In Market: History in our backyard

It’s easy to learn about the Crisis in Mansfield because the University of North Texas has set up a website with loads of documents, interviews and information on the event:

Even easier, Rev. K. P. Tatum, has set up a way to get to it: also works.

The Mansfield Historical Society’s exhibit will be growing throughout the year.

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Remember Little Rock?

Then remember Mansfield

Next year will be the 60th anniversary of desegregation of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. No doubt there will be plenty of events surrounding that very public, very tense and very historic situation that resulted, eventually, in the integration of Little Rock schools.

But why wait to commemorate that event, when another event closer to home is seeing its 60th anniversary? It’s little remembered, but it should be and if the Mansfield Historical Society has its way, it will be.

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That event is the push to integrate the schools in Mansfield, which began before Little Rock. It all boiled over on Aug. 30, 1956, when the schools opened and racial tensions, prejudices and hatred spilled out into the open.

In 1956, if you were an African-American student living in Mansfield or anywhere in Tarrant County, you were forced to attend an all-black school, I.M. Terrell High School, in Fort Worth. Terrell was a great school, but for black students in Mansfield, it was at least an hour’s trek.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling striking down racial desegregation in schools, the door was open for integration but separation remained the rule in Mansfield two years later.

Three African-American students brought a suit with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. As a result, Mansfield, a town of just over 900 then, became the first school district in the state ordered by a federal court to desegregate.

While the school board approved the measure to desegregate, the mayor and police chief of Mansfield voiced their opposition to the plan. As did the governor of Texas, Alan D. Shivers. When school began on Aug. 30, the mayor and police chief joined with other white residents, estimated at about 300, in front of Mansfield High School to prevent the enrollment.

It was the early days of television news, but WBAP-TV, now NBC 5, was there and captured images of Deacon T.M. Moody leading a group of black teenagers including his nephew, Floyd Moody, to enroll in Mansfield High School.

They were met by the crowd, some with shotguns, some with dogs. Many hung effigies of black people on trees, flagpoles and at the entrance to Mansfield High School. The governor sent Texas Rangers to the site to keep order, but not to help with the court-ordered integration.

The three students ended up going to Terrell and the Mansfield school district did not integrate until 1965.

On Aug. 30 of this year, the Fort Worth Tarrant Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Mansfield Historical Society and the Bowtie Boys Mentoring Program partnered to honor the men and women who challenged the segregation of public schools in Mansfield on that day 60 years ago.

Among those in attendance were Clifford Davis, the attorney who filed the petition, and Vivian Wells, his secretary who typed the petition and whose son was one of the Mansfield Three. Wells, who raised 10 kids, was one of, if not the first, African-American real estate agents in Fort Worth. Floyd Moody, one of the students and now a pastor at Mount Horum Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth, was there. Also attending was Rev. K.P. Tatum of the Friendship Rock Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Tatum didn’t learn about the Mansfield Crisis until he heard about it from a history professor at TCU.

Since then, several members of the Mansfield community as well as others in the general North Texas African-American community have been working to remember that event and honor those involved. At the commemoration of the events of Aug. 30 last week, many of the attendees discussed the impact of that day.

“‘Where do you think the hatred went?’ – I get asked that question a lot,” said Floyd Moody. “It didn’t just disappear. It got pushed down.”

Tatum believes much of the reaction was caused by fear.

“Fear is ‘false evidence appearing real,’” he said. “In 1956 it was driven by fear and fear brought us a whole bunch of others things because it was ‘false evidence appearing real.’”

Currently there is an exhibit at the Mansfield Historical Society’s museum that details the Mansfield Crisis. You can view a copy of the original petition, typed by Wells – typed, she notes, not on a laptop, a computer or even an electric typewriter. “It was a standard Remington,” she notes. There are plenty of photos of the confrontation, the effigies and, as Tatum says, the fear.

But talking about – and confronting – the events of that day, when hatred was a visceral, living, breathing animal slouching with menace through the streets of Mansfield, is a good thing, says Tatum.

“We are in this together,” he said. “I promise you when we communicate with each other, when we get to know to each other, we can sure get along with each other.”