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A divide bridged

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding
Hundreds of Denton High School alumni gather at Bronco Field in June for the filming of scenes for “When We Were All Broncos.”David Minton
Hundreds of Denton High School alumni gather at Bronco Field in June for the filming of scenes for “When We Were All Broncos.”
David Minton
Denton native David Barrow is the filmmaker behind “When We Were All Broncos,” a documentary about Denton High School during desegregation, from 1968 to 1973.Al Key
Denton native David Barrow is the filmmaker behind “When We Were All Broncos,” a documentary about Denton High School during desegregation, from 1968 to 1973.
Al Key

Documentary studies Denton’s pathway to desegregation

Denton native and filmmaker David Barrow thinks Denton is a special place. And it isn’t special by accident.

In his documentary film When We Were All Broncos, Barrow takes a look back at the people — the decisions they made and the hard work they did — who brought this small Texas town from beneath the shadow of Jim Crow.

The film opens Thin Line, a five-day documentary film and music festival.

“I was on a remarkable football team in 1972,” said Barrow, whose late father, Frank Barrow, was mayor of Denton. “We were the first team to go to the playoffs in 42 years.”

Until desegregation, black students attended Fred Moore School in Southeast Denton. Barrow said the documentary traces the origins of Denton schools’ racial desegregation, uncovering some surprising information about the people who reached across social and cultural barriers to ease black students into white schools.

“One of the things I always thought about was how lucky we were,” Barrow said. “We had people like coach [C.H.] Collins from Fred Moore and coach Billy Ryan, and [Broncos coach] Bill Carrico, who played with Abner Haynes.” Haynes and another student, Leon King, were the first black athletes to integrate the football team at what is now University of North Texas, in 1956.

Barrow said he looks back at the 1972 Broncos as an avatar of a new generation.

“We integrated with the Fred Moore School [when I was] in the eighth grade,” he said. “It was a special time. You think what a small group of people actually straddle that time before and after desegregation, it makes you think. And I wanted to go back and not just kind of reminisce about that team, but also look at the history of Denton and why we were where we were when we were.”

Barrow researched the history of Quakertown, something he grew up knowing about, but reviewed more carefully.

Quakertown was a thriving black neighborhood in Denton until the 1920s, when residents were forced out to make way for a city park. Many of the displaced residents relocated to Southeast Denton, along with the Fred Douglass School — which was renamed around 1950 for Fred Moore, the school’s longtime principal.

“It led me to realize that we were very lucky, yes, but we had some remarkable people in our history, too,” Barrow said. “Fred Moore was a bridge builder. He did a lot of things and built a lot of bridges that made it possible for Denton to desegregate. And we had the remarkable career of football coach Abner Haynes. And there was the Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship, too. That group of women built a lot of bridges and worked together to make things happen that really didn’t happen in other cities. Denton ISD, the school board, all of these groups and people played a part in desegregating Denton.”

Other cities didn’t make changes until leaders and policy dictated it.

“Dallas made progress much more slowly, and the progress was really top-down. In Denton it was a much more organic feeling,” Barrow said.

Historians said much the same late last year when Dallas honored John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination. Historians told KERA-FM (90.1) that Dallas leaders and activists had advised Kennedy not to come to Dallas because so much hostility had fomented against him because of his pro-integration stance.

Denton’s racial integration wasn’t flawless, but it preceded Dallas’.

“The net result was that Denton moved so decisively,” Barrow said. “If you look at the distribution of students at our high schools, we don’t have a black high school and a white high school. Our schools have remained very multicutural, and I think that’s kind of a legacy of that period of time.”

Barrow has lived in Dekalb, Ill., for more than 20 years, but he still talks about Denton as though he lives here.

“There’s been a lot of back and forth between the two [states],” he said.

Denton’s universities played a part in the city’s forward motion. Student activists demonstrated for integration.

“I would put it this way … the universities became a real place of change for Denton. Not all of the people at the universities were from here,” Barrow said. “There were stand-ins at the Campus Theatre to integrate the theater.”

Before desegregation, black movie patrons could watch films only from the balcony of the Campus Theatre. Activists from the community and the college campuses participated in demonstrations at the cinema.

“It was a difficult time, because everyone was looking at Selma and New Orleans and there was some real violence around these issues,” Barrow said. “The views of the stand-ins varied according to who you were. There were slight differences of opinion about it. But the way these things were handled, things went much easier than they could have. … Denton, for a town its size, had an extraordinary amount of cultural capital.”

When We Were All Broncos began as a smaller project, but grew into an 83-minute feature produced by Barrow’s production company OC Imageworks and the Denton Public School Foundation.

Barrow’s son, independent filmmaker Brian Barrow, is the director of photography on the project. The film is co-produced by Denton High graduate and actress Susan Davis. Gary Hutchins is an associate producer.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is


What: A five-day documentary film and music festival

When: Feb. 12-16

Where: Films will screen at the Campus Theatre and the Fine Arts Theatre on the downtown Square. Live music will be at Dan’s Silverleaf, Hailey’s Club, Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, Sweetwater Grill & Tavern and the Thin Line Tent, which will be on East Oak Street near Oakland Street, across from Oak Street Drafthouse & Cocktail Parlor.

How much: $150 for an all-access festival pass; $75 for a film pass, which grants access to any film screening; $75 for a music pass, which grants access to any venue for Thin Line music; and $15 for tickets to see Sebadoh in the Thin Line Tent. To buy passes, visit

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