A new name may be ahead for White Settlement Road, which surfaces difficult conversations for a booming metropolitan city trying to promote its diversity.
Mattie Parker, Fort Worth’s newly elected mayor, signaled her support for a possible name change for White Settlement Road. The road stretches from downtown Fort Worth west toward a town of the same name. Over the years, it transformed from a dirt road lined with prairie to a bustling thoroughfare lined by businesses.
The recent completion of the White Settlement bridge presents an opportunity for a possible name change for the long-awaited connection between downtown and Panther Island, Parker said. Naming the bridge after an iconic member of the Fort Worth community is an “exciting opportunity,” the mayor said.
“The possibility of renaming it to something more significant to our community is a conversation that I am very open to,” Parker said this week in a statement to the Fort Worth Report. “Initiating a community-driven process is something I fully support and will discuss at the upcoming Aug. 3 City Council meeting.”
The road falls within districts of council members Elizabeth Beck (District 9) and Leonard Firestone (District 7). Beck hasn’t been able to discuss a name change with Parker but wants to have a “very serious conversation” about what an appropriate renaming would be, she said.
“As we move forward as the 12th-largest city and celebrate our diversity by ensuring we don’t have relics of oppression or racism glorified through the naming of our facilities or our streets,” Beck said.
Past discussions suggest changing the name to West Settlement, or simply The Settlement.
“There has long been a conversation in Fort Worth around the name and history of the name of White Settlement Road,” Parker said.
Firestone said the city should consider a more contemporary name.
“I think it’s worth a look. I know Mattie is open to it, as am I,” Firestone said. “It’s certainly worth revisiting.”
Previous efforts to change the name of the nearby town of White Settlement have failed. In 2005, the then-mayor James Ouzts, who supported the change, told NPR: “I have never had a minority approach me about the name.”
Most of the road, however, lies within Fort Worth, so the City Council can vote to change its name.
Where does the name White Settlement come from?
The story begins in 1841 when Gen. Edward H. Tarrant, for whom Tarrant County is named, organized the Texas militia to attack Native American settlements on Village Creek. Capt. John B. Denton, the namesake of Denton, died in the attack.
The attack was a part of what the then-president of Texas Mirabeau B. Lamar called an “exterminating war” against the Native American inhabitants aimed at “their total extinction or total expulsion,” according to Scott Langston, a faculty member at Texas Christian University’s Religions department.
The attack achieved its goal, forcing Native Americans to move farther west, away from encroaching white settlers.
Before Fort Worth was officially settled, various native peoples lived in the area: Comanche, Cherokees, Muscogees/Creeks, Seminoles, Kickapoos, Shawnees, various Caddo groups and various Wichita groups.
“I would argue that the Dallas-Fort Worth area was founded upon a genocidal effort against American Indians,” Langston said.
Shortly after, the Army constructed a fort, called Fort Worth, tasked with protecting white settlers as they made their way farther west.
Looking out west over the horizon from the Fort, soldiers could see a few smokestacks. They represented the homesteaders who would later make up White Settlement, according to Carol Davis, museum manager of the White Settlement Historical Museum.
The homesteaders would fire shots if they needed assistance from the Army. Presumably, the Army would go from where the courthouse is now, down the bluff toward the river, where the unofficial White Settlement Road would stretch out leading to the western homesteads.
Even though the fort was established to protect settlers from attacks by Native Americans, there are no recorded attacks against settlers.
An article published by Norris Chambers said the town was established eight miles west of the fort into “Indian territory.”
“The area was called “white” because it was a settlement of ‘white’ homesteaders, as opposed to other settlements in the vicinity that were composed of both white and Indian residents,” the article said.
In 1853, the Army dubbed North Texas as safe for the white settlers who made their way there. They packed up and left, and civilians began to occupy the fort.
Today, the town of White Settlement isn’t known as a frontier town, and White Settlement Road is no longer a corridor to the west. The town was incorporated separately from Fort Worth in 1954 and was soon surrounded by the expanding Fort Worth.
The town of White Settlement boomed during World War II when apartments were built for the workers building B-24 bombers nearby. Today, Lockheed Martin continues to operate a plant just outside White Settlement.
The road was officially widened, paved and lighted in about 1956 to aid commerce and travel between Fort Worth and the town of White Settlement to the west.
Efforts to change
The town of White Settlement, with a population of nearly 18,000, considered a name change in 2019, but voters rejected the measure by a 9-1 margin. In 2005, an article published by the New York Times quoted then-Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce Grant Jackson, who said the name was costing the town business.
In an article published on Medium in 2020, Katy Cocovinis, who was raised in White Settlement, spoke with Black residents about how the name impacts them. The history of Black residents in White Settlement is largely unwritten, aside from John Hickman, a former slave who became a cowboy and eventually settled in White Settlement.
Slavery didn’t end in Texas until 1865, 16 years after the Fort was established in 1849. Several Black residents said they experienced racism in White Settlement.
A history of the settlement shows that in the 1850s there were 689 settlers, not including slaves, which implies that there were slaves in the area, even if their story wasn’t documented.
“Excluding slavery from the town’s history, conveniently supports the effort to preserve the town’s name and unlink white supremacy to the founding and perpetuation of, the White Settlement,” the Medium article notes.
Today, white people make up nearly 63% of the population. Nearly 7% of residents are African American, 26% are Hispanic or Latino, 2% are Asian.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Sept. 20 to clarify that various native peoples (but not necessarily their entire tribes) lived in the area before Fort Worth was officially settled. Some of the native people in the region had been forced by the U.S. government to what is now Oklahoma.
Rachel Behrndt is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.