A growing grassroots group of community activists determined to remember local lives lost to lynching divided up a to-do list Thursday night, bringing Denton County another step closer to becoming part of the Legacy Museum and National Memorial to Peace and Justice.
The museum and memorial are a project of the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Alabama. Former Denton City Council member Linnie McAdams kicked off the second meeting of the Denton County Community Remembrance Project by saying the to-do list comes from EJI, which is underwriting local efforts around the country to reconcile a dark part of national history.
“We hope this endeavor will start a conversation,” McAdams said. “We have no interest in causing trouble. We just want to tell the truth and we think we can all stand the truth.”
One of the truths is etched on a beam at the Alabama memorial: the dates when two men were lynched near Pilot Point. Their names are not known, despite considerable research. EJI will send a copy of that beam when Denton County is ready.
But first the group formed subcommittees to tackle key tasks. One subcommittee will collect soil for display at the museum. Chelsea Stallings, who recently graduated with a master’s degree in history from the University of North Texas after writing a thesis on Quakertown, Denton’s free black community, said that while the task will be straightforward, it’s also expected to be the most meaningful and healing thing the group would do to remember.
“That’s a very emotional and spiritual component,” Stallings said.
Denton County Judge Andy Eads told the group he traveled with his two teenage sons to the museum and memorial a few weeks ago to learn more. He saw the soil collection and noted that many Texas counties were represented there.
“It was very moving,” Eads said.
Another group will be seeking letters of support for the local memorial from churches, civic groups and businesses. McAdams teased pastor John White, of Pilot Point, that his church would not be the first.
The group has already received a letter of support from Congregation Ner Tamid, a Jewish Reform synagogue in Lewisville.
“We view it as an act of bearing witness to the past suffering and injustice of our neighboring fellow human beings,” the letter reads, in part.
Peggy Riddle, director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, and Margaret Neale, a librarian at Guyer High School, offered to shepherd the work that must be done for an essay contest.
The local remembrance project will serve as ambassadors to Denton County high schoolers and EJI for an essay contest that includes cash prizes paid by EJI.
Two other groups will begin work on the historic marker and the siting of the beam.
McAdams and other members of the committee called a recent Denton Record-Chronicle editorial about the group’s work offensive, particularly by equating the beam’s suggested placement on the Square with tacky religious monuments that filled the Florida Capitol building during the Christmas holidays several years ago. They planned to prepare a rebutting editorial.
The group will meet again in mid-August, likely somewhere in Pilot Point, where the committee still hopes to uncover the names and more of the stories of those who were lynched in Denton County from Reconstruction through the Jim Crow era.