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Day 1: Leader of #RememberSlocum movement explains importance of celebrating black history

28 Days of Black History

 

By Coshandra Dillard
If you do an online research of the Slocum Massacre, you’ll come across numerous sites, including links to libraries, news outlets, and blogs. It’s been on the minds of many people since the #RememberSlocum campaign kicked off about three years ago.
It’s a horrid story too familiar in American history, and it was an ugly part of the hidden past brought to light in East Texas.
In July 1910, a mob of white men went through a prosperous community of African Americans in southeast Anderson County to kill them, according to numerous reports and documents. There is no consensus about the motive, but there are a few theories: White men were uncomfortable with the idea of prosperous black people and wanted to grab their land; or it stemmed from an argument between a white man and a black businessmen named Marsh Holley. The official count of those who died is eight, while descendants estimate it may be in the hundreds. Documents suggest there is a mass grave near the site of the killings. The men responsible for the crimes were arrested and indicted, but never prosecuted after their cases were moved to Harris County.

“Black history should include more than slavery. We’re much more than that.”

In January 2016, a historical marker was unveiled on the countryside of Slocum, an unincorporated community near Elkhart. Having this history acknowledged was no easy feat. In fact, descendant Constance Hollie-Jawaid, of Dallas, was met with reluctance by local officials and people in the community. Her great-great-grandfather, Jack Holley (surname spelling changed after the massacre), was a successful merchant and landowner. He and his son, Marsh survived, but his grandson Alex, was killed in the raid.
Like many black women before her, Hollie-Jawaid didn’t mind facing the obstacles that stood in her way.

“I never got scared,” she said. “I was taught by my dad and family our history. I knew what I came from and I had no reason to be afraid. I knew the strong stock from which I came and had Anderson County known where I came from, they would have been afraid … Because our history was shared with me, I felt empowered. I felt protected.”

Constance Hollie-Jawaid stands next to the Slocum Massacre historical marker in Anderson County last month on the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of the marker.

Unearthing that history and making sure her ancestors’ lives weren’t in vain has been her mission. The historical marker, approved by the Texas Historical Commission, marked the first time the state had acknowledged with a marker racial violence committed against black people.
Hollie-Jawaid teamed with Fort Worth author, E.R. Bills, who wrote the book, “The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas.” His book is now in more than 50 university and college libraries across the country.
“I’m thrilled that the book has contributed to exposing the history behind this grave injustice and I’m very proud of what Slocum Massacre descendant Constance Hollie-Jawaid was able to do in terms of getting a historical marker to commemorate the lives of those lost during the reign of terror that occurred in southeast Anderson County in 1910,” Bills said. “Our efforts were not easy and not very popular, but when you’re on the right side of history you can’t stop. The book and the marker were a start, but there’s still work to do. There are still unmarked, mass graves in the Slocum area, and its past time that the exact numbers of this atrocity were established.”
MAKING BLACK HISTORY A PRIORITY
Since the book was released, Hollie-Jawaid and Bills have both spoke at schools, churches, or to anyone who had an interest in the history.
Hollie-Jawid said learning about Slocum Massacre, and other black history facts provides education to others, an appreciation for those who came before us, and dedication to a continued fight for equality.

“Black history to me is just the time we set aside to understand the struggles and achievements of black people who came before us,” she said. “It reminds us of the bridges that were built by others, whether it was Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer or Alex Holley. We have a lot of ground to cover. If we know and respect those before us, hopefully we’ll continue the work they did and build a bridge for coming generations.”

Hollie-Jawaid said learning about the past should involve more than just 28 days of the year.

“Because we live in a country where racism is still alive and well, we have to intentionally take time out as a nation to openly talk about and celebrate the achievements of black people,” she said. “If there was no such thing as racism there would be no need for Black History Month.”

And it isn’t just for black people, she said. It could serve as a catalyst for meaningful conversations.

“It’s for the entire country and hopefully educating others about who we are as a people will help break down those walls of racism and of ignorance,” Hollie-Jawaid said.

While school curricula typically don’t include a comprehensive history of African Americans, Hollie-Jawaid said it’s important for teachers to learn and teach black history, and for districts to choose teachers who are sensitive to all children’s culture and backgrounds.

In the meantime, it’s up to black parents to fill in the blanks.
“Black history should include more than slavery,” she said. “We’re much more than that. Educate your child about who they really are and what they are capable of. So they know that it’s in their DNA to fight systems that are not fair. That’s what they were born to do: to overcome and persevere.”

For more information, visit the site hosted by Columbia University’s History in Action Program, dedicated to educating people about the Slocum Massacre here.

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