Bear Creek museum holds memories of black history on Juneteenth




Posted on June 19, 2012 at 7:14 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 19 at 7:14 PM

IRVING — Some history is worth preserving, and in the Bear Creek neighborhood of Irving, they're making sure it is.

Bear Creek is the oldest black community in Dallas County. It's where African-Americans settled after learning they were freed from slavery in Texas.

That was June 19, 1865, two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was also 147 years ago Tuesday — Juneteenth, as it's called.

"It's Independence Day for African-Americans in Texas," said Kevin Kendro, the director of archives for the City of Irving.

Kendro showed News 8 memories in the city's museums of the post-slavery era, located at 3925 Jackson Street.  As soon as you walk into one building, a talking, life-size wax figurine is holding a sign used in a protest at the State Fair of Texas that says, "Don't sell your pride for a segregated ride."

You learn the history of the struggle at the old Masonic Lodge #263. The 1920s building was not only the lodge for the local black Masons, but also served as the community center for the area, hosting proms, cotillions, and countless other functions for the 2,000 African-Americans in Bear Creek.

The building is preserved, and makes for a perfect history lesson.

"We wanted to teach residents the experience of segregation and the struggles of the civil rights movement," Kendro said.

The lodge museum has an original water fountain used by African-Americans back then with a "colored" sign hanging over it. There are even artifacts that date back to slavery.

"This is a yoke," Kendro said. "They strapped this wooden piece across [slaves'] backs with their hands chained, so they couldn't escape a plantation."

There are three museums in all that make up the Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center. Nearly 200 people toured them last weekend, when most African-Americans in the area celebrated Juneteenth.

The J.O. Davis House is the second museum that tells the story of the community. J.O. Davis was a beloved teacher who taught most Bear Creek residents in the 1920s how to read.

There are pictures of the Sowers School, where African-American children in Irving were forced to go, and photos of Jackie Townsell, the first female and black City Council member in Irving. Townsell is the namesake of the center.

You also find life-size wax figures that depict a special ceremony between a Buffalo Soldier and his bride standing before the chaplain.

And then there's a mysterious broom.

"Slaves couldn't marry in the church; it was illegal," Kendro explained. "So, they'd put a broom down and then the couple would hold hands and 'jump the broom' at the same time, and that would signify that they were married."

Things have changed in Bear Creek. The community no longer looks like a farm town.

"I think there's been a lot of progress," said Early Williams. "I am proud of this community."

She's been a resident for more than 60 years. There are many big brick homes, totally different from the small, wooden home she grew up in that had no running water or air conditioning.

"I moved into this home when I was seven years old," Williams said. "My dad purchased this property with three pigs. A lot of hard work went into this old home."

Williams is not selling her dad's home. She's also glad the City of Irving is preserving the Sam Green home, which housed a successful Bear Creek businessman in the 1920s and has an old refrigerator that used a block of ice for cooling power — another sign of history preserved.

Currently, the City of Irving only offers tours of the Bear Creek museums on the second Saturday of the month. But tour requests for other days can be made to the Parks Department by calling 972-721-2501.