"Freedman Town 2.0": A Nuanced Perspective on Denton's African-American History

Recently opened at UNT on the Square, Freedmantown Town 2.0 is an interactive, augmented reality exhibition that gives visitors unique insights into Denton’s African-American history and community. The project, organized by Filmmaker Carla Carter, a professor of media arts at UNT, showcases interactive photographs and interviews from former residents of Quakertown and Freedmantown (located in southeast Denton).  

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“As a documentary filmmaker,” Carter said. “I believe in using media as a form of activism and as a way to share people’s stories that aren’t usually highlighted in mainstream media.”

The stories showcased in Freedmantown 2.0 focus on the African American community of Quakertown, which was founded in Denton in the 1880s and forcibly relocated in 1921 to southeast Denton, or Freedmantown, when the city voted to disband the community in favor of creating a park. The location is now Quakertown Park, which was renamed in 2004 to honor the former residents, and is the location of many community events including the annual Arts and Jazz festival.

“We call it Freedmantown 2.0 because they started there (in Freedmantown), migrated North (to Quakertown), and then came back,” Carter said. “That community is now surrounded by things that aren’t free—the jail, the juvenile detention center, the bail bonds, the court. It’s surrounded by things that don’t represent freedom.”

While most sources on Quakertown simply state the citizens were peacefully relocated, the underlying implications of racial discrimination, redlining during the Jim Crow era, and segregation in the early 20th century cannot be overstated.

Carter seeks to address this blind spot in the historical imagination of Denton.

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“The biggest gap is not just about Quakertown but the black community’s history-- the history told from their perspectives. It’s important that their voices are heard, and their perspectives are shared, honored, and respected,” Carter said.

Although the history of Quakertown, and the forced migration of this self-reliant African-American community may seem bleak, the interviews presented in Freedmantown 2.0 lend more nuances by presenting the voices of the citizens themselves. “A lot of the older residents didn’t want to re-hash the negative things that happened,” Carter said. “Instead, they wanted to talk about things they did to make it better. A lot of stories are not about what happened to the black community but what the black community did to improve and their activism.”

The exhibition is unique in its use of an augmented reality app called Aurasma, which can be downloaded on Apple and Android phones or used via iPads located at the gallery. When a visitor points their device at a picture on the wall containing an interactive icon, a video interview will appear overlaid onto the still image.

“Having something like augmented reality where you can simply walk up and use your phone to get the history of a community is pretty powerful,” said George Starks, a student in Carter’s class who helped create the exhibition. “Young people automatically pick up on that kind of thing- it’s like Pokemon Go. It’s a great way to introduce the history of our community.”

Across the square from the exhibition stands another, more well-known and hotly debated piece of Denton’s history: the Confederate monument. Erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1918, a few years before Quakertown’s forced relocation, the statue represents only one aspect of Denton’s past.

“It is ironic that this exhibit is happening across the street from the confederate monument. Something like this can help provide balance and show that there are so many other pieces of history here,” Carter said.

The exhibition will run through February 3rd, with a special panel discussion, some of the interviewees and students involved in creating the project on January 11th and January 18th at 6:30 p.m. Admission to the exhibition is free.

A more detailed history of Quakertown can be found here: http://dentonhistory.net/page32/Quaker.html


Header image layout designed by Holden Foster