RACE RELATIONS IN DAWSON, TEXAS
and Recollection of
Carl W "Tubby" Matthews
The Papers of Sterling Clack Robertson recorded
that Francis Slaughter and company arrived at Fort Franklin in Texas on December
1, 1835. The group included Francis Slaughter, his new bride, three children
by his 2nd marriage,
Robert Harve Matthews... the bride's brother....and...Family Servants.
Francis Slaughter had married Minerva Katherine
Matthews in Maury Co. Tennessee the previous summer. Minerva was a daughter of
Robert and Mary Ann Stewart Matthews who had married at Alamance, Guilford Co.
NC in 1800 and Robert Harve Matthews was her younger brother, born 1814.
Robert and Katherine had three children of their
own and, in 1842, Francis died. The will directed that... "Viney," his negro
woman, her daughter, and another small female....be given to his wife. There
was a stipulation that "the servants would be treated with dignity."
Dr. George Washington
Hill in November 1847, and, with her children and unmarried brother...and
family servants.... moved to an area known as "The Indian Springs," located two
or so miles northeast of present day Dawson, Texas. It
was there that Dr. Hill constructed and operated The Spring Hill Trading Post.
A cemetery was created just north of the Trading
Post and the first recorded burial was in August 1848. Research of family
names found on the cemetery markers in the 1990s revealed that the cemetery was
integrated. Markers bearing the names of Porter, Younger, Martin,
Henry.....black family names.... were nearby to those bearing the names Hill,
Matthews, Stadden, Cottongame, etc.
After the Civil War, black
communities.....Antioch, Pelham, Babylon, etc. were created in the
area.....black schools and churches were established. Black families began to
acquire land. Adolphus Martin, born a slave in Kentucky in the 1850s, had
arrived in the area in the 1870s and worked for
Brit Dawson. "Dolph"
Martin married, as far as can be determined, the grand daughter of Viney,
mentioned earlier....operated a cotton gin at
Baybalon, and acquired considerable land in Navarro Co. An early 1900s
picture of a group standing in front of the Spring Hill Store located on
Broadway Street includes Dolph Martin.
Lewis Martin, Dolph's son who died in 1999 and
almost lived in three different centuries, related how a man stole one of Brit
Dawson's prizes horses. It was Dolph and Brit who tracked the man almost to the
Red River...found him...and hung him.
The town of Dawson was created 1881 when the
railroad was built between Corsicana and
Waco and there were two distinct residential areas....the white community which
was located north and south of the railroad...and the black community located on
the east edge of Dawson. That community became know as "Farmersville," named
for a white resident of Dawson who was well respected by the black residents.
However, there were exceptions. Uncle "Doc"
Fenner had married one of the Caruthers daughters and lived in the white
community for decades. Jim Martin, son of Dolph, built a home in "Fog
Level." Cleave Harris and several other black families resided on the
south end of Main Street which is one block east of present day Main Street.
The KKK was active in Dawson in the late 1800s
and early 1900s. The group would ride horses in parades down "Main Street,"
supposedly hidden under their white hoods, but every small boy in Dawson could
identify the riders by the horses being ridden. But despite the presence of
the KKK and violent incidents happening in many parts of the South, Dawson,
experienced relative calm.
Violence did flair in the early days of the
1900s when an angry mob of whites removed a black man from the "Calabose"
located in the wagon yard west of Main Street and hung him from a telephone pole
located on the road to Waco just east of Main Street. A Justice of the
Peace, who was out of town at the time, stated that it was "the most disgusting
thing he had known in his life." The experience was made even more tragic
when authorities investigated and discovered that the mob had hung the wrong
A resident of Pelham, born in 1915, stated that
it appeared to him that the white community of Dawson was deeply grieved by the
incident and that Dawson, more than any other nearby community, became a friend
to black residents of the area. He recalled that Dawson banks made loans to
black residents to purchase land, to build homes and churches and that Dawson
merchants extended credit to black residents.
My personal recollection of black residents of
Dawson began in 1828-1929. The wife of Bud California came to our house each
week to do "The Washin'." I would sit on the back steps as she moved clothes
up and down the "rubboard," rinsed in clear water...then...in the "blue-in"
water to make the clothes white. I must have been aware of her dark skin and
one day remarked that the palms of her hands were white and that if she rubbed
the "P & G" soap hard on the other parts of her body she would be white all
over. She "loud" ...without missing a rub...that she didn't think that would
It must have been about that time that I
questioned my Mother as to why I was white and California was black. She
responded by saying that....she had heard...that...
.......... in the
beginning, all people were black. When Cain killed his brother, Abel, he
fled. God searched for and found him. When Cain heard God cry out for him
.....Cain was so frightened.... that he turned white..
I was not aware of segregation. I cannot
remember the "N" word ever being used by members of my family. I felt as
comfortable with Clark Roberts, Beula Hopkins, Doc Fenner, Cleve Harris, Flukem
Dickson, Jim and Mamie Martin. Cotten Cottrell, Fred Cole, Sidney Blivins, The
Californias, and other black residents...as I did with my grand parents. They
were my friends. I loved and respected each one of them. I do not recall a
single racial incident during the years that my family and I lived in Dawson.
There were times when I could not understand how
a black man who stole a few chickens could received five years in the
penitentiary in the same decade when a white man received five years suspended
sentence for killing someone. I was aware that certain white men took
advantage of black men in business dealings. And, thought my family was poor,
I was very much aware that our family had more than most black families.
We moved from Dawson in 1939. The following
years were consumed by the events of
World War II...returning home....resuming educational pursuits...beginning a
family, etc. My life moved in a cocoon dominated by whites until the
summer of 1955 when I was invited to serve as a Summer Missionary to the Bahama
Islands. Nassau was a sea of black faces and I was a white among them...and
there was a difference. I had traveled by the small inter-island boat to Exuma
Island and remained there for ten days. I was the only white on the entire
island... and....I...became the minority. The residents of Exuma were lovely
people, caring..kind...sincere. One day, while conversing with Teacher Rolle,
a community leader, I became aware that the issue of race...for me... had
disappeared. I was not a white man talking to a black man...but we were two
human beings engaged in pleasant conversation.
The following year, 1956, I organized and became
pastor of a church in Dallas and
became friends with Dr. D Edwin Johnson,
President of the Interacial Institute. He was a frequent guest speaker at
the church and very well accepted by most of the congregation. One
individual, who had but recently united with the congregation, met me on the
street following one of Dr. Johnson's visits. He informed me that he could not
believe that I were permit a black man....to stand in the pulpit...of HIS
church. Furthermore, he would never set foot in the church again. I
responded by saying that I was sure that somebody would, probably, miss him.
That same year, I received a call from Bro. W O
Esttes, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dawson, requesting that I come to
Dawson that summer to lead in an evangelistic effort for the church...and...I
accepted. Weeks prior to the date, Frank Comer, a Deacon of the church,
called and informed me that Bro Estes had resigned, but that the church had
voted to hold to the date if such was acceptable to me. It was. More, Mr.
Comer requested I secure someone to lead the music.
David Harkness, brother of Dr. William Harkness
who was a member of my Dallas church, was fresh from graduation at Baylor, would
lead the music. I preached at my church on Sunday morning and David and I
drove to Dawson that afternoon.
David's fiancée had returned the engagement ring
two weeks earlier....days prior to a planned wedding. David was in a ..."I hate
all Women"...mentality. We had arrived at the Frank Comer home where we were to
have an early dinner when one of their very attractive daughters entered the
room. David melted...was speechless. Later, he informed me he had repented.
."Carl, that was the most beautiful girl I ever saw!!"
The week proved to be one of the most beautiful
and memorable of my life. Services began each morning at 8:00 am and were
well attended. The young people immediately took to David. Evening
services drew people from all denominations in the community.
And..the week presented opportunity for me to
visit with people I had not seen since 1939. (See "The Coal Oil Lamp"
story) I knocked on the door of Mamie Martin. I was aware that Jim had
died. She came to the screen door and I said, "Hello, Mamie." Mamie
replied..."I don't believe I know you." When I identified myself she bounded
through the door and gave me one of her big hugs." She told me how often she
had prayed for me during the war when she heard that I was with the Marines in
the Pacific. She introduced me to her grand daughter, Shirley...a most
beautiful sixteen year old.
And..there was a surprise meeting when David and
I were having dinner with Miss Kathleen Edwards. Beula Hopkins who had left
Dawson in the late 1930s to live in Detroit walked in. We recognized each other
simultaneously. Beula screamed, "Junior!" and I almost cried as we hugged for
the first time since I was a little boy.
And...I was invited to speak at the church in
Farmersville on Sunday afternoon. I suggested during the morning worship
service on Sunday morning that an invitation be given to the Farmersville church
to join in the evening service. Members of the congregation looked at each
other...no one spoke. I quickly asked for a vote. Someone made the motion, it
was seconded, and carried immediately .... without opposition.
The Farmersville Church was packed when David
and I arrived. Ladies, dressed in white, ushered us to seats of honor and the
service began. The choir sounded like something created in Heaven. I
learned, later, that the lady director had studied music in New York. The
doors were locked when I began to speak and not one soul moved in or out of the
sanctuary. At the close of the service I informed the congregation that they
were invited to attend the evening services at the Baptist church and that I
would appreciate their choir members occupying the Baptist choir loft and
presenting special music. They accepted.
Thirty minutes prior to service that evening,
members of the Farmersville Church began to arrive..dressed in their finest.
They took places all over the sanctuary rather than in a group. White
individuals were greeted with smiles and nods...most knew each other...and the
greetings were returned. Members of the Hubbard Baptist Church began to
arrive...canceling their service for the one in Dawson. The sanctuary
overflowed. The Farmersville Choir began the service with an electrifying and
rousing hymn which was followed by spirited congregational singing not often
found in Baptist churhes. The director sang immediately preceding the sermon
and her voice sounded like those heard at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Lonny Wells came forward when the invitation was
extended and made a public profession of faith in Christ. He requested to be
baptized that night. He had even brought a change of clothes with him. The
baptistery had been filled that afternoon to baptize young Gary Grice, grandson
of Aunt Ennis Matthews. Gary had made a decision earlier in the week.
The sanctuary lights were dimmed and, as the
Farmersville Choir sang softly, the congregation watched as each of the
candidates was lowered beneath...and..out of the water. The service had
been a glorious experience....long to be remembered.
Later than night, as David and I drove back to
Dallas, David wanted to know if blacks and whites had ever before worshiped
together in a church in Dawson. I confessed that I did not know. With that,
David remarked....that history just might have been made in Dawson that
night. Dawson had become integrated in the 1950s
.........several years prior to the real surge
of integration in America. And it had happened by accident....and without a
ripple of conflict.
Almost forty years later, a Memorial Service
was held at The Spring Hill
Cemetery to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the first burial there. The
"Roll Call," presented by two descendents...one white, one black....announced
the name of every known person buried there...black or white. During pauses the
integrated spectators, led by a black minister, sang verses of "When the Roll is
Called up Yonder."
A wreath was placed on the grave of Sarah Webb
1826-1848....by a new friend
A wreath was placed on the grave of Texas Ranger
Robert Harve Matthews 1814-1894, by a relative and two Texas Rangers
A wreath was placed on the grave of Dr George
Washington Hill by a relative.
And a few feet away....J. B. Porter and his
brother, Bernard Porter, both residents of Pelham,
placed a wreath on the grave of their ancestor...Squire Columbus Porter
????-1866.....a slave who had ....c1858....walked to Texas from Tennessee.
Race relations have improved so very much over
the last one hundred years. Perfection has not yet been achieved, but the
ugly head of prejudice.....is raised more and more infrequently as reasonable
citizens of America...black or white.....pursue harmonious relationships. We
cannot change what happened in the past...but we can make a difference