Denton has remembered Quakertown in paper, ink and sculpted brick. The city renamed the civic park built on the razed homes and shops in 2007, calling it Quakertown Park to honor the residents unjustly evicted from their land in 1923.
This summer, a group of University of North Texas film students will put the freedmen’s town back on the local map — this time in people’s pockets.
The students are calling their interactive film project “Freedman Town 2.0.”
Using a smartphone app, visitors who walk through Quakertown Park will be able to read facts about the buildings that once stood and the people who lived and worked in them, or launch a video of the town’s local descendants talking about the town and its legacy.
Gotta catch 'em all
Filmmakers get their ideas from a lot of different places, and for one University of North Texas film professor, inspiration for a new project came from a blockbuster video game.
“I was really inspired by Pokemon Go,” said Carla LynDale Carter-Bishop, a media arts professor at UNT who helms the summer interactive community video class. “I was interested in how the constructed world of the game was put into the actual environment. You could play the game no matter where you were. I knew there were a lot of different ways to use the same idea in other media.”
Pokemon Go uses a format called augmented reality. Digital animation and programing is integrated into a gamer’s environment through a device — Pokemon Go players allow the game access to their smartphone GPS. That’s how the game could tell you that a rare "Pocket Monster" was hiding three blocks away. Or how a neighbor’s front yard could turn into a Pokemon training gym.
Carter-Bishop said she thought she might be able to experiment with augmented reality and storytelling in her summer interactive community video class.
And when Carter-Bishop discovered the story of Quakertown, she knew she had the class subject matter.
The class would create an interactive video project about Quakertown, a thriving black settlement in Denton. Its residents were self-sufficient, living in the freedmen’s town from the 1880s to the early 1920s.
“I do a lot of work about black communities,” Carter-Bishop said. “When I discovered the history of Quakertown, I started doing research. I read White Lilacs [Carolyn Meyers' novel for children that tells a fictionalized version of the story]. I saw a lot of similarities between the communities I’ve studied before and Quakertown.”
Carter-Bishop was involved in this year’s Denton Black Film Festival, and when she talked about Quakertown with festival official Linda Eaddy, Carter-Bishop said she knew there was a project in the making.
“Linda really encouraged me,” Carter-Bishop said. “There is a lot of information about Quakertown out there, but there is a lot more that hasn’t been told.”
Quakertown's residents and businesses were evicted in 1921, when a resident petitioned the City Council to buy the land where Quakertown stood to turn it into a city park. By 1923, all of the residents had relocated, their land purchased or condemned by city officials.
Out of the classroom
Carter-Bishop’s students had just five weeks to research the history and legacy of Quakertown, and turn the information into an interactive media product available to anyone with a smartphone and the free Aurasma app.
The small summer school class got to work right away. They combed through documents and photos at the Denton County Museums and Office of History and Culture. They visited Emily Fowler Central Library.
After amassing their research, Carter-Bishop arranged a meet-and-greet with the children and families of Quakertown’s residents at the American Legion Post 71.
“Being a filmmaker, I knew that none of the research could be complete without talking to people who know something about the community. The meeting was probably the most important part of the project,” Carter-Bishop said.
Nathan Taylor, a UNT senior in the class, focused his research on the businesses that were built in Quakertown.
“I took a map of Quakertown, and studied where the businesses were. All of the businesses used to be on Oakland,” Taylor said. “There was a grocery store, and a doctor’s office. It was all there in the community.”
For as long as most Denton residents can recall, the Oakland Street side of Quakertown Park has been the home of Emily Fowler Central Library, the Denton Woman’s Club Building, a playground and soccer fields at the north end of the park.
Samantha McDanel, a UNT senior, and junior Valorie Buentello spent much of their research talking with residents of Southeast Denton, the neighborhood where some of the descendants of Quakertown's families live.
“I spent time especially at Fred Moore High School, and I learned a lot just by walking around and talking to the people,” McDanel said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about Fred Moore High, and what they do there.”
Fred Moore High School is an alternative school, where a lot of students can graduate on an accelerated schedule, or recover high school credits. Students benefit from flexible schedules and smaller classes.
Buentello met with the women of the Denton Christian Women's Interracial Fellowship, a long-standing partnership between the churchgoing residents of the neighborhood and the predominantly white women who belong to Trinity Presbyterian Church.
“The women we talked to talked about what the heart is of the group, and I was surprised to find out that the fellowship still comes together. The women still meet,” Buentello said.
UNT senior George Starks said his research — which went back to the original Freedman Town — turned up a surprise.
“The Freedman Town where this all started, the families who left White Rock [community in Dallas] have two dates for when they left — 1857 and 1875,” Starks said. “But as I did the research, I found that the slaves in that area, they weren’t freed until around 1863.”
Paring it down
The UNT summer session is short, especially considering the time filmmakers need to research, shoot and edit their work.
“I thought it was going to be a long documentary, and I went into the class with that mindset,” McDanel said. “When I found out this was going to be totally different, I wasn’t sure how we were going to do it. But everyone is doing part of it, and everyone wants to do their part. It’s a lot of work for a five-week class, but everyone is on board.”
Carter-Bishop said the class is expecting to get the project complete by Aug. 10-11. After that, the interactive video — interviews, maps and the like — will be available through the app. Carter-Bishop said the class has made a video explaining the project that will be available on social media.
Carter-Bishop said she plans to present a program on the project at the Denton Senior Center when it’s complete, to help technophobic seniors learn how to use the app and the interactive media.
And the project doesn’t have to end with the class.
“This is something we can build on,” Carter-Bishop said.
Taylor said he’s glad to be part of a project that people can use — perhaps years from now.
“Once all this is finalized,” he said, “I will be grateful that I can do this for the younger generation. It was great to get to know people who know about this community. And I think it’s good to be able to get this out there to people who don’t know about it, and might not be able to find this history.”
Buentello said she and other people assume that anything they need to know is on the internet.
“That’s what shocked me,” she said. “How so much of all of this isn’t on Google. You think everything is, you know? But if you want to know about Quakertown, you’re not going to find much of it by Googling it.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
FEATURED PHOTO: Valorie Buentello, left, grins as UNT film students set up a video shoot with Place 1 City Council member Gerard Hudspeth. The students were making a video for an augmented reality app that will reveal videos and digital media as users roam Quakertown Park in Denton. (Courtesy photo/UNT Media Arts)