Confronting Urban Design’s Diversity Crisis With a Return to Black Places

By | April 17, 2017

To find Shankleville, Texas, you have to know what you’re looking for.

The usual makings of a small town are nowhere to be found: no welcome sign with crests from the Lions Club, no post office. Shankleville isn’t technically a town — it won’t show up on a map. But hundreds of people live there, and thousands more are connected to it through their families, many of whom have lived there for generations. Shankleville is a black settlement, established just after emancipation by Jim and Winnie Shankle, who had been enslaved on a nearby plantation.

The story goes that Jim and Winnie were enslaved in Mississippi when they fell in love and got married. Soon after, Winnie was sold to a Texas slaveholder, and the two were separated. Determined to reunite, Jim escaped. He crossed three state lines and forded four major rivers until he made it to Texas. One day, Jim found Winnie collecting water from a stream in the woods near the plantation where she worked. For a time, he hid there, and she would sneak food to him. Eventually, though, the two realized this was unsustainable. They asked the owner of Winnie’s plantation to purchase Jim. He agreed and the couple went on to have six children. Emancipation would free the family in 1865 and soon after, Winnie and Jim began to acquire land in the woods around the stream where they had reunited years earlier. Eventually, the Shankles owned over 4,000 acres, and developed a robust economy in the area, including a gristmill, sugar plantations and a college. This was Shankleville. (Next City)

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