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East Texas civil rights murder could be added to school curriculum

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TATUM/RUSK COUNTY (KYTX) - Joyce Crockett was 14 when bullets flew into a Gregg County cafe, striking her in the left wrist and killing her 16-year-old cousin -- John Earl Reese.

"We didn't feel like we was doing anything wrong," Crockett said. "We was just at my cousin's place just having fun."

The 1955 shooting was believed to be over a plan to build a new school for black Tatum I.S.D. students. Two men were convicted in the shooting -- but they never served a day in prison.

Despite the shooting, Mayflower school was eventually built, and it served the black students of Tatum ISD for several years until about 1970 when the schools were integrated.

Reese's death was largely unknown to most people living in rusk and gregg counties until about five years ago. That's why kaylie Simon and other law school students brought people together at the Tatum library on the 55th anniversary of Reese's death.

"That event brought a lot of healing to the Mayflower community and other local communities, but it's really important that we don't stop there," said Kaylie Simon, with investigated the case while she was a graduate student at Northeastern University School of Law in Massachusetts.

"People see it every day, and it's a remembrance for them to realize what did happen," Tatum Public Library Branch Manager Candi Mace said of the plaque and manual honoring Reese.

Two weeks ago, the Northeastern University School of Law released a documentary about three civil rights martyrs -- including Reese.

"That event brought a lot of healing to the Mayflower community and other local communities, but it's really important that we don't stop there."

Now, they want to bring his story into Texas public school classrooms.

"A lot of people in our community and town would not have known what had gone down if this had not come up, even though it's been 55 years ago," Crockett said.

The documentary can be seen by clicking here.

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