From Slavery To Emancipation To Freedmen Settlements In East Texas

Feb 28, 2019

THE UPSHAWS OF COUNTY LINE - Freedmen Settlements like County Line grew out of newly emancipated slaves who wished to own a piece of the American dream - a place to call home.
Credit Courtesy: Richard Orton

FREEDMEN SETTLEMENTS -  As Black History Month concludes today, we have a story about Freedmen Settlements. These were independent rural communities of African-American landowners that formed in the eastern half of Texas in the years after Emancipation.  Our reporter from Nacogdoches – Wynter Chauvin shares more on this topic.

After emancipation in 1865,  freedmen settlements dotted Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas with names such as Little Egypt, Deep Ellum, Weeping Mary and Mossville. These settlements were often isolated, and places where former slaves and their children, sheltered from a white Jim Crow world, would farm, run stores, banks, post offices, schools and churches.  In short, live normal 19th and 20th century lives.

One Freedmen’s settlement still in existence is County Line, an unincorporated community near the East Texas towns of Cushing and Douglas.  Around 1870, the three Upshaw brothers, Guss, Jim and Felix, freed slaves from Tennessee moved to a wilderness area along the Angelina River bottom on the county line between Nacogdoches and Cherokee counties. The brothers, several years after moving there and improving the land, braved the white courthouse to get formal titles to their lands. Owning land was essential,  at least somewhat, to being free of white domination.

I met with “Dondo” Upshaw third generation County line resident at the new version of his “Uncle Doug’s” County Line store now in located in Douglas.  Dondo is the pitmaster there and you can hear the barbeque pits in the background.

Anthony "Dondo" Upshaw is third generation descendent from the original Upshaw brothers who established County Line community near Cherokee and Nacogdoches Counties.
Credit Courtesy: Wynter Chauvin, Red River Radio News

"County Line. I was basically raised there, my family’s there." explained Upshaw. "When I was growing up there were quite a few, cause there were more families there. You know but as time went on, we got older. Some of them said, well, first chance they got out of there. Its not ever gonna be like it was before where there were crops, people had crops there. You could see across the community, see all the different houses. And different families outside doin’ their daily chores. And kids, you could hear em’…you know cause sound could travel but now the trees and all have grown. You know, you can’t hardly see…you can’t see across the community like you used to."

Dondo’s cousin,  Elia Upshaw Ali is a fourth generation County Line resident. Elia feels it is important that the history of the Freedmen’s Settlements should not be lost. 

Mural on wall of Uncle Doug's Market depicting a scene from an earlier time near County Line community in East Texas.
Credit Courtesy: Uncle Doug's Market Facebook

"It’s important for people to know that places like that existed because it’s an American story, you know" Ali explained.  "It’s a truly the ideal American story, pulling yourself up and being able to make a better place for your kids and yourself. I think that’s great and I think a lot of people need to know about it."