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A novelty postcard photo from Dallas in the 1920s, from White Metropolis by Michael Phillips. PHOTO COURTESY DALLAS HISTORICAL SOCIETY If Texans still can’t talk about what slavery made of us, then part of our history remains trapped inside that peculiar institution. miscalculated. Jennings, who had shown remarkable composure before his execution, “strangled for several minutes. It took him a long time to die. He was dangling, and he was conscious while he tried to free his neck from the rope,” Phillips said. Most of the area’s slaves watched the brutal deaths. They also faced whippings, according to many accounts. By then, the racial paranoia had spread throughout slave-holding Texas, with hangings reported in Fort Worth, Crockett, Henderson, Waxahachie, San Antonio and many other places. “Everything you look at says this was a tragic farce, tragic because it caused so many people to be killed we still don’t know how manyand so many others to be beaten or expelled from the state,” Reynolds said. He and many other historians believe that there was no conspiracy, no arson, no insurrection at all. They blame the summer’s fires on the drought, the heat and combustible phosphorus matches, called prairie matches, which were widely used in Texas at the time. “The initial reports of the various fires in North Texas all tended to agree that the spontaneous combustion of prairie matches was the cause in each instance. Since most of the fires occurred in stores that would have stocked these matches, it was natural for them to reach such a conclusion,” Reynolds wrote in Texas Terror. But one group does hold fast to the idea that some kind of uprising took place: descendants of the slaves themselves. Donald Payton’s ancestors worked under Crill B. Miller, who owned a farm outside Dallas that caught on fire a few days after the town burned. When Payton, an amateur historian, first read that members of his extended family were implicated in the fire, he felt certain there was a plot. “The slaves weren’t as naive as the movies make them. They heard and saw things like everybody else did,” Payton said of the turbulent times after the raid on Harpers Ferry. “I just don’t think it was an accident.” Payton tells his version of the story every year to a huge reunion of the Miller family that gathers around July 8 on the former slaves’ land in Oak Cliff. “I always want people to be conscious that our struggle to be free did not start or did not stop with Martin Luther King,” he says. “We took freedom in hand, and that’s a good feeling.” If there was a coordinated uprising, it didn’t accomplish much. But that summer’s hysteria did, politically. The stage was set for the state to secede the following year, despite the efforts of Sam Houston to keep that from happening. And the wide reportage on the Texas Troubles across the South may have been the deciding factor in getting other key states to join the Confederacy. With most rumors printed and few retracted, Southerners believed that war had in fact already come to them. If we’ve forgotten the Texas Troubles, we can first thank many of the participants themselves. One secessionist editor who published the “evidence” of the abolitionist plot later went on to write the first history of Dallas County. By then, in 1887, he could barely bring himself to mention the events of 1860. To write of that time, he said, “would be to open a question, the discussion of which should be left to a later day.” That day is still being put off. Randolph Campbell laughs at the thought of the state organizing any kind of public discussion or exhibition on the Texas Troubles 150 years later. “It would be murderously difficult,” he said. Campbell touches on the Troubles in his book An Empire for Slavery. The book also matter-of-factly describes how, at the time, it was nothing odd for a Texan to hold the title “Negro and Real Estate Broker,” and how the leased labor of slaves put young white heirs through college. This was not a moral quandary in 1860 for most Texans, and thousands of them would die in brutal conflict before it started to become one. If, 150 years later, Texans still can’t talk about what slavery made of us, then part of our history remains trapped inside that peculiar institution. CO Julia Barton is a writer and radiojournalistfronzDallas. She is working on a novel set in Antebellum Texas. THEHIGHTOWERREPORT DELL’S DECEPTIVE GENIUS LET US NOW SING the praises of Round Rockbased Dell Incorporated. The computer giant offers an object lesson for the laissez-faire ideologues who keep insisting that we should turn our government over to corporations, since they are so efficient and customer-oriented. Michael Dell’s concept of tight inventory control, direct marketing and cheap labor production in offshore factories quickly turned him into both a multibillionaire and a celebrity CEO hailed as a genius. Butoopsturns out that Michael’s genius has a few unsightly hickeys on it. His corporation is now being sued by some of its biggest custom ers for peddling shoddy products, then deliberately deceiving buyers about the shoddiness. Beginning in 2003, for example, Dell shipped millions of faulty desktop computers to customers. Even after executives learned that the products had a bad component that would cause a 97 percent failure rate, they urged employees to keep this quiet. “We need to avoid all language indicating the boards were bad or had ‘issues,” said one internal email. “Don’t bring this to customers’ attention proactively,” instructed another Dell document. The company even tried to shaft the law firm it hired to defend it against aggrieved customers, balking at fixing 1,000 faulty computers Dell had foisted on the firm. Good grief! Shaft your best friend; cheat your own mother; but messing with your lawyer is a death wish. Adding to Dell’s problems is a tumbling market share and plummeting stock prices, aggravated by federal charges that the corporation has been cooking its books for years. Indeed, the genius himself is even facing federal accusations of fraud and misconduct. Genius is as genius does. But should we really entrust our public business to this kind of corporate ingenuity? JIM HIGHTOWER FIND MORE INFORMATION on Jim Hightower’s work and subscribe to his awardwinning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown at 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG