Wednesday, March 23, 2016

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

Turnoff for the DeWitty historical marker
Descendants of an African-American settlement in Nebraska’s 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 Depression years.

The Nebraska State Historical Society marker will be located just south of the Brownlee turnoff. The dedication ceremony is slated to take place at 10 a.m., Monday April 11 at the marker site. The public is welcome to attend.
“So far, I’ve heard from descendants coming from as far away as California, Delaware and Virginia who have booked flights,” says 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.
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 Omaha, Colorado and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, said Magnuson.
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, but they are going all out to welcome the DeWitty descendants and the other celebrants,” says Magnuson. The two communities were very tight back in the day, he says. 
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 really 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 — and Joyceann Gray, a niece of Goldie Walker Hayes, a legendary teacher who remained in the county to work in one-room schoolhouses long after the settlement disappeared. The invocation will be conducted by the Reverend Khadijah Matin, also a niece of Walker-Hayes.  

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.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)


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  2. Goldie Walker married to William Roy Hayes became the Principle of a 4 room school in Norris, S.D. before she passed suddenly of TB in 1956, she is our GRANDMOTHER!
    Thank you
    -Rev Khadijah Matin and Joyceann Gray-

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