John Montgomery has assisted in the maintenance of Prince Hall Fraternal Cemetery for the past five years where several of his family members are buried.
The lot is where his father, Jack T. Montgomery, lays after a tragic incident on Aug. 5, 1947. Jack was seated inside of a 1942 Chevrolet truck when it was struck head-on by an oil tanker, killing 19.
Even though John was only nine years old, he vividly remembers the morning. He and his 10 other siblings woke up early to feed the animals on their farm before soon hearing emergency vehicles in the distance. They did not worry, though.
“We heard the fire truck and the ambulance, but we didn’t know what was going on at the time,” John recalled. “But I was there in the backyard watching the smoke, trying to figure out what was going on. About an hour later we found out that my father was in a bad wreck. They wouldn’t let us go out there and see it back then.”
Jack was one of six that made it out of the initial accident alive. He arrived at the segregated hospital, Priscilla Wallace Hospital, which was formerly located across the street from the African American Hall of Fame Museum, where doctors requested he drink water to clear his throat after inhaling gasoline fumes from the tanker truck.
“He swallowed the blades of fire from the gasoline. Then it was too much of a shock for him, and he died from that,” John elaborated.
None of Jack’s family was by his side while he died. John said his mother had to stay home with all of the children instead.
The Daily Light reported Sam Williams, Tulsa Jackson, and Alfonzo Brewer were also brought to the same hospital. T.J. Kelly was transported but “walked out and went home.”
On the morning of August 5, 1947, Jack and 24 other Waxahachie residents loaded up into a truck headed to Dallas for concrete work. The accident occurred 3.5 miles north of Waxahachie on Highway 77. At 6:30 a.m. the Waxahachie Fire Department received the call about the explosion and the bodies trapped under the wreckage.
The Daily Light reported, “Bones were scattered around the cooling mass, and one ‘glove of skin’ from a hand was found nearby, with the nails still intact.”
The article concluded that if the people in the truck would have crawled north instead of east into the flames, then most could have escaped. One witness to the accident shared a man was blown 52 yards from the truck.
The 19 that were reported dead included Andrew Jackson Arrington Jr., John Benson, Carmen Blunt, J.B. York, Frank Pittman, Herman Fraiser, Jack T. Montgomery, Ludie Henry Scroggins, Charles Greenwood, Antone (Pegleg) Turner, Welton Mayes, Johnnie B. Simpson, Morris Charles Robertson (driver), Geroge Lindsay Taylor, Robert Charlie Dixon, Louis (Shorty) Huckleby, Cardell Grigsby, Isom Green and the driver of the tanker, Marvin L. Wallace of Ft. Worth.
The youngest boy on the truck was Mayes, who was 16 years old. Those who survived included William Tulsa Jackson, Alfonso Brewer, T.J. Kelly and Sam Williams. Two people were not accounted for.
In August of 2017, John briefly shared his father’s horrific death with Dr. Jamal Rasheed, president of the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame. The shocking number of deaths took Rasheed back.
“I thought the story was interesting because no one here today remembers such a tragic story,” Rasheed expressed. “I call this a 9/11 of Ellis County. Nothing of this magnitude has happened before; to cost lives of so many people and particularly African Americans."
Rasheed asked John take him to the sight of the dreadful fire, which happened to be the 70th anniversary. John did not stay long enough to retell the horrifying tale. Instead, John showed Rasheed a photo of his father that he keeps on his bedside table and left. Rasheed admitted John never fully opened up about the accident.
“He [John] drove me to the location, and then he left. I stood there to try to imagine what the scene was — what that scene could have been. I tried to look beyond of what it is right now, a nice curved road with two lanes. Then, I imagined the chaos that took place to save them.” Rasheed paused imagining the wreckage and continued, “I got into a zone and thought about it.”
After Rasheed grazed the facts of the accident, he dug deeper for the details in the lower level of the Nicholas P. Sims Library. He recovered the article, “20 Bodies, up to now, in morgues in Waxahachie.” He read the article and relived segregation that separated blacks and whites in hospitals and even the news.
“That people could not come together for this horrific situation and deal with it. Even down to the medial aspect, it was segregated,” Rasheed pleaded.
John affirmed the close-knit Black community was there to support each other through the travesty.
Rasheed has only heard a glimpse of how the wreck affected the community and wants to document more. He recorded six people are buried and have inscribed gravestones in Prince Hall Fraternal Cemetery. Rasheed said over half of the bodies from the crash are buried there, with about 12 of the graves still unmarked.
Rasheed is in the works of commemorating the lives that were lost on Aug. 5, 1947, with a mural in the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame building. He is also working with the artist, Nancy Green from Eastfield College. Green is in the midst of laying out the design of the structure. It will comprise of 20 hands, representing all of the lives lost that day, “reaching up and reaching out,” Rasheed said. He plans on debuting the sculpture on the 71st anniversary of the crash.
He is currently creating a documentary, speaking with community members who lived in Waxahachie during the accident reflecting on their thoughts and feelings of the tragic morning. Rasheed does need more participants and wants to speak with more relatives of the men who died as well.
In Rasheed's eyes, the story of a massacre of an accident was swept under the rug. The thought of commemorating the 20 deaths is the mission of the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame.
“Education. This documentary and memorial continue to tie into educating people of the life and times of African Americans of Ellis County,” Rasheed emphasized.
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450