveloped and did not have the amenities that were found in Quakertown – no water, roads, and electricity.
By 1923, all of the Quakertown residents had relocated while the college also received its accreditation and the city began constructing the new park.
The park, which was then called the Civic Center park was ultimately renamed Quakertown Park and authorities have since found ways to compensate the people of Quakertown by making murals in their honour and other historical markers at the site.
These can, however, not change the extent of damage the events of the past caused the black community.
“With the departure of most Quaker businessmen, the community lost its leaders with the vision and means to improve the quality of black life, and the black business community rebuilt slowly. But the psychological damage was perhaps the most devastating. The black community again found themselves at the effect of white society; their years of freedom and toil seemed fruitless,” writes Michele Powers Glaze in dentonhistory.net.