A new documentary about Quakertown in development by two North Texas filmmakers got a quarter of a million dollar bump in support from the city of Denton last night.
Denton City Council approved $250,000 in funding Tuesday night for the documentary with additional support from the Denton Black Film Festival.
The $250,000 that the city is investing will come from excess hotel tax revenue and help to fund part of the documentary, which is estimated to cost about $500,000 ($372,323 for production and includes crew, equipment, location and director’s fee and $119,600 for post-production such as audio, editing and finishing).
They are hoping that the community will come together to help fund the rest of the documentary.
North Texas filmmaker King Hollis, a Denton native, said the Quakertown story is not only important to Denton and the history of Denton but also to the nation.
“It really represents not just struggle and conflict, it represents how people came together and overcame,” Hollis told council members. “[It’s] an example of where we are today in Denton. This city council and the people of Denton have come together to make this a thriving community, and we would like to tell the story.”
Hollis along with his filmmaking partner Lindell Singleton seek to capture the forgotten stories of Quakertown and how the community came together to remember them in a four-part documentary tentatively titled Quakertown, USA.
Singleton agreed with Hollis when he spoke with the Record-Chronicle about the project in late March.
“This is an American story,” Singleton said. “This is U.S. history and a story of us and therefore is relevant. It is worthy of being told. This is an American story and impacts how we all have lived and are living and will live in the future. We have to confront these things with a level of virtue. Yes, it is painful, but it offers opportunities for reconciliation.”
At the Tuesday night council meeting, Denton Black Film Festival Director Harry Eaddy called it a “Denton project” and claimed that they were excited about the documentary, and in talks to work with the Denton Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to help share the story of Quakertown.
“The word that Rev. [Reginald] Logan told me about when they went to see Greenwood in Oklahoma, it was really about reconciliation,” Eaddy said. “And I think that’s a really powerful word. So I think that all of that is wrapped up into the story. Not really what divides us but what makes us similar.”
Eaddy shared the story of his first arrival 43 years ago to Denton. Like many other community members at the time, he was unfamiliar with the Quakertown story. Then the city began recognizing it, for example, by renaming the Civic Center Park where city hall is located to Quakertown Park in honor of the thriving Black community that was once there.
“So the acknowledgement by the city and with what happened, I thought was really significant,” Eaddy said. “I think when you have the opportunity to share a story about you and what happened to your family, good things tend to happen.”
For the past year, the city has been working with community partners and taking several steps to share the Quakertown story and educate residents on its 100th anniversary, including installing signage at Quakertown Park and hosting events in honor of it.
Council member Jesse Davis brought the idea for the Quakertown documentary to the attention of the Community Partnership Committee, which Davis chairs, to see if they could help fund it.
“To me it is personally very important to tell the story of this terrible thing that happened and that city government had a role in and the way that it formed the fabric of this city that we’re still experiencing today,” Davis told the Record-Chronicle in late March.
The committee was able to fund it, Davis said Tuesday night, due to some leftover funds from a convention center plan that never came to fruition.
In late March, $250,000 in funding was approved and recommended to council. That recommendation was presented Tuesday night.
Council members Brandon Chase McGee and Vicki Byrd also serve on the committee and praised the efforts of the filmmakers and the Denton Black Film Festival, which has been sharing Black stories for nearly 10 years now in Denton.
Byrd recalled reading White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer in college. It’s a story about the Black community of Freedomtown fighting to save their homes from their white neighbors in Dillon, Texas, who want to move them and build a park.
The story resonated with Byrd who attended and worked at Texas Woman’s University, a college whose former president at what was then known as Denton’s College of Industrial Arts was the architect behind Quakertown’s forced removal to Southeast Denton in the 1920s so the city could build a park.
“It stayed on my spirit,” Byrd said.
Byrd mentioned her recent trip to visit the Greenwood community of Tulsa, where the massacre known as “Black Wall Street” took place in 1921, and recalled what someone had told her about the layering process for reconciliation there. She compared it to the process unfolding in Denton.
“We have renamed the park, have artwork in the Civic Center and now we’re having discussion and getting ready to see the visual part of it,” Byrd said.
McGee discussed the importance of sharing the story. He briefly mentioned when, in the 1960s, the decision was before council again to force the descendants of Quakertown to move from Southeast Denton. It’s an area of the city that is still valuable to developers more than 60 years later and projected to be part of the new downtown by 2040.
“I don’t know of a better use of taxpayer dollars than to tell the story of Denton because every day we all know folks who still don’t know the story,” McGee said.
Mayor Gerard Huspeth’s father Willie Hudspeth, a longtime local civil rights activist, was the only speaker signed up to speak on the agenda item Tuesday. He mentioned that the producers had approached him a couple of years ago about making a Quakertown documentary.
Like the others, Hudspeth stressed the importance of learning about the Quakertown story. He discussed how the “Blacks were ran out of there — or let me put it nicely — asked to move … because the ladies at TWU had to pass by that area to get downtown, and the residents didn’t want them to see young Black men there.”
Hudspeth said that the city only offered 10 cents on the dollar for their properties and recalled how he had heard the homes were taken apart piece by piece and carried in wagons from Quakertown across the tracks to Solomon Hill in Southeast Denton where they were rebuilt.
“That was shocking to me that that had happened,” Hudspeth said. “I know this filmmaker and he will bring it out.
“It’s just good information to know and to say to ourselves again, ‘Don’t repeat something that wasn’t good.’ You got to know about it to know not to do it.”