June 10th, 2021, will mark the 80th anniversary of the murder of Bob White from Polk County. All these years after this horrific act of racial violence, how much has Polk County changed?
Over the last week, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre has dominated the media. And it hasn’t just been about what happened 100 years ago; there have also been discussions around generational trauma, systematic racism, and how white supremacy is still prevalent in American society. These are important conversations to have if we ever want to be a better country.
A few weeks ago, I published “Injustice in Polk County: The Murder of Bob White.” Later that week, I was contacted by Don Wilson Glenn, local playwright and Polk County Democratic Party Chair. He told me that he was familiar with Bob White’s story, but then he said something that hit me right in the gut.
“It’s still happening, not much has changed.”
Every time we hear about another story of racism or corruption from rural Texas, we are shocked. We were shocked when we learned about the racial violence in Weatherford last year, and we were shocked when we learned that Black people in Kaufman County feel as if they have to stay in their own lanes. We were shocked when we learned how Neo-Confederates took over an entire county in Central Texas.
Racial injustice in rural Texas has prevailed since Stephen F. Austin brought the first colonizers here. Now is the time to shine a light on it, now is the time to have the hard discussions, and now is the time change is needed.
Incarceration in Polk County.
One of the most horrific aspects of the Bob White story was how the county sheriff would take him out of jail, tie him to a tree, and beat him for hours.
That was 80 years ago. Surely when a Black person in Polk County is arrested in 2021, they are safe from abuse.
On March 9, 2021, Alice Shine, who suffered from health conditions, went to the Livingston Hospital. The hospital refused to see her because she owed them money. When she didn’t leave, the hospital called the police to arrest her for misdemeanor trespassing. The details between the time the police arrived and the time she wound up in the ICU are unknown.
Alice Shine was being held in Polk County Jail when she was found the next morning, having seizures and vomiting. The jail transported her back to the hospital. Alice Shine sustained a massive head injury and died in the ICU only a few days later.
Her family has sought answers about what happened to her. However, they haven’t got any.
I reached out to the Polk County jail regarding Walker’s death. The officer I spoke with said she would have to research it and get back to me. I never heard back from her.
Nathan King was Don Wilson Glenn’s nephew. He was also a father, in good health, and only 37-years old when he died in the Polk County Jail in July 2015.
King was arrested on charges of misdemeanor trespassing but couldn’t afford the bail money to get out. He was waiting for his day in court for nine months by the time of his death.
Nathan King had had mental illness and was on disability and a strict regimen of medication. While he was in custody, he wasn’t given adequate healthcare, medication, or seen by a mental health professional.
All inmates who go to the Polk County Jail are given a TB test upon their arrival. King’s test was negative. However, seven months into his long wait to be seen in court on misdemeanor charges, he contracted TB. Two months later, he died of pulmonary tuberculosis.
Only 16 months after Nathan King’s death, a cousin of Don Wilson Glenn died in Polk County Jail.
Antwaun Bogany was arrested in August 2016 on misdemeanor charges. He couldn’t afford the bail, so he waited in jail for his court date. Two months later, Bogany’s mother received a call from another inmate who told her that her son was unconscious in the jail cell. She frantically spent the day calling the jail and law enforcement to find out what was happening with her son.
It wasn’t until the next morning when she learned Bogany had been transported to the hospital. When his family arrived at the hospital, he was in critical condition and died only hours later. Antwaun Bogany was only 32-years old. The family still has not received an explanation or details regarding his death, but the medical reports indicate he died of tuberculosis.
A local news-website, The Sentinel, reported having received jailhouse videotapes of the night Bogany was sent to the hospital, which shows “a nearly dead body be drug around the jail and finally put on the floor where he was defecating and urinating on himself while the staff stands around.”
In 2018, a Polk County Sheriff’s Office Sargant was charged with criminal negligence relating to Antwaun Bogany’s death.
In 2011, 22-year old Carl Wills spent a month in Polk County Jail for unpaid traffic tickets. He was released from jail on August 27. His body was found in the next county over on September 1. He was brutally beaten, then shot in the back of the head, execution-style. Investigators reported that he was killed somewhere else, and his body was moved to the location where he was found.
10 years later, his family is still searching for answers regarding his death.
Polk County, Texas.
Polk County, Texas, has a population of about 50,000, and roughly 10% are Black. Most of the towns in Polk County are sparsely populated, with most of the population living in Livingston or West Livingston.
The poverty level in Polk County is high above the national average at 16.7%, less than 14% of the population has a college degree, and over 21% of the population is without health insurance. The only big employers around are Walmart and the privately-held ICE Detention Center.
Although only 10% of the population is Black, they account for 22% of all traffic stops. While 85% of the population is white, they only account for 59% of all traffic stops.
Other racial profiling statistics in Polk County:
|Black Drivers||White Drivers|
|Had Vehicle Searched||4%||3%|
|Searched for “Probable Cause”||55%||26%|
|Resulted in Verbal Warning||1%||3%|
|Force Used When Arrested||8%||2%|
Racism in Polk County.
Recently, a YouTuber reported on abandoned slave shacks still standing behind the Livingston Walmart. It’s strange that in the 156 years since emancipation, no one would have had the sense to tear them down. While these remnants of the past aren’t indicative of modern-day racism, it’s a symbol of how racism in Polk County and all of Texas has evolved. The shacks are deep into a wooded area, not visible from the road or Walmart, just as modern-day racism isn’t always in plain sight, but if you go looking for it, you’ll surely find it.
Neo-Nazis in Polk County proudly fly swastikas outside of their homes. Last year, a couple of members of the Aryan Brotherhood were arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and robbery of a person of color. No word on if they were ever charged with a hate crime.
Last year, the mayor of Corrigan (a small Polk County town) was caught on video, and her police chief husband and her civilian father harassing a Black man who was pulled over for speeding in their town.
After A.D. Howell was pulled over for speeding, Mayor Johnna Lowe Gibson’s dad (an 80ish-year-old white man) strolled over to see if the cop needs assistance.
When will people learn to mind their own business?
The elderly white man taunted and threatened Howell, then his daughter, the mayor, and her husband, the chief, came over to join in harassing a Black man pulled over in “their town” for speeding.
We’re all thinking, another rural Texas town, where justice isn’t blind and discriminates on those with darker skin. How many small little Texas towns like this are there? I don’t know, my fear is that there are more than we’ll ever learn about.
In Polk County, on the lawn of the building where justice is supposed to be blind is a reminder to ever person of color who ever crosses their county line, “Justice will not be served equally in Polk County.”
On the courthouse lawn, just like many other courthouse lawns in Texas, is a Jim Crow relic and ode to white supremacy. Nothing remarkable or special about this particular rock gushes over Confederate traitors, except for its inscription.
“Defeat Does Not Always Establish The Wrong.”
It means even though the Confederacy was defeated, it doesn’t mean they were wrong.
On the county courthouse lawn in Polk County, Texas, a statue says that just because the Confederacy lost, that doesn’t mean that slavery was wrong. That rock was erected in 1900 at the height of Jim Crow when Black people had to worry about being murdered if they voted. Although the Black community had no say on if that statue was placed there, for the last 120 years, their tax dollars went to maintaining it. There has always been racial injustice in Polk County, and in 1900 the white people there hung a sign on their front yard that said the racial injustice would continue. And so it has.
While researching this article, I learned a lot about Polk County’s history, which is steeped in racial violence, oppression, and injustice. There’s a lot there, and I’ll be writing a follow-up with a historical look at this county soon.
Until then, what can be done?
Check out the voting statistics for Polk County:
- 18,573 Republicans
- 5,387 Democrats
- 16,448 People who registered to vote but never made it to the polls
The only way Texas will truly be able to progress and eradicate ourselves with inequality is by replacing our elected officials with new officials who will actively work at making things better. And in rural Texas, local elections for mayors, city council members, sheriffs, and judges are ten times more important than a presidential election. These local officials are in charge of the jails, the local laws and ordinances, training of local law enforcement, and making their city’s a more diverse and inclusive place.
Black people in Polk County are being disproportionately targeted, staying in jail for months on misdemeanor crimes, and dying unjustly. These are all things that the local government controls. Remember that.
It’s important to register to vote and it’s even more important to show up on election day.
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