Slocum Massacre Highlights Historical Double Standard In The South
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Books and films have told the stories of the Rosewood massacre and the Tulsa race riot - two attacks on black communities by white mobs in the 1920s. There's far less information about a similar incident in East Texas known as the Slocum massacre. For years, the victims' descendants have fought for recognition in the form of a historical marker. As Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies reports, it will finally be unveiled tomorrow.
DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: Sadler Creek still meanders through Anderson County in the back woods of East Texas just as it did in July 1910. That's when three African-American teenagers walked down a dirt road and crossed paths with a group of white men. Without warning, the men opened fire, beginning the Slocum massacre.
CONSTANCE HOLLIE-JAWAID: I think it was terrifying.
DAVIES: Constance Hollie-Jawaid is a descendent of a Slocum survivor. Her great-great-grandfather was Jack Hollie. He had risen from being a freed slave to a successful businessman.
HOLLIE-JAWAID: I think it was probably the scariest day of my great-great-grandfather's life.
DAVIES: Mass hysteria gripped the community for 48 hours. Packs of armed white men combed the area shooting black people, until Sheriff William H. Black arrived. According to a report he wrote afterwards, every black victim was unarmed, and most were shot in the back.
E. R. BILLS: There is no official number.
DAVIES: E. R. Bills is the author of "The Slocum Massacre: An Act Of Genocide In East Texas." He said it's not clear how many died.
BILLS: The newspaper reports originally suggested two dozen. Eventually, when there were indictments handed down, they were for seven, but the sheriff of the day said that most of the bodies would be found by the buzzards. There were too many. They were everywhere.
DAVIES: Constance Hollie-Jawaid says about 200 were killed and that a cover-up began not long after the shooting stopped - a cover-up that has continued for decades.
JIMMY RAY ODOM: There was no race riot to start with. It was just personal things between the blacks and the whites.
DAVIES: Jimmy Ray Odom is a longtime chairman of the Anderson County Historic Commission. Over the years, he blocked any recognition of what happened in Slocum, mainly because of disagreements.
ODOM: The Slocum massacre - the newspaper accounts - when you'd put them all together and read every one of them, they differ on everything that happened.
DAVIES: But descendants of the Slocum massacre say, so what? Leigh Craven says there's a double standard for what's history, especially in the South.
LEIGH CRAVEN: If you have a Confederacy whohaha (ph) - brouhaha, hooray. Then there is the other side of it, in which people were oppressed and all these awful things happened to them. What about their voices? And that's the balance that's been missing in so much of our history - not just east Texas history, American history.
DAVIES: Colecia Hollie-Williams says that needs to change. One of her relatives died in the massacre.
COLECIA HOLLIE-WILLIAMS: We're not trying to stir the pot per se, but all we're trying to do is bring awareness to what happened and justice.
DAVIES: That's finally happening. Over the objections of Anderson County, last year the Texas State Historic Commission approved a historic marker for the Slocum massacre. The dedication is this weekend. For NPR News, I'm David Martin Davies.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.