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Group to remember Denton County lynching victims with soil ceremony in December

A volunteer group is finalizing plans for a short, sacred ceremony in mid-December, 97 years to the day two black men were lynched in Pilot Point.

The Denton County Community Remembrance Project has identified three meaningful locations to gather the soil on December 14, likely in late morning. Those locations include the banks of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, beside the old city jail on Liberty Street in downtown Pilot Point, and beside the calaboose under the old Pilot Point city water tower.

Newspaper accounts from 1922 tell of two men who were taken from the Pilot Point jail on Dec. 14 and presumed lynched. In addition, newspaper reports from that era also documented Ku Klux Klan rituals at the old iron bridge over the Elm Fork.

During the group’s monthly meeting Thursday night — this time in the back room at the Bayless-Selby House — volunteer Shaun Treat outlined the soil collection plans. The group has agreed to fill three jars with layers of soil from each location on Dec. 14. One jar will remain with Pilot Point museums and another jar will circulate with the Denton County Office of History and Culture and its museums.

The third jar will be return to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala., which is providing the jars for soil collection at no cost to the group.

The Equal Justice Initiative opened both the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery last year. At the memorial, a beam commemorates the two Denton county men who lost their lives, along with the lives of more than 4,000 other people who were lynched between the Reconstruction and the Jim Crow eras.

But the Legacy Museum, which displays hundreds of jars of sacred soil from lynching locations around the country, has no such collection from Denton County.

The remembrance project aims to change that this year.

The families of many people who were lynched were not allowed to give their loved one a proper burial. Soil collection ceremonies have served as a solemn way to remember those who were murdered.

The Denton remembrance project plans such a solemn ceremony, including prayers and music, in downtown Pilot Point as part of the soil collection.

Volunteers have been meeting with various congregations in the past few months, trying to spread the word about the project, which includes other meaningful activities meant to bridge the racial divide and culminate in bringing home a beam from the memorial in Montgomery in the coming months.

During the meeting Thursday, the group fretted whether some congregations misunderstood their request to support the project with letters and volunteer help.

“We need your sweat and your elbows,” Treat said.

“Not money,” volunteer Beth Leggieri added.

Fellow volunteer Willie Hudspeth, who was absent Thursday, is scheduled to speak to the Denton North Church about the project at 10:45 a.m. Sunday at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center, 400 E. Hickory St.

People interested in learning more about the project can attend that gathering, where Hudspeth will field questions, or follow the group on Facebook at facebook.com/dentoncountycommunityremembranceproject.


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Serve Denton cuts ribbon at new facilities

Hundreds of people gathered Thursday for the grand opening of the 48,000-square-foot Serve Denton Center and its three new facilities, including the Children’s Advocacy Center, a food center and a health services center.

The facility, located at 306 N. Loop 288, is the second largest of its kind in the state of Texas and serves to consolidate resource centers for those in need.

Several local leaders, including state Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, and Denton Mayor Chris Watts spoke to the crowd before a ribbon-cutting ceremony. During his speech, Watts spoke about his childhood and said he benefited from services similar to the ones the Serve Denton Center will provide.

“My family would have been one of the families to be served by this facility,” Watts said. “It gives me great honor and humbleness to be able to stand here and share these thoughts I have about celebrating this event, because of the impact it will make on families in our community of Denton.”

Mark Finley / Kara Dry/DRC 

Guests tour the new Denton Community Food Center during Thursday's grand opening of the new Serve Denton Center in Denton.

Watts said he is in his current position thanks in part to charitable organizations such as Serve Denton.

“I thank you on behalf of the little boy 45 to 50 years ago, who was helped by the same shared values we all have here today,” Watts said. “These services gave [my] brothers and parents a chance to try to better their lives.”

After the speeches, each facility held a ribbon cutting and opened their doors so attendees could tour and see the state-of-the-art features and resources each organization will provide the community.

The Children’s Advocacy Center, which serves children and families who are victims of child abuse and sexual assault, features several observation and forensic rooms to assist law enforcement with investigations. Additionally it houses eight therapy rooms specifically designed for different age groups.

“No family wants to come to our office,” said Kristen Howell, chief executive officer of the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County. “Doing so means that your child has been hurt. I can tell you that if something like this happened to my kiddo, this is exactly the place that I would want to come.”

The new facility will triple the capacity of the Children’s Advocacy Center, according to Howell.

While the Children’s Advocacy Center and Health Services Center are open to the public, the new Denton Community Food Center is scheduled to open in January or February of 2020.

Serve Denton Center grand opening

The food center is currently located at 109 W. Sycamore St. and the new location is its eighth in 40 years. Previous locations ranged from gas stations to the basement of the Denton County Courthouse on the Square, but the new facility is the first that was purposefully built to be a food center. The 10,000-square-foot building is more than three times the size of the Sycamore facility, chairman Tom Newell said.

Newell had to pause and collect himself a number of times while speaking to the crowd before expressing gratitude for the volunteers, donors and the Denton community.

“I can’t step away from here without telling you what I told my wife this last night,” Newell said. “Short of the day I married her, this is the second best day of my life.”


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Trump, in Texas, bashes Democrats as 'crazy,' unpatriotic

DALLAS — President Donald Trump tried to turn impeachment rancor into a political rallying cry Thursday, using a Texas rally to bash Democrats as “crazy” and unpatriotic as they push forward with their investigations.

Setting a dire tone, Trump told his supporters, “At stake in this fight is the survival of American democracy itself.”

“Don’t kid yourselves,” he said of the Democrats, “I really don’t believe anymore that they love our country.”

A day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats walked out of a White House meeting that had devolved into an insult-fest, Trump denounced her as “crazy Nancy.”

“She’s nuts,” he told the crowd at a packed stadium in Dallas.

The comments come as the House continues its quickly unfolding inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, deposing witness after witness as they build their case. But Trump and his campaign have tried to turn the inquiry his way, accusing Democrats of using the Constitutional process to try to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

“They’re coming after and fighting you and we never lose,” he said, predicting the 2020 election will be “a landslide” for Republicans, despite polling showing him lagging behind.

Trump also continued his attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter’s work for a Ukraine energy company. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Biden family are at the heart of the Democrats’ inquiry into whether Trump compromised national security and used his office to try to bolster his 2020 chances by pushing foreign governments to investigate one of his Democratic rivals.

Trump’s day included a tour of a new Louis Vuitton leather workshop in north central Texas and a fundraiser in Fort Worth that, combined with a pre-rally reception in Dallas, brought in $5.5 million, according to the Republican National Committee.

Texas is a crucial state for Republicans, both in terms of money and votes.

Trump carried the GOP stronghold and its 38 Electoral College votes by 9 points in 2016. But Democrats have pointed to demographic changes — as well as the fact that Republican Sen. Ted Cruz won reelection by less than 3 points last year — as evidence that the second-most-populous state could soon be in play. But Trump rejected that thinking, as he urged his supporters to re-elect Cruz and John Cornyn, the state’s other Republican senator.

As he campaigns for a second term, Trump’s team has tried to focus attention on economic gains over the last three years, including the low unemployment rate. Pressing that message, Trump cut the ribbon at a new production facility for the luxury brand Louis Vuitton in Alvarado with his elder daughter, Ivanka.

Trump joked that the company, which is known for its logoed handbags and luggage, has cost him “a lot of money over the years.” His wife, first lady Melania Trump, has repeatedly been spotted traveling with the brand.

“This workshop will soon employ 500 of the most highly skilled workers anywhere in the world,” Trump said. “No one can match the precision and perfection of an American artisan.”

The Texas visit comes at a treacherous time for Trump, whose dealings with the president of Ukraine are under fire. While Republicans have largely rallied around him, they sounded alarms over his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northeast Syria — a move that paved the way for Turkey to invade and assault the Kurds, who’d fought alongside the U.S. in its campaign against Islamic State militants.

At his rally, Trump credited his “unconventional” approach for the announcement of a cease-fire Thursday. And he repeatedly painted the Turkish assault on the Kurds as something that had its benefits.

“Sometimes you have to let them fight, like two kids in a lot,” he said. “You got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.”

Trump’s campaign and the RNC have been raking in record money, raising $125 million in the third quarter of 2019 and smashing the just over $70 million former President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised in the third quarter of 2011.

Meanwhile, Trump’s would-be challengers are deep in an increasingly contentious race for the Democratic nomination.

One of those candidates, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, was holding a counter-rally protesting Trump’s appearance in nearby Grand Prairie Thursday evening. He did the same when Trump held a rally in El Paso in February and drew a substantial crowd, but his standing in the race has since fallen.

Still, Trump make sure to call him out, pointing to his plan to confiscate assault-style rifles and his support for rescinding the tax-exempt status for churches and charities that are anti-LGBTQ.

“No religion and no guns. I think that’s not good,” Trump said.


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Denton County judge calls for Bonnen to resign

This story has been updated with additional comments from the county judge.

Denton County’s top official joined leaders across Texas in calling for Republican Dennis Bonnen to resign as Texas House speaker after an activist released audio from a secretly recorded meeting in June in which the speaker said he tried to make it difficult for counties and cities in the 2019 legislative session.

On Thursday, Denton County Judge Andy Eads’ office released a prepared statement chastising Bonnen for his comments and called for Bonnen to resign.

“Mr. Bonnen should immediately step down from his position to allow the opportunity for someone who will respect local officials and value positive working relationships,” Eads is quoted as saying in the statement.

In the recording, released this week after months of political turmoil about a secret meeting between Bonnen, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, and Empower Texans activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, Bonnen can be heard saying, “Any mayor, county judge that was dumbass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the Legislature for cities and counties.”

City and county leaders across the state have said they are shocked at Bonnen’s comment, The Dallas Morning News has reported. Eads, a Republican who took the county judge office in January, is the first local official from Denton County to publicly chastise Bonnen.

“Counties in Texas provide tremendous value to fuel the engines of growth across the state of Texas,” Eads is quoted as saying. “This lack of respect cannot be tolerated. These types of comments are not healthy for continuing the state’s growth as an economic leader in the U.S.”

State Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, was the first statehouse official representing Denton County to make such a call on Wednesday. After tiptoeing around the subject during a luncheon for Denton County’s legislative delegation on Wednesday, state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, said later in the day Bonnen needed to resign.

To this point, Eads has not been overtly critical of the Texas Legislature or of Bonnen. Eads’ top aide, Shannon Joski, emailed a second statement from Eads in which he is quoted as saying the county was not hurt in the last session.

“While many of our local bills successfully passed, which we are appreciative of, there needs to be a new mindset in the Speakers’ office as it relates to the working relations with the local officials in the state of Texas,” Eads is quoted as saying.