Crowdfunded African American Sandhills Settlement Marker Dedication will be April 11, 2016

St. James A.ME. Church at DeWitty, Nebraska. History Nebraska RG2301-1-3

 

Nebraska’s longest-lasting African American rural settlement will receive a state historical marker thanks to a coalition of descendants, the Cherry County Historical  Society, and author Stew Magnuson (The Last American Highway). The group recently crowdfunded a roadside marker  for DeWitty (later known as Audacious), raising $5,100 online.

A dedication ceremony is scheduled for Monday, April 11, 2016, at 10 a.m. The marker is near the Brownlee turnoff road along U.S. Highway 83 in Cherry County. Descendants of the homesteaders from all over the country are expected to attend. Speakers at the ceremony will include a Cherry County Historical Society representative, Magnuson, Catherine Meehan Blount, a granddaughter of Charles and Hester Meehan — an interracial couple, who were among the early DeWitty settlers — and Joyceann Gray, a niece of Goldie Walker Hayes, a legendary teacher who remained in the county to work in one-room schoolhouses long after the settlement disappeared. The invocation will be conducted by the Reverend Khadijah Matin, also a niece of Walker Hayes. After the ceremony, Nebraska Humanities lecturer Vicki Harris will give a presentation about DeWitty at the Brownlee Community Hall, which will be followed by a potluck lunch.

“There are not many residents left in Brownlee and the surrounding ranches, but they are going all out to welcome the DeWitty descendants and the other celebrants,” said Magnuson. Magnuson said that Brownlee and DeWitty had a strong relationship. “I am glad that the marker mentions the close bond between the black settlers of DeWitty and the white residents of Brownlee,” Magnuson said. “The two communities were both really isolated and on their own in the depths of the Sandhills back then. Here we have the story of a mixed-race couple, integrated schools, neighbors helping each other when they needed it, and two communities coming together to celebrate the quintessential American holiday, Independence Day. This should be remembered.”

The NSHS approved a historical marker  for DeWitty, which  was established in 1907 along the North Loup River ten miles northwest of Brownlee. A group of homesteaders took advantage of the Kinkaid Act of 1904, which  allowed settlers to claim 640 acres each (one square mile) in the thirty-seven counties comprising the Sandhills. In 1916 the town changed its name to Audacious. It had amenities such as a post office, general store, church, barber, and baseball team, plus rural schools for local children.

“The homesteaders of DeWitty were just that—audacious,” said Blount. “They were audacious for believing that the American dream belonged to them, too, and they were audacious for committing all they had to attain that dream.”

Audacious and its vicinity grew to about a hundred families by 1917, but like most Kinkaider settlements, it eventually faded due to drought and crop failures. The Sandhills proved unsuitable for farming. The last of the settlers sold their land and moved away by 1936. Today there is no physical trace that the town ever existed. The marker will change that.

In thanking supporters, the Cherry County Historical Society posted that the “most satisfying part was the diverse communities who got involved, such as the descendants of DeWitty, residents of Cherry County and Valentine, fans a of U.S. Route 83 page on Facebook, and history buffs from near and far.” Gray, who is also a great-granddaughter of DeWitty homesteaders William Walker and Charlotte Hatter, summed up why this project matters: “When we can clearly mark where our ancestors have been—and by name—we can ensure the full story will be told and we can then better understand the purpose of our journey.”

Learn more about the Nebraska Historical Marker Program

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

The Church Built Top to Bottom – St. Mary Magdalene Church in Omaha

The Church Built Top to Bottom – St. Mary Magdalene Church in Omaha

FDR at the Martin Bomber Plant

FDR at the Martin Bomber Plant

Martin Luther King Jr. Visit to Lincoln

Martin Luther King Jr. Visit to Lincoln

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.
Nebraska Collections
History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.
Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.