McKinney interns

Left to right: Bri Tollie, Jordyn Harrell and Luisa Piña. 

For Jordyn Harrell, researching McKinney’s history is like working on a big jigsaw puzzle.

The Southern Methodist University student likes to usually have the whole story, details and all, before her, she said, but this summer, she and two others are searching for the pieces themselves.

Three students are working this summer to research and find the stories of who made McKinney’s history, particularly focusing on the city’s Black and Hispanic communities. Their work is part of an internship program with Legacy Keepers of Old East McKinney, a consortium focused on preserving and promoting the history of McKinney’s Black and Hispanic communities.

For Luisa Piña, an Austin College student, the internship provides an almost full-circle experience: she attended McKinney High School. Piña was an English as a second language student, she said.

“This town was really the introducing of America when I first arrived,” Piña said.

After leaving for college, she never expected to come back. Now, Piña said, after getting the internship offer through her school and learning about the consortium’s goals, she has found an appreciation for McKinney history.

“I’m definitely glad that I got to come back to McKinney, definitely see it through a whole new light, and in a way contribute to a town that three years ago gave me so much, so I can give something back to it as well,” she said.

Harrell and fellow SMU student Bri Tollie are focusing on learning about members of the graduating class of 1943 from Doty High School, which was once the city’s only high school for Black students. In addition to scouring documents like marriage and military records, their goal is to go beyond the bare-bone facts.

That means interviewing family members who can bring memories and narratives to the table.

“Hopefully through talking with them we can start to grasp the story so we can start to put everything together and put the pieces together,” Tollie said.

Piña’s job focuses on uncovering the histories of people buried in what is commonly called the Mexican Cemetery in McKinney. Building off of previous archiving work, Piña is looking to learn more about some of the people for whom there is only a death certificate or a headstone picture to go by.

“From there on, I’m trying to not only get more historical recounts of their existence here in McKinney, but trying to develop or understand what their impact was in the community,” she said.

For Tollie, focusing on the histories of smaller communities is needed. She mentions meeting lifetime McKinney resident and school board member Larry Jagours, who attended Doty High School and then earned his high school diploma at McKinney High School.

“That’s big, and that’s awesome, and not many people can say that they worked with somebody that integrated their schools,” Tollie said. “So I think it’s super important, and I wish that people took more time to acknowledge these local facts.”

For Piña, that history is important to teach McKinney students, too.

“We all know about international Black and Hispanic heroes that had a great impact on some form of social or political change, but for someone living in our McKinney, especially our youth, Black and Hispanic youth, it’s important to know that they have ... that people that look like them were also important, and they can look up to someone,” she said.

This summer marks the first time interns have worked with Legacy Keepers of Old East McKinney, but organizer Beth Bentley doesn’t see this being the only time. She added that it was good having a mix of people who are familiar with McKinney and those who have an outside “fishbowl” perspective on the city.

“That perspective matters and it is so critical, so important, and so I believe we have the right mix, and they’re able to lay a really solid foundation to continue on going forward,” Bentley said.

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