Still no justice a century after massacre of towns Black residents
By April V. Taylor
When people think about Black massacres, the 1910 Slocum Massacre in Texas is not one that generally comes to mind, but descendents of the towns Black residents are still seeking justice more than one hundred years after the town’s Black residents were terrorized and murdered, many in broad daylight while working fields, seeking shelter in their homes, or attempting to flee. While it is still not clear exactly how many residents were murdered, what is clear is that Slocum is one more example of how towns, such as Rosewood and Tulsa, where successful, self-sufficient Black communities were subjected to terror attacks meant to maintain economic white supremacy.
While the official narrative of the Slocum massacre reports that between eight and 22 Blacks were killed, there is evidence that suggests that the number of Black residents killed was actually 10 times that amount. With not even a historical marker to designate the place where so many were murdered, descendants of those who were killed continue to fight for the story of Slocum to be remembered and honored.
Slocum lies around 100 miles east of Waco, and unlike the majority of communities in Texas in the early 20th century, Slocum was an unincorporated town that was predominately Black, with many of the towns Black citizens owning property, stores and other businesses.
The catalyst for erupting racial tensions in Slocum are attributed to a dispute between a white man and one of the town’s affluent Black citizens over a debt as well as tensions that arose when a regional road construction foreman chose to put a Black person in charge of overseeing local road improvements. Jim Spurger, a prominent white citizen took issue with this and began agitating local white residents starting rumors of plans for race riots and igniting white hysteria that eventually erupted in bloodshed on July 29th, 1910.
On the morning of July 29th, Spurger and hundreds of white citizens from all over the county arrived in Slocum armed with pistols, shotguns and rifles.
The group fired on three Black teenagers who were going to feed their cattle. Eighteen year old Cleveland Larkin was killed; 15-year-old Charlie Wilson was wounded, and 18-year-old Lusk Holly escaped but was shot at again and wounded later that day. The mob continued on their rampage shooting and killing 28-year-old Sam Baker in front of his house, as well as family members who arrived to take care of his body. The mob also killed 30-year-old John Hays and went on to kill many more, destroying property along the way.
Recalling the events the next day, Anderson County Sheriff William H. Black reported that phone lines were cut in an at-tempt to keep Black residents from reaching out for help. Black discussed the incident with The New York Times stating, “Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them. These Negroes have done no wrong that I can discover…They hunted the Negroes down like sheep.”
Oral history accounts of the descendants of survivors estimate that at least 200 people were killed in the massacre. Various reports and eyewitness accounts state that in addition to using mass graves to dump the bodies, mob members re-turned to cover up their crimes after the killing spree. E.R. Bills, who wrote the book entitled, The 1910 Slocum Massacre: An Act of Genocide in East Texas, states, “There were reports of unmarked graves where a dozen, 16,17, 18 bodies were covered up… There are several different theories of why it happened. Essentially it was racial expulsion. As Texas politician Jerry Sadler says it was pure and simple just a land grab.”
After Texas Rangers and the state militia arrive to stabilize the situation, the violence subsided, but the terror inflicted on the Black community caused many to make a mass exodus, leaving behind homes, property, businesses and personal connections to find a sense of security elsewhere. A grand jury was eventually convened in which nearly every remaining Slocum resident was subpoenaed. Grand Jury Judge, B.H. Gardner is quoted as referring to the massacre as, “a disgrace, not only to the county, but to the state.” He went on to state, “There is no justification for shooting men in the back, waylaying or killing them in their houses.”
Of the 11 men initially arrested for the massacre, seven were indicted, but after being moved to Harris County, none of the indictments were ever prosecuted. The property that had been abandoned by many of Slocum’s Black residents who fled in fear was absorbed and repurposed by the town’s white population. The land has never been recovered by its rightful owners, and the town’s demographics never recovered either; despite many of the communities around Slocum currently having a Black population ranging between 20 and 25 percent, Slocum’s Black population remains under seven percent.
Constance Hollie Jawaid, whose uncle and cousin were killed in the massacre, states, “My great grandfather was the primary landowner here in Slocum. He owned the only store here in Slocum, a dairy, a granary, 700 plus acres. It’s his son and cousin who were first shot here on Ioni Creek, Alex Holley and Lusk Holley.” Jawaid also states that even though her great grandfather survived, he could not go back to Slocum because his home, land and businesses had been taken. She re-ports, “They took my family’s legacy; they took the inheritance that my great grand-father worked for and built.”
Jawaid says that what hurts her the most is that no one has ever been held accountable for the bloodshed and destruction of property. No one was ever officially tried or convicted, and since Slocum has remained un-incorporated, the town has done nothing to officially acknowledge or apologize for the tragedy. The Texas state government did finally pass a resolution in 2011 acknowledging that the Slocum massacre did in fact happen, but family members do not feel this is nearly enough.
E.R. Bills and Jawaid have submitted an application to the Anderson County historic com-mission for a historical marker that would mark the location of the massacre. Jawaid says that she would also like, “to have re-turned to my family what is rightfully ours, what was taken illegally. To at least have the deaths of my family members honored.” Jawaid reports that more than anything, she wants the tragedy her family endured to never be forgotten and for generations to come to be told the truth about what happened in Slocum.