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Editorial: Uncomfortable history, especially, must be remembered

Some history we had rather not remember, or try to ignore that it ever happened. Other historical events — even 100 years after the fact — still arouse such consternation that even their mention leads to visceral emotions of fear and anger.

The Longview race riot of 1919 is one of those, and it has been so little discussed and documented over the years that historians cannot be exactly sure what happened. As each year passes, there is less and less chance we will ever know the full truth.

What we do know is that two mobs of white men attacked the home of a man who was suspected of writing a story for the Chicago Defender, a longtime newspaper reporting about our nation’s black community. The story had detailed the murder of Lemuel Walters. As the story goes, he was said to be romantically involved with a white woman from Kilgore.

The person the mob believe wrote the story was Samuel L. Jones, a Longview teacher who wrote part-time for several black periodicals. Jones said he did not write the story, but the crowd wasn’t buying it.

Jones was badly beaten and his house burned. Then other houses and a dance hall were torched by white mobs. There was one reported fatality: The father-in-law of the man who treated Jones was shot and killed.

It is likely others were killed and injured but, if so, their names were never reported. Obviously, broadly reporting the truth about such matters was frowned upon.

We have shared here only the barest of facts. A more complete rendering was published in stories in July 7 editions of the News-Journal, but even that account leaves many questions unanswered.

An incalculable number of lives were changed over the days of rioting and violence that July, even if no other murders were committed.

This is a sad story, to be sure, and one that must never be forgotten. It is almost certain that those tragedies we fail to keep at the top of our minds will someday be revisited upon us.

That must never be allowed to happen.

One idea that has been floated by historians is a state historical marker designating part of the area where the riots took place. We support that idea, but it hardly seems enough for such a destructive event, which changed and ruined lives.

Another idea is to collect and publicly document all the stories that have been told about this tragedy. That should be done now, before one more memory fades. We suspect there are tales of both bravery and horror that we have not been told and deserve to be heard.

The point is not to wallow in this regrettable past but to expose it fully and to learn from the mistakes that were made. We feel certain in saying no one alive today took part in the riots — that would require being well over 110 years old — so there is no individual to blame.

But the names of some who did bear responsibility, either directly or indirectly by failing to stop or denounce the terroristic attacks, are well known to us. They were the early leaders of our city.

We cannot change the past. But we can keep such violence from happening again. We should work, now, to do just that by remembering it as fully as possible.

Today's Bible verse

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Psalms 63:1

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