Search Results for our dewitty

Award winning “Our DeWitty and Now We Speak”

for a Soft Copy Click here

For Hard Copy Click hereOur DeWitty Cover

I’m thrilled to share the news:
My book has been named a WINNER in the 2018 International AAHGS Book Awards Contest (IABA).

Our Dewitty is my second book referencing family, friends, and neighbors who collectively established the longest lasting Black Settlement in all of Nebraska.

In this book, I’ve focused on the Women and what they had to say since largely their voice has not been heard in most all accountings of the Homesteaders.

I do hope you enjoy reading about these strong women who were actually the backbone of the town and the families. Learn about their struggles, dreams, successes, and legacies.

Thank you,

JaGray

 

DeWitty-Audacious is now officially in the history of Nebraska

DeWitty Marker

What a wonderful time we all enjoyed!  The fellowship was just so amazing!

Last Monday, April 11, 2016, the Historical Marker was officially installed that celebrates the importance of the DeWitty African-American Settlement in a ceremony attended by close to 200 people. DeWitty was the longest lasting African-American, most successful rural settlement in all of, Nebraska.

Parked cars lined the side of the highway. Elementary and college students stood with bright eyes filled with interest and wonder. Many traveled from the various Ranches of the surrounding areas including Brownlee, Seneca, and Thedford. Valentine residents also came to learn, share and enjoy the greatness of the occasion.  This occasion was a culmination of a lot of research, phone calls, fundraising and reaching out to the families of the homesteaders and the Sand Hill communities.

The great Ladies of Brownlee prepared a scrumptious midday meal to be enjoyed after the ceremony in the Brownlee Community Center.  Sonny Hanna spearheaded a tour of the Sand Hills taking many of the descendants to the land their ancestors once made their homes and many were still interned there.

 

Emanuel buriel ground

Emanuel Burial Grounds

Emanuel foundation

Emanuel Home Foundation

Walker & Hatter property

View of Hatter and Walker Homesteads

Grandson & NLoopRiver

Grandson walking the land of his Ancestors

North Loop Pam

Beauty of the Sandhills in April

 

DSC_4420 Rev.Khadijah Matin gave the invocationDSC_4417

Stew Magnuson, author of Hwy 83, “The Last American Highway”, was the master of ceremony and spearheaded The Descendants of DeWitty Team (Catherine Meehan Blount, Joyceann Gray, and Marcia Thompkins) in the making of this dream come to fruition. The great folks at the Cherry County Historical Society and the Nebraska State Historical Society quickly approved the application for the marker. And so it began, raising the money, buying plane tickets, gathering up old photographs as the excitement increased daily until 17 descendants came from all over the country to reconnect with a place that feels like home! They came representing the homesteaders who many traveled over 1700 miles from Canada and more from Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia to settle in the Sand Hills taking advantage of the Homesteader Act of 1862 and the amended Kinkaiders Act of 1904.

What is so important about this community is the bond between African American homesteaders of DeWitty and their white counterparts in Brownlee. The two communities were very isolated back then and despite differences of heritage and beginnings, they enjoyed a civil and caring relationship that continues up to this day. “Something the rest of America should learn from” stated local resident Shelley Christiansen. Ron Lee also voiced his opinion: “As far as race relations…I will say this..there was not one single person there at that dedication ceremony who was anything different than anyone else. We were just all people celebrating a time in the past where everyone worked together, And, though we’re not neighbors now, land-wise or ownership of the land-wise, we’re still neighbors. Lyn & Bruce Messersmith, Bree & Martin DeNaeyer, Byron & Mary Eatinger,and Ann Manning-Warren to just name a few of who open wide the doors of hospitality.

Lyn & Bruce Messersmith, Bree & Martin DeNaeyer, Byron & Mary Eatinger,and Ann Manning-Warren to just name a few of who open wide the doors of hospitality.

In the audience were some students that were taught by Goldie Walker Hayes, goldies-classroomcropped-goldie-hayes.jpga renown teacher throughout the area. She is our maternal grandmother. They expressed their fond memories and shared so many pleasing stories of her grace, beauty,  teaching ability and her kindness. This was so heartfelt and enriching for us who lost her while we were just small children.

Catherine, the granddaughter of Hester and Charles Meehan, spoke of the homesteaders struggles and delights and recited a poem her Dad wrote at age 17, speaking of an old footbridge across the North Loop River.

20160411_110421 Yours truly, granddaughter of Roy and Goldie Hayes reminded the crowd: “Although the town was reclaimed by the land the legacy of the homesteaders carries on for they were a success!  This town was not a failure. It wasn’t an experiment; it didn’t wither away because people couldn’t handle the weather – it was a testament to their vision. Which is to set roots down in a foundation for educating their children and giving them a chance at the American dream.”  

We found our great grandfather, one of the original homesteaders 

 WILLIAM PARKER WALKERWilliam P. Walker Grave Stone William P. Walker’s burial plot in the Brownlee Cemetery.

20160411_105631

  Mother & Daughter Sharing the Experience

 

 

Charlotte Woodson (Granddaughter of Charlotte Riley Walker) with her daughter, Marcia Thompkins granddaughter of Boss Woodson, Rancher and Fernnella Walker Woodson, also a teacher in the county districts expressed her joy: “It WAS an awesome day!      We, the descendants, made great connections, saw pictures we hadn’t seen before, heard more stories from the warm and welcoming people of the community that we hadn’t heard before, toured the land, found our ancestors resting places… I could go on and on! My life has been enriched beyond expectation, and I am forever positively changed!”

Decedants of DeWitty2016

 

BackRow: Delbert DeWitty, (nephew of the Postmaster), Hershel Riley, Byron DeWitty, Artes Johnson& brother Maurice, (Grandson’s of Corena Walker- Williams) Garland Miles (Riley)  Middle Row: Rev. Khadijah Matin, (Granddaughter of Roy and Goldie Hayes) Catherine Meehan-Blount, Jacob & Leah Ferrell, 3x Great grandchildren of William P. Walker, William Pegg, (Grandson of Roy and Goldie Hayes), Emerald Miles (Riley,) Phyllis Brown Denise Brown (descendants of Radford Speese, older brother of Charles Speese.) Joyceann Gray, (Hayes and Walker descendant).  Seated front Row: Charlotte Woodson (Granddaughter of Charlotte Riley Walker) and her daughter Marcia Thompkins.

Browlee Community HallAnd so we  met back up at the Brownlee Community Center and ate a delicious meal and chatted and shared while Ann Manning-Warren gave us a trip down memory lane!

 

Words from Lyn Messersmith, whose family opened their homes to us: 4/27/2016

The Lay of the Land

By Lyn Messersmith 

Build It and They Will Come

They got it backward, but it worked. A group of  Canadian-born Black families, former slaves, and their descendants came to a desolate and lonely region in the Nebraska Sandhills and built a community they called DeWitty, later renamed Audacious. Six hundred and forty acres seemed like a lot; surely enough to survive on, perhaps even prosper. Prosperity probably wasn’t a concept they dwelt on, so much as survival. That’s how it was in those days, and you didn’t have to be Black to know hard times in the hills. There were neighbors who understood that and welcomed them. The little town of Brownlee, a dozen or so miles downriver, had amenities that served the newcomers until they established businesses of their own, and interactions continued in the form of competitions at rodeos, baseball games and Independence Day celebrations. Brownlee had a community hall, and DeWitty had music makers, so there were dances too.

DeWitty residents were strong for education, which eventually contributed to the demise of the community. Young people went away to college, became doctors, teachers, ministers, and writers and the elders finally drifted away too, but memories of those years lingered around Brownlee and became the legend as I was growing up nearby. My dad and his peers spoke names like Speese, Riley, Turner, Hayes, and Woodson, with admiration and respect.

Stew Magnuson, an author with Sandhills roots, has traveled Highway 83 many times and chronicled the people and places along that route in a series of books. He became fascinated by stories about DeWitty, and recently spearheaded a project to raise funds for a historical marker about it.

On April 11, 2016, nearly two hundred people gathered at the marker for a dedication. Descendants of DeWitty came from both coasts and everywhere in between, and my family was privileged to host several of them. Sandhillers traveled more than a hundred miles to honor our common roots, and the ladies of Brownlee and surrounding communities put on a “Y’all come” feed in that old community hall. The rancher who owns much of the ground where DeWitty stood organized a tour for those who cared to see where their ancestors had settled, and others uncovered buried grave markers in the Brownlee Cemetery for family members to photograph.

As our guests departed for various destinations, they said the weekend had given them closure, and they felt like they had, in some sense, come home. I felt closer to my own family and more proud than ever of my heritage and neighbors.

Many people snapped pictures during that celebration, but I carry mine in my head; of women carrying more chairs to the community hall to accommodate overflow crowds, of a man with a shovel uncovering gravestones and a rancher’s plane sitting in a meadow near the marker. Of people walking half a mile back to their cars after the ceremony because of limited parking at the highway site, and children from a nearby school eating sack lunches brought along on the field trip.

DeWitty is gone, and Brownlee nearly so, but the spirit of neighborliness is not. There are memories of moments less proud in the minds of descendants on both sides, but healing is possible, and the marker celebration is proof of that.

A group of locals leaned on parked vehicles outside the Brownlee community hall and visited while waiting for the room to go in and eat. A thought came to me as we stood there, and as we drove away. It lingers now, as I look back on the event.

“If these walls could talk…”

 

(slightly edited by J.Gray)

Coming soon:DeWitty Historical Ceremony

Descendants of Nebraska African-American Settlement to Attend Historical Marker Ceremony on Highway 83

 Marker location
Turn off for the DeWitty historical marker

Descendants of the largest African-American settlement in Nebraska, located in the Sand Hills are expected to arrive in Cherry County on April 11 to celebrate the unveiling of a historical marker on U.S. Highway 83. DeWitty, also known as Audacious, was a series of homesteads scattered along the North Loup River west of the present-day town of Brownlee, Nebraska, and lasted from about 1906 until the last of the homesteads sold in 1956.

The Nebraska State Historical Society marker is erected on Hwy 83 just south of the Brownlee turnoff. The dedication ceremony is slated to take place at 10 a.m., Monday, April 11th at the marker site. The public is welcome to attend.

“So far, descendants are coming from as far away as California, Kansas, Florida, Delaware, and Virginia. Descendants of the town’s first postmaster, Jim DeWitty, are expected to come from Oklahoma. Other descendants of the DeWitty and Brownlee communities may attend from Valentine, Omaha, Colorado and the Minneapolis-St. Paul areas” said, Stew Magnuson, author of the book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83, which has a chapter about the settlement. Stew has spearheaded the drive for the Historical marker and the installation ceremony.

After the ceremony, Humanities Nebraska 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, (the two communities were very tight back in the day) but they are going all out to welcome the DeWitty descendants and the other celebrants,” says Magnuson.

 Browlee Community Hall
Brownlee Community Hall

“I am glad that the marker mentions the close bond between the black settlers of DeWitty and the white residents of Brownlee. The two communities were both isolated and on their own in the depths of Sand Hills 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,” says Magnuson.

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. Also, Joyceann Gray, a Granddaughter of William Roy,rancher and one of the orignial DeWitty settlers and wife Goldie Walker Hayes, legendary Principle, who remained in the county working in four-room schoolhouses long after the settlement disappeared. The  Reverend Khadijah Matin, also a granddaughter of the Hayes’ will offer the invocation.

Dedication Ceremony for DeWitty Historical Marker

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dedication Ceremony for DeWitty Historical Marker Set for April 11, 2016, at the Marker site on Hwy 83 near Brownlee turnoff

 Location of Marker in Ne

A dedication ceremony for a new Nebraska State Historical Marker in Cherry County commemorating DeWitty, the state’s longest and most successful African-American rural settlement  in the state is scheduled for Monday, April 11 at 10 a.m. at the site of the marker, near the Brownlee turnoff road on U.S. Highway 83.

The ceremony will be held in the Cherry County Historical Society Museum in Valentine in the event of inclement weather.

The ceremony is expected to draw descendants of the original DeWitty settlers from all over the nation.

“I’ve already heard from descendants from as far away as Delaware, Virginia and California who are planning to come,” said Stew Magnuson, the author of two books about Highway 83. Last year, Magnuson, the Cherry County Historical Society and DeWitty descendants coordinated efforts to raise the $5,100 needed to pay for the marker.

 North Loup River scene about 40 yards from the turnoff
North Loup River just south of marker site

“Donations came from descendants, Cherry County residents, history buffs in Nebraska and members of the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page on Facebook. It was a wonderful gathering of different people who believed that this unique community should be remembered,” said Magnuson.

Black settlers first arrived in the area about 1880 to take advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862, the Timber Culture Act of 1873, and the Kinkaid Act of 1904 Act, which granted homesteaders ultimately 640 acres of land in the counties that comprised the Sand Hills of Nebraska. DeWitty, also known as Audacious, grew as more settlers came to take advantage of this offer. The Homestead Act only granted 160 acres of land. Some settlers had roots in Canada and were the descendants of escaped slaves. Others came from big cities to try their hands at farming. The town barber, Robert Hannahs, had been born into slavery.

 DeWitty Turnoff facing directly westDeWitty Turnoff facing southwest
View of Sand Hills west of marker site

They built homesteads along the North Loup River, extending some 14 miles west of the town of Brownlee, a mostly white settlement. Relations between the two communities were excellent, Magnuson says. They came together to celebrate Independence Day, shared one-room schools and helped each other whenever needed.
“This is really the story of two communities: DeWitty and Brownlee. The marker text notes the bond the communities shared,” says Magnuson, who wrote a chapter about DeWitty in his latest book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: Nebraska,Kansas, Oklahoma.

Joyceann Gray, a DeWitty descendant now living in Sterling, Virginia, said, “My sister Khadijah and I are so excited to attend the DeWitty-Audacious Historical Marker Installation ceremony. What a humbling honor to be a part of recognizing our ancestors, their struggles, and their lives.”

Joyceann Gray is the author of “Yes We Remember” Available on Amazon.com and Blurb.com This is a historical novel based on the events of the time, historical records, and family stories of our ancestors and how the struggles, adventures, and travels of 4 families culminated on a ranch in Cherry County Nebraska.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, and  The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition. Both are available online or in museums, bookstores and gift shops on Hwy 83.

The DeWitty – Audacious Historical Marker soon to be a reality!

7/25/2015

The DeWitty – Audacious Historical Marker soon to be a reality!

A small team of descendants, family, and friends raised $5100 for the historical marker in remembrances of the homesteaders of DeWitty-Audacious, Nebraska. The largest African American Settlement established in the Sandhills of Nebraska in the late 1800’s. Contrary to various accountings for the reason of the demise of this town, DeWitty renamed Audacious centered their energy, vision and struggles to achieve the American dream and had the audacity to think they could. They achieved their mission and this is a fitting memorial for all their struggles.
On behalf of the descendants, we wish to recognize Stew Magnuson, author of ‘The Last American Highway’ who was the backbone of this project and a major contributor.  Also, The Nebraska State Historical Society for approving the Marker and The Cherry County Historical Society, especially Joyce Muirhead, who helped set up the fundraising bank account. We were able to accomplish our goal so quickly because of the support from the Bulletin and also the North Platte TelegraphStapleton EnterpriseLincoln Journal Star and radio station KVSH in Valentine who assisted in getting the word out and about Nebraska.     The rest of the team who worked hard to get the word out are Homesteaders descendants: Catherine Meehan Blount, Marcia Thompkins & Joyceann Gray, both descendants of the well-known Woodson & Walker families.

Valentine Midland News editor Laura Vroman ensured our words were heard by printing my articles week after week that offered a more balanced view and history of a larger number of the homesteaders than ever before. Expounding on the people who worked so hard to give their children a good start in life,  the people who shared their skills and talents with others to make a hard life worthwhile. Also, I wrote about the children who went on to do great things.  Special thanks to Lyn Messersmith, who supported my writing campaign with precious memories of the lives of the homesteaders.

With great appreciation, we look forward to the day when the DeWitty-Audacious Historical Marker will be installed.
I hope to see you all at the installation Ceremony!

God is Good,    Joyceann Gray

In Honor of the Fathers of DeWitty – Audacious

Fathers

Fathers

Published in the Valentine Midland News June 17, 2015

Father’s Day

 

DeWitty-Audacious

 

Indeed, Father’s Day is here, so we make a special effort to let them know how much we care. We make a special effort to honor them.

I think the best way to honor them is to acknowledge that their struggles and efforts have not gone in vain.

Dear Dad,

We watched you those days in the bitter cold working to secure the animals on our homestead.

We saw you sweating as you worked to plow those unyielding sandy fields in the blistering heat of the summer.

We heard you moan as that nail bent, and it was your last.

We remember hauling the heavy water pails so you could soak the pains and bruises away.

Daddy, indeed we did hear you and Momma whispering in the night about how you wanted each of us to have the best education.

You planted a seed that had sprouted.

Daddy, we haven’t let you down, we went our different ways and did big things with our lives. We became; teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, civil rights activist, mothers, and yes fathers too! We produced strong, intelligent children to carry on your legacy, and we kept watering that seed you planted. We have sprouted writers, poets, yes more educators, chaplains, historians, carpenters, engineers, soldiers and real estate entrepreneurs. That seed is still growing,  more beautiful babies every year are arriving to carry on your legacy.We pass down the stories of your strength and tender heart. We remind our young of your struggles so that they might have a chance at the American Dream too!

So Thank You, Daddy, we love you always!

 

Thanks to all who have sent checks to help in celebrating the homesteaders of DeWitty-Audacious and their legacy by donating to our Historical Marker Fund: the most successful rural African-American Community in the state.

If you haven’t done so, please send your contribution to:     

Security First Bank

PO Box 480    Valentine, Nebraska 69201

Make checks payable to: “DeWitty Historical Marker Fund.”

http://www.etypeservices.com/SWF/LocalUser/Valentine1//

Magazine89668/Full/files/assets/common/downloads/page0012.pdf

Nebraska Historical Marker In Rememberance Of Our Ancestors Dreams and Hopes

Friday June 19, 2015.

We’re still at it and need your help!

Group Raising Funds for Nebraska Historical Marker on Highway 83

 Northloup, NE
Spot near North Loup River on Hwy 83 in where the marker may be placed.

Descendants of a legendary Sand Hills settlement, the Cherry County Historical Society and a Nebraska-born author are teaming up to have a historical marker placed along Highway 83.

The Nebraska State Historical Society recently approved a roadside historical marker for DeWitty, the longest lasting, most successful African-American rural settlement in Nebraska.

DeWitty — in later years called Audacious — was first settled in the early 1900s by a group of homesteaders along the North Loup River in Cherry County, just west of present-day Brownlee. They were taking advantage of the Kinkaid Act of 1904, which allowed settlers to claim 640 acres of land, or one square mile, in the 37 counties that comprised the Sand Hills.

Now that the marker has been approved, the group is trying to raise the $5,100 the state historical society requires as payment.

Donations can be mailed to or dropped off at or mailed to:

Security First Bank

PO Box 480

Valentine, Nebraska 69201

Make checks payable to: “DeWitty Historical Marker Fund.”

The first group of DeWitty settlers came from Overton, Nebraska, in Dawson County. But they were originally from the Buxton Settlement, Kent County, Ontario, where many escaped slaves and free people of color resided.  The settlement placed a high value on educating its children, an ethos they had brought from Canada. More than 100 families lived in the settlement during its roughly 40+ years of existence.

“The homesteaders of DeWitty were just that —Audacious,” says Catherine Meehan Blount, one of the Meehans’ last two living grandchildren. “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.  Remembering DeWitty pays homage to those who confronted barriers in the pre-civil war United States, in Canada and in the Nebraska Sand Hills with a ‘we can’ attitude. Remembering DeWitty gives anyone who knows their story a reminder that they can, too.”

Joyceann Gray and Marcia Thompkins great granddaughters of DeWitty homesteaders William P. Walker and Charlotte Hatter-Riley Walker, say:

“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.”

 

 

 MarkerExample
Example of Nebraska State Historical Society Marker

 

“This is really the tale of two communities: DeWitty-Audacious and Brownlee,” says Stew Magnuson, former Nebraska nonfiction book of the year winner, and author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma, which has a chapter on DeWitty-Audacious. “Relations between the two communities were by all known accounts, excellent. The mostly Danish settlers of Brownlee and the African-Americans in DeWitty held a July 4th picnic together every year. William Walker was the county Veterinarian supported both communities.

Some of the one-room schoolhouses were integrated. goldies-classroom                           Teacher Goldie Walker Hayes and her one room school

There is also another photograph in history books that shows the Brownlee residents on the day they came to help build the DeWitty Church. People had to depend on each other in that remote, harsh land,” says Magnuson.

Magnuson first encountered the DeWitty story in a Nebraska land Magazine article he found in his grandparent’s home in Stapleton, Nebraska when he was a teenager.

“The thought that there was a black settlement in the Sand Hills blew my mind because I had been raised on a diet of Hollywood westerns and TV shows that portrayed the American West as populated only by white folks and Indians. The towns and homesteads were in fact far more multicultural and racially integrated than the media and history textbooks have portrayed.I hope the sign does a little to dispel that myth,” he says.

Posted by Stew Magnuson at 6:12 AM

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Labels: African-American Homesteads, Audacious Nebraska, Cherry County Nebraska, DeWitty NebraskaNebraska State Historical Society

3 comments:

  1. Joyceann Gray May 26, 2015 at 6:58 AM

Thank you for your efforts and this excellent write-up!!
Just a side note: Goldie (my grandmother) and her sister Fernnella Walker were the teachers in district 164 and their brother George Riley was the director of the schools you spoke of!!!

2. Marcia Thompkins May 26, 2015 at 11:24 AM

Thanks for that great article, Stew, and all of your efforts to recognize and memorialize an important piece of American history! To add to Joyceanne’s side note, Fernnella Walker is my grandmother. Her husband, Charles “Boss” Woodson organized and lead the DeWitty dance band and was widely known (and remembered by many) in Cherry County for his impressive musical talents. 🙂

About Joyceann Gray

 Joyceann2

Retired US Army, Author, Independent Historian and Genealogist 

Mrs. Gray was born Oct 13, 1948, in Brooklyn, N.Y. to William and Wilma Pegg. She is the middle child of five children.  After attending high school at Erasmus Hall, she  married and had a daughter. In 1980,  she entered the Army  and spent the next 20 years excelling in her occupational specialties in communications, administrative management, and marketing.                          While on active duty in the Army stationed at Fort Gordon, GA in 1995, she volunteered as the Director of the Heritage Unity Festival for Augusta, Ga. that was presented in 1996 and again in 1997. The festival was hailed as the largest festivals ever in the Augusta-Richmond area bringing in over 15,000 people. The size of the first festival in 1996 was second only to the grand opening day of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta the same day. The Festival presented over 500 performers and four active stages, 75 vendors, and 300 volunteers from the Fort Gordon community including the Deputy commander offering opening remarks.   The Mayor of Augusta-Richmond, Larry E. Sconyers, declared 18 July 1996 “Unity Day” and on 20, July 1997 he declared “City Wide Annual Unity Day.”

After Retiring from the Army,  she went to work with her brother Bill and together they built a major Real Estate Teaching and Appraisal firm employing over 25 people in northern California. Mrs. Gray developed and taught an accredited appraisal course during this time. After retiring a second time, Mrs. Gray focused her attention on collegiate studies earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and a Masters in Psychology in 2016.

Mrs. Gray’s historical and genealogical research began to take a more prominent role in her life in 2008 and focus is primarily on her family movements from Virginia to Canada & Liberia. The research then began to spread from Kentucky and Tennessee to Kansas and from South Carolina, Kansas, and Canada to Nebraska. Her first book “Yes We Remember” covers between the 18th through the 20th centuries. Her goal was to bring alive the stories of achievements and legacies that her ancestors left for the present and future generations. 

Our Dewitty is her second book has been named a WINNER in the 2018 International AAHGS Book Awards Contest (IABA). family, friends, and neighbors who collectively established the longest lasting Black Settlement in all of Nebraska.   In this book, the focused is on the Women and what they had to say since largely their voice has not been heard in most all accountings of the Homesteaders.

Mrs. Gray has presented some of her historical work during the AAHGS October 2015 Conference in Richmond, VA.  Also, she has presented to the Middle Potomac History Researchers at the Josephine School Community Museum in Berryville, Virginia.  She recorded her research on the Hatter family, for E-Learning- Jim Surkamp Presentations for American Public University System. 

Mrs. Gray is married to Kenneth Gray Sr and they have five children and ten grandchildren. Living in Northern Virginia, she is in the process of researching for her next novel as she continues to be a contributing writer of over ten articles for BlackPast.org.

 https://sites.google.com/site/heritageunitystreetfestivals/
     http://www.blackpast.org/contributor/gray-joyceann 

The Ceremony is upon us!

Historical Marker for DeWitty is installed.in remembrance of Nebraska’s largest and most well-known African-American rural community, off U.S. Highway 83 near Brownlee.
DeWitty was the town that had the audacity to think they could, and so they did.
Although the town didn’t survive and most of the land reclaimed itself, the legacy of those who came is evident by the descendants who will stand with us Monday, April 11. The driving force behind every plow, every nail driven, every sod wall built was with one purpose in mind. Not to build a lasting farming town but to be the stepping stone for their children’s futures. Each family ensured that education both religious and academic teaching were primary and the support to choose their direction was indeed encouraged for they were taught to believe they could grasp whatever star they reached for. Freedom to seek out adventure that beckons the bright and spirited minds.
So April 11, 2016
Just south of Brownlee turnoff, Highway 83 – we the descendants, neighbors, and friends will come together and shall honor the hard work of our ancestors, their drive, devotion, and visions. Remembering DeWitty pays homage to those who confronted racial barriers in the pre-civil war of United States, in Canada and in the Nebraska Sand Hills with a ‘we can overcome’ attitude. Remembering DeWitty gives anyone who knows their story a reminder that they can, too.” Contrary to various accountings for the reason of the demise of this town, DeWitty renamed Audacious centered their energies, visions, and struggles to achieve the American dream. They achieved their mission, and this is a fitting memorial for all their struggles.

So by chance you can come and plan to share at 10 am, April 11, 2016, please do; for after the ceremony, there is a planned potluck luncheon by the folks of Brownlee in the Community Center for all to meet and greet.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dedication Ceremony for DeWitty Historical Market Set for April 11, 2016

Location of Marker in Ne
Marker site on Hwy 83 near Brownlee turnoff

A dedication ceremony for a new Nebraska State Historical Marker in Cherry County commemorating DeWitty, the state’s longest and most successful African-American rural settlement  in the state is scheduled for Monday, April 11 at 10 a.m. at the site of the marker, near the Brownlee turnoff road on U.S. Highway 83.

The ceremony will be held in the Cherry County Historical Society Museum in Valentine in the event of inclement weather.

The ceremony is expected to draw descendants of the original DeWitty settlers from all over the nation.

“I’ve already heard from descendants from as far away as Delaware, Virginia, and California who are planning to come,” said Stew Magnuson, the author of two books about Highway 83. Last year, Magnuson, the Cherry County Historical Society and DeWitty descendants coordinated efforts to raise the $5,100 needed to pay for the marker.

 North Loup River scene about 40 yards from the turnoff
North Loup River just south of marker site

“Donations came from descendants, Cherry County residents, history buffs in Nebraska and members of the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page on Facebook. It was a wonderful gathering of different people who believed that this unique community should be remembered,” said Magnuson.

Black settlers first arrived in the area about 1907 to take advantage of the Kinkaid Act, which granted homesteaders 640 acres of land in the counties that comprised the Sand Hills of Nebraska. DeWitty, also known as Audacious, grew as more settlers came to take advantage of this offer. The Homestead Act only granted 160 acres of land. Some settlers had roots in Canada and were the descendants of escaped slaves. Others came from big cities to try their hands at farming. The town barber, Robert Hannahs, had been born into slavery.

 DeWitty Turnoff facing southwest
They built homesteads along the North Loup River, extending some 14 miles west of the town of Brownlee, a mostly white settlement. Relations between the two communities were excellent, Magnuson says. They came together to celebrate Independence Day, shared one-room schools and helped each other whenever needed.

“This is really the story of two communities: DeWitty and Brownlee. The marker text notes the bond the communities shared,” says Magnuson, who wrote a chapter about DeWitty in his latest book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma.

Joyceann Gray, a DeWitty descendant now living in Sterling, Virginia, said, “My siblings and I are so excited to attend the DeWitty-Audacious Historical Marker Installation ceremony. What a humbling honor to be a part of recognizing our ancestors, their struggles, and their lives.”

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