Historic black community in Nacogdooches Co. focus of photograph - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Historic black community in Nacogdooches Co. focus of photography book

The Upshaw family and generations before them lived in County Line,  once a freedom colony in Nacogdoches County. (Source: KTRE Staff) The Upshaw family and generations before them lived in County Line, once a freedom colony in Nacogdoches County. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Texas photographer and Nacogdoches resident Richard Orton photographed the family over 25 years to shed light on freedom colonies. (Source: KTRE Staff) Texas photographer and Nacogdoches resident Richard Orton photographed the family over 25 years to shed light on freedom colonies. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Orton’s work was published in an award-winning book. Now the images and oral history will be transformed into a traveling exhibit. (Source: KTRE Staff) Orton’s work was published in an award-winning book. Now the images and oral history will be transformed into a traveling exhibit. (Source: KTRE Staff)
NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) -

A freedom colony is a bit of American history often passed over in the textbooks.

A Nacogdoches photographer wanted to satisfy his own interest about the African-American communities established shortly after the end of slavery. It ended up being how Richard Orton learned about County Line in Nacogdoches County.

Texas photographer Richard Orton is impressed how quickly emancipated slaves were able to own their own land and become self-sufficient just years after being in slavery. So back in the 1980s, he headed out to County Line in Nacogdoches County.

“The community was started in the 1870s by three brothers, newly emancipated slaves,” said Orton, the author of “The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family.”

All were Upshaws who raised generations in County Line.

"Here's a picture of the whole family,” Orton said. The only one in existence to my knowledge."

It’s just one of many images Orton took over a span of 25 years as he documented the community's history through photographs and oral interviews.

"Still to my amazement when I told them what I wanted to do, they took me at face value, right on the spot and said, 'Sure,’" Orton said.

Orton's work led to an award winning book. Two years after the release of “The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family,” he's still asked to talk about the project.

"It's very fundamental and basic in our American history,” Orton said. “Not just African- American history, but American history."

Which could be why Orton's research will become a traveling exhibit next year. He just got the news.  

"It's all I could possibly hope for in this,” Orton said. “It will give this work a chance to be seen everywhere and anywhere."

Orton will be sharing the Upshaw story, but also his own.

"As I think of it now, when telling their story it became a part of my story, so it all caught up and integrated together,” Orton said.

Orton will give a talk about his 25-year experience with the Upshaws on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Cole Art Center in Nacogdoches.

The event is during the Main Street Wine Swirl which requires a ticket, but the book event, also on Main Street, is free.

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