Note: This interview contains some graphic descriptions that may be uncomfortable.
In 1908, a ceremonial arch lit up downtown Dallas at the corner of Main and Akard streets. It was built by the Elks Club, with a gaudy sign that proclaimed “Welcome Visitors.” It became an iconic symbol of an ambitious city.
By 1910, it became a different kind of symbol when a mob hung the body of a black man named Allen Brooks from the arch.
Brooks worked as a domestic laborer and was employed by the Bivins family. He was accused of assaulting and attempting to rape the family’s 2-year-old daughter.
During his trial, a mob of several thousand people interrupted the arraignment at the Old Red Courthouse, and dragged him to the second floor of the building. They hung Brooks from the second-story window. He’s eventually taken to the arch built by the Elks Club.
Christopher Dowdy, an administrator at Paul Quinn College, revisited this event at a website called Dallas Untold.
Interview Highlights: Christopher Dowdy…
On the fate of the Elks Club arch:
“The arch is dismantled by the summer of 1911 and they rebuild it at Fair Park. They use it for a couple of years at the State Fair [of Texas] as a sort of pavilion. It’s not really what you do with a symbol of intense shame – just move it to the fairgrounds. And then it just passes out of the record.”
On the "lynching postcards" he discovered in his research:
“This postcard is in the collection ‘Without Sanctuary’ that James Allen published in 2001 and it’s a collection of over 100 of these souvenir lynching photographs. The postcards were a form of mass communication at the turn of the century. Lynching souvenir photographs were part of that. The way these were created would be a photo taken and developed the same day on photographic paper that would itself be a postcard … and what they testify to is the way that memory is reproduced and traded as souvenirs of mass entertainment.”
On what surprised him in his research:
“I was alarmed at how little was said about [the lynching] in the actual historical record. There’s outrage in
the black press about it, there’s discussion in The Dallas Morning News and elsewhere about how it would be much better if we had rapid executions so we wouldn’t have to resort to this sort of thing. There’s debate about whether the arch is gaudy or not, and none of it is connected to a sense of pain or shame about a legacy or racism or oppression.
I read all the city council minutes of February of that year to when the arch was dismantled and they never talk about the lynching. They never talk about it. The idea that it would’ve essentially been part of the backdrop or the fabric of the way people assumed the world worked, I think that’s the most startling thing. The places where they’re silencing the record and what that says about people’s assumptions.”
Christopher Dowdy spent five years researching the story of Allen Brooks for Dallas Untold. He’s an administrator at Paul Quinn College.