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The Forgotten Tale of DeWitty: Black History of Nebraska

The Stuhr Museum held a reception for a great untold tale of 12 African American families who settled in northwest Nebraska.

They settled in a town called DeWitty — now called Audacious. It is a big part in African American history in Nebraska that no one knows about…yet.

Artes Johnson is the chair of the Descendants of DeWitty, and also the descendant of one of the 12 founders of DeWitty.

“It was the longest lasting settlement of black folks in Nebraska,” Johnson said.

Their journey starts in North Buston, Ontario. In 1880, they 12 families left and came to 160 acres of land in Overton, Neb. then quickly moved to Cherry County for 640 acres — calling their town DeWitty.

The town grew from there.

“At the end of it all, 180 families owned 40,000 acres around 1920,” Johnson said proudly. “For them to be out there in their own community and co-existing with folks around them peacefully and prospering, that’s the significance of this.”

Johnson is a descendant of William Parker Walker who used to make barrels for a living after escaping slavery.

“And he used that money to buy land so he could farm. He made money on the side helping Harriet Tubman rescue black people from America,” Johnson explained.

It’s a story that has never been told before.

“It’s a hidden narrative. It’s been just passed over, the stories are not told, and I don’t think that a lot of people are comfortable with this narrative.”

In the documentary Johnson directed called Descendants of DeWitty, he reveals the journey of finding the graves of his ancestors and making marks spreading the town’s history.

Locals of Grand Island also found a personal connections to these African American families.

Johnson recalls an intimate interaction with a community member.

“The people that we met today at the Stuhr Museum, I had chills. One woman said she knew my great great auntie who was a school teacher Golde Walker Hayer. She was teaching interracial school children in 1920.”

In a time where black people were not treated with human rights, the town’s ability to flourish as a completely African American community is a rarity.

The Stuhr Museum will continue to have the Descendants of DeWitty on exhibit through November 11th.

Descendants of DeWitty is also working to add this narrative to public schools. They say they have lesson plans already made for elementary school teachers who teach history of Nebraska.

Descendants of DeWitty’s website can be found here, as well as the Stuhr Museum’s site here.

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