Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Denise Lucero-Miller, chair of the Texas Woman's University committee working to create the Quakertown memorial garden.
William Clark was 21 years old when his family’s house had to be relocated to make way for Quakertown Park. Though he passed away in 1991, his wife, Alma, said he talked about the devastating effects on the once-thriving community.
“When he had to move, he was totally, totally disappointed,” Clark said. “It put a bad taste in his mouth because the city did not give them the proper money; they robbed them of their property. They were a close-knit community, but that just broke them.
“They never got back together as a community.”
Now, nearly a century later, Texas Woman’s University is moving forward with plans to construct an on-campus memorial acknowledging their role in the forced relocation of the majority-Black community at Quakertown alongside national conversations surrounding race.
In the works since 2017, plans have begun to materialize for an on-campus memorial garden that would honor the legacy of the residents relocated in the early 1920s so Denton could create Quakertown Park. The TWU committee working on the project recently sent plans forward to contractor HKS, who is drawing up design options. The location of the garden hasn’t been finalized.
Committee members say they are also planning to put forth a proposal to rename Bralley Annex, named for F.M. Bralley, who was president of the university when it was known as the College of Industrial Arts. Bralley was at the forefront of the school’s efforts to displace Black residents and made racist remarks in a November 1920 speech calling for their removal.
Administrators said having concrete plans will allow them to move forward in soliciting funding from grants and local partners including, they hope, the city of Denton.
“With those renderings, we hope to then engage other partners like the city of Denton to be part of this project,” said Christopher Johnson, a committee member and Chancellor Carine Feyten’s chief of staff. “They were obviously part of the relocation, so we’re hoping to get other people to invest in it.”
The memorial garden proposed by the seven-person committee made up of staff, faculty, students and community members would be prominent on campus. Creators envision the space as a forum for discussions on equality, where TWU students, faculty and staff, and visitors to the campus can engage in dialogue on racial justice.
The garden would seat 200 to 300 people, with the path leading to the space featuring virtual galleries that detail the settlement’s history and commemorative symbols of the community, such as white lilacs, which resident Henry Taylor was known to have a prized collection of. The space would feature student contributions to the Quakertown narrative and foster ongoing discussions on equality, Johnson said.
“We recognize that the George Floyd killing is sadly not going to be the end of racism in this country,” Johnson said. “There will be future opportunities to have more of these conversations that will hopefully lead to healing and better relationships overall.”
Some have said that, while it would be a step in the right direction, the memorial does not go far enough.
“I know it has already been suggested to you, but I strongly recommend the committee take seriously the request to offer tuition waivers or scholarships to the descendants of the displaced residents of Quakertown,” Laura Haines told Feyten on Twitter. “You and your committee have an opportunity to do something of value, something real and lasting and life-changing. I urge you to do it.
“Set up the waivers. Set up a scholarship fund. Have the school make a hefty donation. Ask like-minded patrons and the public for more, even matching donations. There are ways to make this happen.”
Johnson said while the committee acknowledges there are many ways to honor the history of Quakertown, they believe the space proposed will have a lasting impact. In addition to acknowledging TWU’s role, he said the forum serves as a reminder of the ongoing commitment needed to combat inequality.
“Racism and white supremacy are so entrenched in the American narrative, it’s going to take a lot of work to deconstruct that,” Johnson said. “By having a space that’s dedicated to that deconstruction that, I think, stands as our best long-term legacy for something that was so horrific in the form of forced relocation of those residents of that community.”
While the committee has talked through other options to honor Quakertown, challenges persist. Endowing a scholarship could cost millions, Johnson said, and since TWU is a public university, they cannot offer Quakertown descendants guaranteed admission, as they are subject to federal nondiscrimination laws. Committee members felt the memorial would benefit the wider legacy of Quakertown’s history for the Denton community, not just those that hoped to attend TWU and would benefit from a scholarship.
For those that hope for more, Johnson said the university is not ruling out other options to honor Quakertown’s legacy in the future.
“Our first priority was to acknowledge and to create a space for healing and ongoing race improvement,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t do other things.”
Though they do not have a solid timeline, committee members want to have the project completed by 2022, 100 years since the forced relocation of Quaker residents. As for the plan to rename Bralley Annex, committee chair Denise Lucero-Miller said they hope to have a proposal approved by the chancellor and brought before the Board of Regents at their November meeting.
For Clark and the descendants of other Quakertown families, the changes are a long time coming. While she is not a part of the committee, she said she’s glad to see the work they’re doing.
“I’m quite sure if my husband and a lot of the others were alive, it would be some consolation for them to have [TWU] say, ‘You know, we made a mistake, so maybe we can do better for the next generation,’” she said.