City seeks to laud former Black business district

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The area near the intersection of Walnut and Mulberry streets in Sherman could be the future site of a historical marker recognizing the Black business district that was previously housed there.

Nearly a century ago, Sherman's Mulberry street was a home to a thrive hub of Black businesses. Now, the Sherman advocates and other partners are looking to preserve that part of the city's history and the events that led to its destruction.

The Black business district was destroyed in 1930 during race riots in downtown Sherman, and efforts currently are underway to hopefully have the district's former site immortalized with a historical marker through the state of Texas.

These efforts, which are in their infancy, started with conversations through the city's new cultural district and public art efforts. Officials stressed efforts are early on and nothing has been green lit.

"We are hoping to help the city prepare this marker application, and it acknowledges this piece of history and the very dynamic Black community that had been here," said Cary Wacker, representing the cultural district. "Hopefully, it will tie into how Sherman has become more racially integrated."

Just blocks from downtown Sherman, the site of the former Black business district could soon be recognized by the Texas Historical Commission after a proposal idea was formed by locals recently.

The efforts were spun off from conversations regarding the district's public art plan, which is expected to be presented to the public in the near future. The proposed plan will include public art and murals throughout downtown, including Mulberry Street.

The business district is one of the parts of the history that organizers would like to highlight.

What happened to the district?

By 1930, a thriving community of Black-owned businesses and other establishments had developed in a three-block corridor along Mulberry, Wacker said. The district had a wide variety of services and businesses including a performance hall, law practice, dentist's office and even undertaker.

This all changed overnight in 1930 following the lynching of George Hughes, a Black man who was accused of sexually assaulting his employer's wife. The riots that ensued during Hughes' trial led to the destruction of the Grayson County Courthouse and many of the Black-owned businesses on Mulberry.

Efforts are being made to recognize George Hughes, right, who was killed and lynched in the Sherman riot of 1930.

Going forward

In the research phase of the recognition project, an Austin College student was brought onboard during her January term, but no other real progress has been made.

Sherman Assistant City Manager Terrence Steele said the topics of race and justice have been renewed over the past year in response to high-profile protests against the killing of Black men and women by police. The death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, sparked many of the recent protests.

"There are a lot more thought about these kind of things than there used to be," Steele said.

The historic marker is only one of the efforts to recognize this part of Grayson County's history. A separate organizer is pushing for a historic marker to be placed at the Grayson County Courthouse in recognition of the lynching prior to the destruction of the business district.

Grayson County Courthouse 1887

Steele said other efforts are focused on working with the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial includes a display with the names of counties where lynchings have occurred. Any county with a lynching can request a replica of its part of the memorial to be erected back home.

This project and time itself can perhaps lead to some healing for the descendants of those business owners who lost everything in 1930. Still today, some wounds still hurt, Steele said.

"What we are trying to do is recognize there was a vibrant Black business community in Sherman prior to the 1930 lynching," he said. "As a means of trying to bring unity, we are trying to designate the location with a historical marker."

Steele arrived in Sherman 25 years ago and immediately started looking for the city's Black owned businesses. That search came up short.

"I was told they got burned down in 1930, and it didn't get reestablished," Steele said. "In Sherman, how many Black businesses can you think of off the top of your head? I will tell you what that number would come to. It is non-existent."

Still, there are some who still seek to bring unity to the community and cross that divide. Even decades after the death of Hughes, Steele said members of the church community have worked to help the Hughes family heals the scars of 1930.

The under pass located along Mulberry Street in Sherman was the former site of the Black business district within the city.