Civic Imagination

The Myth of the Mansfield Hanging Tree

This story is inspired by local history and spread by word of mouth among Mansfield, Texas youth. The following link is the historical event that led to this story. The most poignant imagery of this story is the effigy hanging at the entrance of Mansfield High School.

Mansfield, Texas is a fairly small town with a deep history of racism against its black population. The degree of Mansfield’s racist past is not explicitly taught in school, leaving Mansfield youth to wonder how their town participated in the rampant racism in the South, and thus was born the story of the Mansfield lynching tree. Curious children and teens often speculate about what happened in the heart of the old downtown where some think that whites used to hang blacks in the lynching tree. It is common practice now for Mansfield youth to roam around the small yards of the old Mansfield High School, looking for the unidentified and unmarked tree, the possible facilitator to the greatest evils perpetrated by the citizens of our humble town.
Texas history cannot deny that lynching and other forms of violent racism occurred in the Lone Star State, but the story about the Mansfield lynching tree has always been passed on as more of a myth than an historical event. No one knows which tree served to hang the men, and there are not many native Mansfield citizens to tell us which it was, though even if they were, I do not suppose that they would let on. Many Mansfield citizens are ashamed of the past are too uncomfortable to acknowledge the part that past generations played in the perpetration of violent and systemic discrimination against black citizens.
Perhaps the myth is not true and is instead a blending of events that did happen in North Central Texas. With the support of the Texas governor and Texas Rangers, Mansfield pro-segregationists mounted a protest to prohibit three blacks from attending the high school, thereby disobeying the 1956 federal order in to integrate Texas public schools. While the rest of the state begrudgingly complied, Mansfield citizens took up arms with the Rangers and blocked the path to three black students. The leaders hung an effigy at the entrance of Mansfield High School and wrote racist slurs on a nearby car. The protest succeeded, and the students were relocated to a school 30 miles away.

Texas, segregation, politics, Mansfield, racism, violence


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