“This is a struggle that I have a lot,” he says. According to Keaton, the first iteration of the marker prepared by the city, for example, didn’t refer to the men as enslaved people: it opted for the term “African Americans.” It also took out the word “lynching,” which Keaton was adamant had to be part of the marker.

This year, also through Remembering Black Dallas, Keaton is holding memorial services dedicated to the many men and women who were lynched across Dallas in the past century. (The service for Patrick Jennings, Samuel Smith, and Old Cato is scheduled for July.) Remembering Dallas’s black history requires a reckoning, says Keaton: like all Southern cities, that history is steeped in slavery, then segregation, racism, and decades of structural inequality—and much of that isn’t just a remnant of the past. 

Since its founding, Dallas has struggled to push past its origins as a rural Southern outpost built on cotton and slave labor. Local historian Michael Phillips has a term for it: amnesia by design. “People in the city want to sugarcoat and change the narrative,” Keaton says. “But if you can’t talk about something, can you ever heal from it?”