Plans to recognize Sherman's former Black business district continue

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The area near the intersection of Walnut and Mulberry streets in Sherman could be the future site of a historical marker recognizing the Black business district that was previously housed there.
The area near the intersection of Walnut and Mulberry streets in Sherman could be the future site of a historical marker recognizing the Black business district that was previously housed there.

The former Black business district, along with Grayson County Courthouse, was destroyed during the Sherman riot of 1930. More than 91 years since the lynching of George Hughes and the razing of the district, Sherman may soon formalize plans for a historic marker recognizing the destruction of the city's Black business district during the riots of 1930.

More: Sherman continues work on memorial for 1930 riot, Black business district

The efforts to recognize the destruction of the business district come amid prolonged efforts to recognize the killing and lynching of George Hughes, who was accused of sexual assault, during the riots. In mid 2021, the city began work on forming a partnership with the Montgomery's Equal Justice Initiative to recognize the destruction of what had been a thriving district of Black-owned businesses.

The process to recognize the destruction of the business district started in mid-2021 when the city partnered with the Sherman Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the local NAACP chapter to explore options. This ultimately led to conversations with the Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

For several months, the EJI and a committee of local representatives have been discussing a proposed plaque that would outline the events leading to the fires. Through the conversations, Sherman Mayor David Plyler said the EJI sent a lengthy set of questions about the event and efforts to recognize it.

"With the ministerial alliance and NAACP, we are in a good place to put this together and have a spot where people can come and learn about these businesses and how Sherman was leading the way with the Black economy," Plyler said Wednesday. "It was a unique that the Sherman had that was unfortunately taken away from us."

In October, Plyler hoped to have formalized plans for the project completed within a month. However, a series of illnesses and the holidays led to delays. Initially, it was hoped that a formalized announcement could be made in time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but now it may be later in the year.

More: Author visits Sherman Museum, shares story of Sherman riot of 1930

The work on the project is estimated to be about 40 percent complete at this time. Organizers are currently working on drafting what will ultimately be displayed on the plaque once it is put up.

"We are to the point where we are ready to work on the language on the plaque itself. We may go back and forth with them for a while," Plyler said. "It can take up to a year, but we are hoping that because of the research and the information we have submitted that we can shorten that time."

While the focus is currently on the plaque, Plyler said organizers hope to expand this recognition through the partnership with EJI. Future efforts could include scholarship opportunities through the NAACP and access to the EJI's travelling exhibits.

While progress to create a plaque recognizing the event has been slow, Plyler said he hopes to see movement in the efforts in the coming year.

1930 and moving forward

The efforts to recognize the events of 1930 revolve around the killing George Hughes, a Black farmhand who was accused of sexually assaulting his employers wife following a payment dispute. During his trial, a mob formed around the Grayson County Courthouse and attempted to gain access to the courtroom. During the ensuing riot, the courthouse was set ablaze and efforts to extinguish the fire were subverted by the crowd.

More: City seeks to laud former Black business district

Once the blaze was contained, the crowd extracted the body of Hughes, who took shelter in a metal vault within the courthouse. The corpse was then dragged to nearby Mulberry Street where it was hanged from a tree, and a bonfire was started beneath it.

Efforts are being made to recognize George Hughes, right, who was killed and lynched in the Sherman riot of 1930.
Efforts are being made to recognize George Hughes, right, who was killed and lynched in the Sherman riot of 1930.

The rioting continued following the lynching as the mob turned its attention to the nearby 200 block of Mulberry, the home of many black-owned businesses. Many of these buildings were set on fire and destroyed before peace could be restored days later by the National Guard.

At the time of the riot, the black business district was home to more than a dozen businesses including law offices, multiple barbers, a funeral parlor and other shops. This was fairly unique for its time as many Black workers remained mostly in working-class professions, Historian Melissa Thiel said.

"In the Jim Crowe South, to have Black lawyers and Black Doctors, civil rights attorneys, undertakers, it was a business-class area," she said. "A lot of the Black workers at the time at the time were working class. They were farm laborers like George Hughes. So, to have a business class here was notable. Not all cities had that."

More: Approved: Commissioners to allow placement of historic marker to recognize courthouse burning, 1930 riot

The riot and subsequent destruction of property has been compared to the Tulsa Race Massacre nearly a decade prior, but Thiel said the Tulsa event was much larger in scope and involved significantly more loss of life, injuries and destruction. At the time, the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa had gained recognition as the "Black Wall Street" due to its scope and size.

However, Thiel said the events share a commonality as they both were originated with accusations of a Black man assaulting a white woman.

"They sent a message in Tulsa: we are going to destroy everything you worked for and then you are going to have to leave," she said. "So, it is eerily similar on that scale."

More: Learning from the past: Community commemorates 91st anniversary of George Hughes lynching

This article originally appeared on Herald Democrat: Plans to recognize Sherman's former Black business district continue

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