Denton is chock full of history, mystery, synergy, and familiarity. (That last one was a stretch, but fitting). Denton’s Square has superficially changed through the 167 years of its existence, but it has looked pretty much the same for over 100 years. Many of our parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents trod the same sidewalks that we do today. There are so many stories that revolve around the square…….after all, it is the center of our great town and at one time, the entire town was contained within the Square and the few blocks surrounding it.
This week, Denton has hosted hometown boy (man), David Barrow, as he and a film crew document a turbulent time in Denton’s past. When We Were All Broncos “will document the period during which Denton rose to the challenge of integrating its schools while navigating the changes brought on by the social and cultural turmoil of those times”(quote from broncodocumentary.com). I intend to blog about David’s efforts once this weekend is over, but this blog post addresses the same tragic chapter of American history being addressed in David’s documentary.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few decades ago, blacks and whites existed LEGALLY in two separate worlds. Segregation was the law of the land and facilities throughout our city had separate accommodations for black people and for white people. Unbelievable. For the sake of this blog, I am speaking primarily about the legal existence of segregation, not the racism behind it, although the two cannot really be divided and racism still exists……….thank God, segregation does not.
During WWII, Denton fielded both white soldiers and black soldiers. In 1942, a black soldier from Denton was serving our country in the European theater of operations. His name was Tim Terry Jr. Before leaving for the war, Mr. Terry worked at Tobin Drugs on the Square. On October 23, 1942, he wrote a “V-Mail” from the battlefield to his colleagues at Tobin’s……in answer to a letter written to him by Henry Bowden. During WWII, V-Mail was used to reduce the logistics of transferring an original letter across the military postal system during the war. With V-Mail, a letter written from either side of the pond(s) was censored, copied to film, reprinted at its destination, and then sent on via regular mail. Below, you will find a copy of that V-Mail and a transcription.
V …- MAIL (WW II correspondence to/from military personnel serving overseas.)
Mr. Henry Bowden
Tobin Drug Store
Sgt. Tim Terry Jr. (8 digit U.S. Army serial number)
Oct. 23, 1942
Hello Henry, Jewel, Mr. and Mrs. Tobin and gang. Say and I hope that includes you all if I missed anyone tell them hell-o and say that I am glad to hear from all you good people. It sure is swell to hear that you are all well and doing fine. I hate to hear that you and Ray are about to get hooked up in this man’s army. Brother I hope you get to stay in the states cause you haven’t seen nothing brother. I’d do anything to have some nice ice cream or candy or a nice cigar. In other words folks its rough. But I’d love every one of your necks if I could only see you. There were tears as big as a house come in my eyes when I read your letter. In other words good people, I’m lonesome for you. You are my good white people. I must close for now but I’ll write if I can. I’d love to hear from you all and no fooling. To the swellest people I have ever known. So long for now.
A true friend forever.
Old Terry boy
PS: tell all hell-o
Since first reading this document, I have done some research and found that Tobin’s and its employees had the reputation of being black-friendly when most of the rest of Denton clung to segregation……but De jure segregation was still the law of the land in 1942. De jure segregation, which sanctioned or enforced by law the separation of the races, was stopped by federal enforcement of a series of Supreme Court decisions after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Tobin’s employed and did business with the black population of Denton, but by law could not allow them to sit at its lunch counter.
Tobin’s policy in 1942 was a step in the right direction of what would become the new law of the land in 12 years. Could Tobin’s have gone further? Of course, but those were different times and Civil Rights for all came in baby steps. The letter refers to pharmacy owner, Mr. Tobin and to pharmacist, Henry Bowden, both of whom tried to enlist in the war effort but were declined due to age and young families.
To me, Mr. Terry’s V-Mail is a testament to Dentonites of the past who saw a wrong and chose to do all they could to not participate in or to perpetuate it. Of course there were others in Denton at the time who felt the same and did similar things, but I am proud of Mr. Tobin, Mr. Bowden and the other employees of Tobin Drugs.
I am especially proud, though, to be the grandson of Henry Bowden.