Grayson County appoints new committee to consider recognition of 1930 lynching, riot
After more than six months of requests, Grayson County Commissioners have appointed a committee to consider ways to recognize the 1930 lynching of George Hughes and the burning of Grayson County Courthouse and Sherman's Black business district that followed.
The announcement of the new committee comes after more than a year of work by an another committee of citizens to get the event recognized with a state historic marker. However, these requests were met with silence from the commissioners until now.
"There have been groups and individuals, both local and out-of-county, involved in this conversation," County Judge Bill Magers said Tuesday. "They have often shared a broad, and sometimes conflicting opinion and/or perspective about these historical events.
"I have pledged to work with the local citizens who are interested in this matter to help facilitate thoughtful consideration of all viewpoints, ideas and historical data."
Since this spring, representatives with the 1930 Sherman Riot Historical Marker Committee have regularly requested that the commission vote on allowing a historic marker recognizing the killing of Hughes be placed on the grounds of the Grayson County Courthouse. Hughes, a Black farmhand who was accused of sexual assault in 1930 was killed by a mob. The situation escalated to the point where members of the mob burned the courthouse down with Hughes still inside.
Hughes' corpse was then pulled from a metal vault inside the remains of the building and dragged through the streets of Sherman before it was hanged from a tree near present-day Mulberry Street where a bonfire was set. The riot led to the burning of Sherman's nearby Black business district.
Tuesday's agenda item did not explicitly state what commissioners would speak about and only referred to the item as an "update on request regarding the memorialization of local historical events."
Sherman Mayor David Plyler asked to speak at the meeting regarding the events and efforts to recognize the event and to find a way to record it in a way that is respectful.
"What we are proposing is to form a citizen's group to look into a historical marker, a location, and how we can do it respectfully, and that is historically accurate to depict the events of 1930 that happened here in the city of Sherman," Plyler said.
Plyler said he was moved to speak before the commission following talks with several citizens of Sherman, including descendants of people affected by the riots. A common theme from these conversations was a need for closure that can only come from recognizing the event, he said.
The committee will be made up of 15 members of the community including three members of the Sherman City Council, including Plyler, representatives from multiple churches and other community members alongside Magers himself.
Possible outcomes from the committee discussions could call for a marker to be placed at the courthouse, one at the site of the former Black business district, or both, Plyler said.
The committee will be chaired by Grayson County Branch of the NAACP President Al Hambrick and former U.S. Attorney Joe Brown.
Hambrick previously worked with the group behind the historical marker request, acting as a speaker during a town hall meeting and forum over the summer. Hambrick said he was asked to serve on the committee by Magers.
Hambrick also said it is important that events like the riot be recognized as it allows both current and future generations to learn about events that have shaped the city and community.
"History itself is important," he said. "I think that a reflection back — a look back — helps us to understand how all that we are a part of now arrived and how we are in the situations that we are in."
The fact that county commissioners allowed the discussion today, and the appointment of the committee, Hambrick said shows signs that the effort is moving forward.
Despite efforts moving forward, the announcement of the committee was met with some skepticism and frustration from the 1930 Sherman Riot Historical Marker Committee.
Local historian Melissa Thiel started the recent efforts to recognize Hughes' death in 2020 following the killing of multiple Black men and women while in police custody. Her initial findings and request for a state historic marker were presented, and eventually passed through the Grayson County Historical Commission.
For several months, members of the group, including Thiel, requested that county commissioners vote on allowing the marker to be placed on county property. However, no vote ever occurred, and the request was never placed on the agenda.
"(The local historical commission) approved it and said it meets the requirements," Thiel said. "Now it has come before the judge and commissioners, and now we need another committee?"
Thiel expressed frustration that no one from the community marker committee was asked to serve on the new county-appointed committee.
Following Tuesdays meeting, Kurt Cichowski, chairperson for the initial marker committee, asked if he could serve on the new group.
"This is the first time it was ever on the agenda, and we were not included," Thiel noted that it took one request by the mayor of Sherman, but 19 requests by her committee were ignored.
"This has been stonewalled and stonewalled, and today is just another stonewalling tactic," she said. "We have kicked the can down the road yet again."