The WPA Federal Writer's Project Guide Book on Denton
by Mike Cochran
In 1935, The Federal Writers Project, an ambitious federal work program was established under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration to create jobs for unemployed "white collar" workers. The primary goal of this project was to produce a comprehensive series of guide books about America. As Harry L. Hopkins, national administrator of the W.P.A. announced, the Guides were "to present to the American people a portrait of America - its history, folklore, scenery, cultural backgrounds, social and economic trends, and racial factors." (emphasis mine)
There were state guides produced for all the forty-eight states as well as numerous city guides. In keeping with the philosophy of the program, no federal money was to be spent in printing these prepared guides, but they were available for private enterprises to publish as they saw fit. Some of the city/county guides for the more populated urban areas were produced, but many, from the less populated, or less tourist oriented locales were never published.
The WPA Guide and History of Denton County produced under this program was never published. In the backup correspondence concerning this WPA guide to Denton, are several letters pertaining to race relations here in 1938. The first letter gives a general overview of the status of African-Americans at the time. The second letter specifically refers to the Quakertown relocation and is revealing in its portrayal of the prevailing attitudes towards the move at the time it was written.
One interesting note in this letter is the hearsay report that an implicit agreement had been in effect to move Quakertown since 1902. The statements of Maddox and Hinkle about the "agreeable" circumstances of the Quakertown move need to be read with skepticism. According to correspondence from the Federal Writer's Project, there was a tendency for African-Americans of the period to tell white Project interviewers "what they wanted to hear."
These documents, from the files at the Barker Texas History Collection at the University of Texas in Austin give us valuable insight into the public perceptions of the Quakertown relocation only 15 years after the event.
Race Relations in Denton
For Denton Guidebook (Special questions, letter of December 7, 1938) B.F. Johnson Question 23 - In some respect, the present status of the negro in Denton might be a matter of personal opinion. The population is segregated and has many of its own activities. The situation might be summed up by saying that socially, they are independent and have complete latitude as to this part of their living.
But on the economic and commercial side, they are rather strongly dependent upon the white section of town. The business establishments, with few exceptions, are rather limited and inadequate. They have a grocery store or two, two undertaking establishments, two or three small cafes, barber shops, etc., but no large or complete stores in their section of town. They have a playground near the school which serves both their school and community needs in most respects. It is used at all seasons of the year for the various athletic activities. The colored people do not use the same playground as the whites. They do not use the City Park for recreation and games. There is no municipal swimming pool in Denton for either whites or colored. There is a private pool for the whites which may be used for a fee.
The negroes have a public school, including both the grade and high school divisions. The high school is a four-year accredited one and offers vocational training and home economics. A new vocational building was erected on the campus in the fall of 1938 and relieved a crowded condition which had existed for some time. The school has experienced both material and academic growth within the last quarter of a century. The present principal, Fred Moore, has been connected with the school for 25 consecutive years. He has an unusual school and has been closely identified with the school life of his community during the time.
The colored folk have five churches - two Methodist, two Baptist and one Holiness which serve their spiritual needs. Public programs are held either in the churches or the school building. These people are usually very appreciative of any opportunity or gain which comes their way. They do well under the circumstances and, on the whole, are law abiding and peaceful. For employment they are largely dependent upon the white people in and around Denton. Many of the women and older girls work as cooks and maids in the homes of whites. The colored men work at whatever employment is available. The situation in this respect is typical of what might be expected in most any county seat in this part of the state.
For Denton Guidebook (Special questions, letter of December 7,1938) B.F. Johnson Question 22 The removal of the negroes from the City Park area was not such a large undertaking as might at first seem. It was a gradual process. The city bought the real estate and property rights of the colored people and gave them plenty of time to move to the east and southeast part of the city. It was generally understood that they were to move within about a certain - a year or two. Therefore no undue hardship was imposed upon them in making the move.
The areas which the colored people occupied (the present site of the City Park) was about half-way between The Texas State College for Women and the main business part of the city. It was generally understood when this college was located at Denton in 1902, that the city would eventually move the colored people from the area between the college campus and town. Consequently, in April, 1921, the city voted $75,000 in bonds to finance the move by purchasing the real estate and property of the colored people concerned. No friction from the move has been reported it is said. Two old time colored men - Bill Maddox and Charlie Hinkle - inform the writer that the move was agreeable and smoothly executed so far as they know and believe. They report no dissatisfaction among their group.