Cold, dreary weather on Saturday didn't hinder a crowd of more than 200 from attending a historical milestone for Anderson County and the state of Texas.
In a two-hour ceremony, people gathered at the tiny Slocum High School auditorium to listen to guests and descendants of the victims of the Slocum Massacre acknowledge a history that once was unspoken.
"There are more than 16,000 standing historical markers in the state of Texas," E.R. Bills, author of The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas, said.
"The Slocum Massacre historical marker will apparently be the first one to specifically acknowledge racial violence against African Americans."
Bills cited the 1917 Houston riots, 1919 Longview race riots, 1906 Brownsville raid, 1886 racial expulsions in Comanche County and the 1930 riots in Sherman - all which have no Texas historical markers.
By the time the crowd moved to a site on the one-lane State Highway 294, near where the massacre occurred, Constance Hollie-Jawaid, a descendant of victim Alex Holley and vocal advocate for the "remember Slocum movement," was filled with joy.
"I thought just the first couple of rows would be filled, but it was standing room only," she said.
The event brought back descendants who'd long left, and it evoked memories of living in fear.
Carolyn Patterson, 50, of Dallas, traveled to Slocum for the first time since she left more than 30 years ago.
Ms. Patterson's grandparents owned land in Slocum in 1910, and the family still does today.
Her grandparents would tell stories about those who tried to flee but died. She said they detailed victims running to a creek and being attacked by alligators.
"We heard all kinds of stories," she said. "We know what happened."
While the massacre occurred decades before she was born, Ms. Patterson said her family was fearful for their children's lives during integration.
"They'd come in the yard and pray, because they didn't think we'd come back from school," she said.
Her mother, Henri Lee Patterson, 90, didn't believe she'd see the day a historical marker would acknowledge what happened more than 105 years ago. She, too, was afraid for her children.
"I was scared they may do it again," she said of the massacre. "Most people around here were afraid, too."
Carolyn Patterson, who is related to the Hollies, said growing up in Slocum deeply impacted her.
"It made me more of a humble person," she said. "It made me a more caring person, because I was able to see both sides. I went to school with the people whose family were the murderers, and I had family members who were murdered."
COMING TO LIGHT
Black and white community members listened to the retelling of the history Saturday, which was also celebrated with a praise dance performance and singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
Descendants recited the names of the eight officially recognized victims - Cleveland Larkin, Alex Holley, Sam Baker, Dick Wilson, Jeff Wilson, Ben Dancer, John Hays and Will Burly - while releasing black balloons. Their names are included on the marker.
The historical marker isn't the end of the movement, Mrs. Hollie-Jawaid said. They'd like to find suspected mass graves to ensure proper burials for victims. Officials and descendent accounts estimate that at least 200 people were killed.
Mrs. Hollie-Jawaid along, with Bills, have written a screenplay about the massacre and have applied to the Texas Historical Commission to place a marker in Houston County, where the 1910 events also spilled into.
In addition, she wants the state to follow the lead of others, such as Florida following the Rosewood Massacre, to set up a scholarship fund for descendants of the victims.
"I believe that education is the great divide," she said. "When they took these people's land, it changed their economic trajectory."
Family members aren't the only people who've been captivated by what happened in Slocum.
Brenda Allen, 65, traveled from Longview to attend the ceremonies. She'd read about Slocum in her book club and was surprised to hear the details. She connected with Bills, who spoke at one her book club events.
"I'd been here 65 years, and I had no idea," she said. "I got caught up in it."
She said she's hoping that the Slocum Massacre historical marker will propel other similar histories to come to light.
"That gives me hope for East Texas," she said.
Scott McFarland, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University in New York City, was intrigued by the story about a year ago. He went on to create a website which serves as a historical catalogue for the events. He did so with a grant from the school's History in Action Program, which is funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the American Historical Association.
"It was inspiring for me and I wanted to do something," he said.
The goal, he said, is to encourage schools to include what happened in Slocum in textbooks and in curriculum.
"Ultimately, the high schools and colleges, will get to a point where history can no longer be hidden or cast aside," he said to applause. "The fact that the Slocum Massacre is not in any textbooks or curriculum guides makes it much more difficult for teachers to present this history to their students."
Dr. Malachi D. Crawford, assistant director of African American studies at the University of Houston, explained the historical context of the Slocum Massacre.
Between 1890 to 1920, he said, African Americans created higher learning institutions, became landowners and developed middle class status, all while being challenged, lynched or ran off of their properties.
He noted the importance of integrity in the face of racial violence. He pointed out the Anderson County officials who attempted to secure justice for those responsible for the killings and also of the integrity of the landowners who fled.
"To have something taken from you and then to have to start over at zero … and then to have to go forward without being bitter ..." he began. "People look at you without all of your dispossessions, without anything. And have the nerve to say you don't have anything, because you're lazy. Integrity is the ability to stand there and to go forward."
When Bills penned his book in 2014, he went a step further. He connected with Mrs. Hollie-Jawaid to help piece together the events to petition for a historical marker.
At the ceremony, he admitted the two didn't have much confidence in securing a marker at first.
Months of research and petitioning Anderson County officials often proved to be frustrating and unfruitful, he said.
Former Anderson County Historical Commission Chairman Jimmy Ray Odom, who spoke at the ceremony, reiterated that the facts of what happened had to be proven.
"Working on this one was so difficult because there were so many newspapers that had to be looked at," he said.
Throughout the process, Bills said both black and white people questioned his motives. Mrs. Hollie-Jawaid now refers to him as her "partner in justice."
"Neither white shame, nor my own success, would go with me in trying to place the pieces together of what really happened with the Slocum Massacre," Bills said. "I think my primary motive was hope - hope for a better Texas. Hope for a better America. This is my home. This is where I live. I think we'd all like it to be better."
To learn more about the 1910 Slocum Massacre, visit www.teachslocummassacre.org