Nebraska town celebrates diverse, multicultural history
It was a town that had little trace of the community it used to be.
That is, until a historical marker was put in place in a ceremony in April.
The town of DeWitty is no longer there, but it will be marked, in large thanks to the efforts by author Stew Magnuson. Magnuson is the author of “The Last American Highway: A Journey through Time Down U.S. Route 83: Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma,” and led the charge to raise the funds for the marker.
Sonny and Suzie Hanna own the land that was the black community of DeWitty. The last black resident left in 1936 and the last land owned by a descendant was sold in 1993.
DeWitty and the town of Brownlee — a white community — didn’t just coexist in the early 20th century; they created a larger community. The towns didn’t let race stop them from coming together as they worked together to get by. On top of a working relationship, the people of the towns also got together for picnics, ball games and the children shared a schoolhouse.
That co-reliance makes DeWitty one of the most successful black communities in Nebraska. The town’s businesses included a barbershop, a general store and a baseball team.
“It lasted close to thirty years,” Magnuson said. “Survivorship in the Sandhills depended on working together, race was not an issue.”
The town’s name came from the first postmaster — the postmaster’s grandson, Delbert, and great-grandson, Bryson, traveled to the ceremony from Colorado.
The town name of DeWitty only lasted six years. That’s when a new postmaster changed the name to Audacious.
To celebrate and mark where DeWitty once was, Magnuson raised funds to install a $5,100 marker along U.S. 83. He got help from the Cherry County Historical Society and the Nebraska State Historical Society, along with those who donated to make the idea a reality.
For the marker’s dedication, 17 decedents of DeWitty residents and more than 150 others from Nebraska came together. The 17, with the surnames Meehan, Walker, Riley, Hayes and DeWitty, traveled from Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York, California, Colorado, Kansas, Washington and towns around Nebraska.
After the dedication ceremony, the celebration moved to Brownlee, where Vicki Troxel Harris, a Nebraska humanities speaker on the black settlements of Nebraska gave a photo journey back in time.
The day concluded with a potluck dinner. ❖