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
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
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.