Stephen F. Austin State University

The First African Americans to Purchase Land in Newton County (April 2014)

The First African Americans to Purchase Land in Newton County
By Jonnie Miller

Jim and Winnie Shankle are known as the first African Americans to purchase their own land in Newton County. Jim and Winnie were both born into slavery. Jim was born in 1811 and Winnie in 1814.

After gaining their freedom by emancipation in 1867…."And, being a man of small stature but of powerful decision and will"(Rocking Texas Cradle, p. 112)…Jim went to work for himself as a farmer and bought "a league" of land (4,423.4 acres). He accumulated $200 in real and $125 in personal property by 1870. This was a remarkable achievement for a person who had nothing to start with but faith and courage.

Jim and Winnie worked side by side, bringing up nine children: George Washington Rollins, Tobe Perkins, Mary Rollins (McBride), George, Henry, Houston, John, Harriet (Odom), M.M.(Lewis). They spent many years clearing their land. Like many of Newton's settlers, they had to fight against disease, poverty, and disappointments.

The Shankles founded the Shankleville community which was one of the many freedom colonies organized in the South at that time. The community soon developed with prosperous farms and hard-working black families. It was the site of a sawmill, a grist mill and a cotton gin. As stated at shankleville-urhome.come: "Jim was a true and proud pioneer who had a great imagination and insight for the future generations to come."

Many of Newton's residents are descendants of Jim and Winnie Shankle. Shankleville continues to be a center for African-Americans living in the Newton-Burkeville area. Annual Shankleville homecomings have been held since 1941. - Pam Wright