Twenty years ago I heard a story firsthand from my future wife that had always made me wonder “What on earth happened there?” Those stories included some of personality conflicts, some of cultural differences and some of deep seated hatred that my future wife described as oppressing and dangerous. This feeling of oppression isn’t something that is easily shaken. And while I believe there is victory and the ability to overcome such spiritual forces, this opened my eyes and hers to Spiritual realities. This mission experience colored her picture of the Piney Woods for many a year and I often remember hearing the stories of that Summer retold several times over.
During these twenty years since I have mostly written off this part of East Texas as just culturally backward and not representative of the rest of the State nor even the rest of the region. But I always wondered. . . “What happened near Palestine to cause that feeling of oppression, heaviness and outright Spiritual Darkness?”
Just this last week I think I’ve come upon the answer, and I admit I wasn’t as fervent about praying and seeking this out until more recently and I can remember praying, walking, researching the past of our small Church in the hill country fervently praying that God would demolish the strongholds that were holding back that congregation. For that I’m truly sorry.
Seven years ago my bride and I relocated to East Texas, not Palestine but 100 miles north to Marshall, home of our beloved Alma Mata and where God has called me to work and serve. But this story isn’t about us it is about what I believe I’ve realized through divine insight or more appropriately a divine two by four.
For five score and four years ago that’s 1910, a spiritual stronghold grabbed root and took over a small community and destroyed the lives of untold numbers of people in that community. The Abilene Register reported it this way on July 31st 1910.
“Race Riot at Slocum Results in Death of 23 Negros, and 4 Whites. . . Fierce Fight Started in Quarrel over Small Debt. . . Negros are armed in a Bunch. .. Whites gathered Arms and went Coon Hunting – The State Militia Ordered to the Scene at Once”
Of those headlines only one statement was completely true. The State Militia was ordered to the scene. The rest are exaggerations or outright fabrications. It is especially saddening that the Abilene paper would call killing African American’s “Coon Hunting” However the 3rd Regiment of Company D commanded by Captain Godfrey Fowler of the State Militia was called out to Slocum and Anderson County to restore order along with local Sheriff and the Texas Rangers. Today what we call the National Guard had a Regiment stationed in Marshall, Texas and this Regiment was the nearest unit to the unincorporated area of Anderson County called Slocum. It was said that this allowed those who choose to leave to be able to do so in safety to other parts of Texas and many African American’s did so. It was reported that Slocum had a majority African American population in 1910. Today less than 7% of that part of Anderson County is African American
The truth of the matter was the small debt and the grievance over an African American having been given authority over an Anderson County road project near Slocum angered a local named Jim Spurger to the point of murderous frenzy. This along with the debt and an perceived uprising of African Americans after a lynching was reported in Cherokee County nearby apparently led this fear filled rampage. Make no mistake Fear led this frenzy this all out assault on life and property. The lie that preceded this mob mentality was that the “Negros of the area were armed and ready to cause trouble.” There is one author of fear, distrust and confusion and that is the Enemy of our souls Satan.
From the book of Deuteronomy the Lord gave direction to the people of Israel of how to handle those who take innocent lives and those who unintentionally kill someone else.
If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your ancestors, and gives you the whole land he promised them, 9 because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him—then you are to set aside three more cities. 10 Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.
11 But if out of hate someone lies in wait, assaults and kills a neighbor, and then flees to one of these cities, 12 the killer shall be sent for by the town elders, be brought back from the city, and be handed over to the avenger of blood to die. 13 Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.
14 Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.
Now today we don’t take a mob at least not usually and grab a person and take them to the person wronged for vengeance and justice but they didn’t back then either as there was to be a Judgement made and two persons were to attest to the crime before judgement was to be carried out in the case of Slocum there were arraigned 13 men for murder 7 were ultimately indicted and held over for trials. However the local Judge most likely rightly believed these men would not get a fair trial in Palestine or Anderson County. He sent them to Harris County and there they remained for more than a year. However as the Harris County prosecutor did not value the lives of the African American’s whose lives were ended the trials never took place and the cases were dropped. Eventually the Judge in Anderson County gave up after more than a year of waiting and ordered the release of the charged men.
Several good men called out this tragedy for what it was. The local County Sherrif, the Judge over the Grand Jury and a few others at the time, even today good men and women have called for a light to be shined on this tragedy.
I would position Spiritually that this is a prime and forceful example of “shedding of innocent blood’ the land and Region of Anderson County were stained, the innocent cry out for justice. Today at 100 years hence none may live that can give prison terms or executions of those heinous crimes but as believers we should consult a higher authority to try and make this right.
If you are a believer in East Texas I urge you to fervently pray for racial reconciliation and justice regarding this tragedy in Slocum. Let us pray for the community, the county and the Region and especially the victims families and the families who were forever affected by their forced relocation. Pray that believers will come together and ask forgiveness and offer whatever reconciliation and recompense is possible to those who were affected. For I believe that this Injustice has served to stain not only that community but our Region and even Texas itself and if we as believers will arise as the National Guard unit of old and ride out to bring justice as the Lord has said “If my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face then we hear from Heaven and He will forgive our sins and heal our land.”
Recently as my wife discussed the number one thing that was holding back several participants in her Marshall area Jobs for Life class and the number one answer was Fear.
Fear took root that day it had led to many tragedies over the years but it was given a place and until we call it out and deal with it it will continue to rot and decay the fabric of our communities.
Remember ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ 1 Tim 1:7 But you can’t claim the promise until we confess our sin and humbly ask the Lord and those we have wronged to forgive us.
For more information Google:
“Race Riots”– Setting the Record Straight
by L. Arthalia Cravin
E.R. Bills “Texas Obscurities”
California Database of Newspapers Online
(Opinion Piece by E.R. Bills)
Los Angeles Herald, Volume 37, Number 304, 1 August 1910 (Texas Mob Hunts down and Kills 25 Negros – Sheriff finds there was no real cause for slaying Black men)
TEXAS MOB HUNTS DOWN AND KILLS 25 NEGROES
Sheriff Finds There Was No Real Cause for Slaying the Black Men
PALESTINE, Texas, July 31.—At least fifteen, and it may be twentyfive, all of them negroes and unarmed, were hunted down and killed by a mob of from 200 to 300 men in the Slocum
and Denison Springs neighborhood last night and yesterday, according to the opinion of Sheriff Black today. . The sheriff returned early this morning after twenty-four hours In the district. He told of a fierce man hunt in the woods, of riddled bodies found on lonely roads and of the terror almost indescribable among the inhabitants in tho southeastern part of Anderson county. “I found the greatest excitement prevailing throughout the section of the county,” said the sheriff. “Men were going about killing negroes as fast as they could find them, and so far as I have been able to ascertain, without any real cause. These negroes have done no wrong that I could discover. There was just a hot-headed gang hunting them down and killing them. “I believe the trouble was due to a controversy over a promissory note.”
Los Angeles Herald, Volume 37, Number 306, 3 August 1910
TEXAS GRAND JURY TO INVESTIGATE RACE RIOTS
PALESTINE, Texas, Aug. 2.— In his charge to the special grand Jury Impaneled yesterday, Judge B. B. Gardner ordered a thorough Investigation of the raceriots ln Anderson county. Four additional arrests have been made in connection with tho clash between whites and blacks Friday night and Saturday, when eighteen negroes were killed.
Eight white men are now in Jail here, all of whom are charged with murder in the first degree.
Troop C, Texas state guards, under command of Captain Younger has arrived here and Is encamped in the court house yard.
Los Angeles Herald, Volume 37, Number 303, 31 July 1910
RIOTING WHITES KILL 18 NEGROES IN RACIAL CLASH
Texas Governor Rushes Troops to Palestine to Avert Further Slaughter of Blacks
COMBATANTS ARE DISPERSED
Disturbances Culmination of Enmity Brewing Between Races for Several Weeks
Associated Press PALASTINE, Tex., July 30.—At least eighteen Negroes were killed In a racial clash in the extreme eastern Section of Anderson county last night and today, the culmination at an insanity between the races brewing- for Several weeks. Less conservative reports place the total fatalities at between thirty and forty. It was also reported that several white men were either killed or bounded, but all rumors as to casualties among- the whites have met authoritative denials. “Troops reached Palestine early tonight and established quarters at tho county prison, where it is planned they will remain until tomorrow unless further rioting necessitated a night march to the scene of the disturbance about 25 miles distant. It Is reported, however, that at nightfall the belligerents began to disperse and further bloodshed will in all probability be averted. The first advice of the disturbance reached Palestine this morning. Officers were sent to the scene, local ammunition stores ordered to suspend sales and the saloons to close. It was quickly apparent, however, that the situation was beyond the control of the local officers and troops were asked for. A company of militia under command of Captain Godfrey Fowler, former United States army officer and more recently engaged in Nicaragua In the cause of the Insurgents, dispatched from Marshall,Texas, arrived tonight. POSSE SHOOTS NEGRO The rioting began late yesterday near the village of Slocum, Several reasons are assigned as the cause of the racial feelings—first. the refusal of a negro to pay an obligation for which a white farmer stood sponsor. This was some days ago. Later, a white man received notice that he should perform road work under the supervision of a negro, the white man refusing. Later came reports of a secret meeting against the Negroes and an alleged confession of a negro that the murder of the man in question, James Spurger and his family, was planned. The situation reached a climax, however, yesterday when a negro was discovered advancing on Spurger from the rear, armed with a shotgun. He was trailed for some, distance and shot by a posse when he refused to surrender. With the shooting of the. negro those of both races armed themselves and rioting began. The Marshall. Texas, company of tho State national guard reached Palestine at 8 o’clock tonight and immediately proceeded to the scene of the disorder in Anderson county. District Judge Gardner ordered all saloons in this city to he closer! today because of the race riot at Slocum, which Is a,small town near here. ORDERS OUT MILITIA MARSHALL, Tex., July 80.—Adjutant General Newton has ordered the militia company at this place to proceed to Palestine and Slocum by first train. _