A grassroots group has set its sights on the downtown Square for a new monument that would remember residents who were lynched during Denton County’s early history.
About 20 people met Wednesday evening under the umbrella of the Denton County Community Remembrance Project. The local initiative is part of a growing number of communities around the country working with the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, to remember thousands of lives lost to lynching.
Former Denton City Council member Linnie McAdams said the downtown Denton location makes sense because the Square belongs to everyone in the county.
“We’ve been hidden long enough,” McAdams said.
She was among 10 members of the black community at the organizational meeting. Other attendees included several history students researching African American history in Denton County; Denton City Council members Deb Armintor and Paul Meltzer; Roman McAllen, the city’s historic preservation officer; and Peggy Riddle, director of the county’s history office and museums.
In her research on the Ku Klux Klan in Denton County, UNT student Micah Crittenden said installing a lynching monument on the Square also would make historical sense, since Klan marches often ended at the Square.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened last year to popular and critical acclaim. A key feature of the memorial is hundreds of corten steel beams etched with the names and dates of more than 4,400 people who were lynched. In some cases, the names of the murder victims are not known.
That was the case for Denton County, where researchers were only able to document the disappearance of two men taken from the Pilot Point jail in December 1922.
The Alabama memorial and its parent organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, are working with communities that want to create similar memorials. Another UNT history student, Chelsea Stallings, said EJI has approved Denton County’s full participation for a local remembrance.
Participation has three parts: placement of a historical marker, a soil sample and a corten beam. It’s up to the community to find an appropriate place to collect the soil sample and locations to install the historical marker and beam. EJI will pay for the production and shipment of the marker and the beam, Stallings said.
Crittenden suggested at least five possible locations to collect the soil sample, which is meant to represent the bodies and burial of the murder victims. Denton County’s sample would join hundreds of other samples on display at EJI’s Legacy Museum, which is near the memorial in Montgomery. Soil could be collected outside the Pilot Point jail, at a location two miles north of the city where the murders may have occurred, at the Elm Fork bridge (where Klan initiation rites were held), or at either St. John’s Cemetery or the Pilot Point Cemetery, Crittenden said.
The marker and the beam could be installed together, Stallings said.
Both the city and the county have resources that could ensure the site would be designed to echo the thoughtful reverence of the original memorial, McAllen said.
Activist Shaun Treat, who organized the meeting, said the group should be prepared for resistance.
“We should acknowledge the potential for backlash and prepare for it,” Treat said.
The group has a public-facing Facebook page of the same name, the Denton County Community Remembrance Project, which Facebook members can join to receive more information.
The group plans to meet again at 6:30 p.m. July 18 at a Denton Public Library location.