Shankleville memorialized slaves' love story

By Bob Bowman
Special to The Journal

For more than sixty-five years, members of the Shankle family have gathered in Newton County to remember a poignant love story reaching back to the days before the Civil War.

The community was named for two former slaves, Jim and Winnie Shankle, whose graves are found in Jim Shankle Cemetery near Burkeville.

Jim Shankle was born into slavery on a Kentucky plantation in 1811. Winnie was born in Tennessee three years later and bore three children by her white slave master.

But shortly after they were sold to a Mississippi plantation owner, Winnie's owners moved from Mississippi to Texas, taking Winnie and her three children.

Jim grieved for days and then, risking his life as a runaway slave, he left in the dark of night to find his family. With a price on his head, he was forced to travel at night, slipping off the road when he met other travelers and foraging food from fields.

Not daring to use a ferry, he swam the Mississippi and Sabine rivers before entering Texas, where he slipped into plantations at night, searching for Winnie.

Finally, after weeks of searching, including more than 400 miles walked by foot, Jim found Winnie one evening as she gathered water by her master's spring in Newton County, not far from the Sabine River.

Hiding in the woodlands around the spring, Jim was brought food by Winnie for several days until they decided what they should do in order to live together.

Winnie finally disclosed Jim's presence to her master, who agreed to purchase Jim. Reunited, the couple worked side by side, bringing up the couple's three previous children and six more.

When Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1861, Jim and Winnie won their freedom. Jim became a farmer and accumulated about two hundred dollars in real and personal property by 1870. With Steve McBride, another former slave who married daughter Mary, the Shankle family holdings soon increased to more than 4,000 acres.

Around their home a community known as Shankleville soon developed with prosperous farms and hard-working black families.

The community became the site of a sawmill and soon added a grist mill and a cotton gin. The McBride family established McBride College, which operated from 1883 to 1909, although Steve McBride never learned to read.

Three churches, including a Methodist congregation founded by Jim Shankle, were established in the community

Winnie Shankle died in 1883 and Jim followed her in death five years later, ending a love story that has become a legend in East Texas. Both were buried in Jim Shankle Cemetery, one of two burial grounds in the community.

Each year, the descendants of Jim and Winnie return to Shankleville from throughout the nation for a family reunion that began in 1941.

--Bob Bowman of Lufkin, who has written more than 30 books about East Texas, is the author of a forthcoming book, "Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Volume 5." He can be reached at bobb@consolidated.net

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