Darrington History

The land where the Darrington Unit now sits had several owners beginning as far back as 1824 when David Tally received a league of land from the Mexican government. Then in 1835, John Darrington of Alabama bought it for $3028. Ironically, he never actually lived at the plantation that produced cotton and sugar cane with slave labor. He was an absentee landlord. In the late 1840s, Nathaniel Wilkinson of New Orleans bought the land with all its holdings and it retained the Darrington Plantation name. Convict labor leased from the Texas Prison Commission supplanted the original slave labor and freedmen as the plantation continued to produce cotton and sugar under several different owners. Basset and Bonnie Blakely of Fort Bend County acquired the property in 1917 and on January 1, 1918 sold 6747 acres to the Texas Prison Commission for $337,340. The Texas Department of Corrections (TDOC) operated the Darrington Prison Farm/Unit until 1989 when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) was created.

In 1933 and 1934, folklorist John A. Lomax and his son Alan visited the Darrington prison farm to record the music of African American convicts. At Darrington, they captured not only the vocals of inmates who sang as they worked in rhythm, but also the powerful words of the prison chaplain as he delivered a sermon. The Lomaxes recorded a prisoner identified as Lightnin' Washington, so named by his fellow inmates because he could "think faster than the Warden." Washington was under 30 and serving a second prison term. He led other convicts in several work songs, including "Good God Almighty," "Hammer Ring," and "Long John" in which members of the group kept time with ax-cutting and clapping. They also joined him by singing and humming on "God Moves on the Water," a song that recalled the Titanic disaster in 1912.

During their visit in spring 1934, the Lomaxes recorded Reverend John L. Griffin, known as "Sin Killer" Griffin, who served as a chaplain to African American inmates in the Texas prison system. Lomax explained to Sin Killer, who had attracted both blacks and whites to Baptist revivals in the late 19th century, that the recordings they made would be deposited in the Library of Congress and a "thousand years from now people can listen to words you will preach." Griffin delivered his "Man of Calvary" sermon as part of the Easter service he held for Darrington's inmates. Those in attendance were offered bread crumbs and grapefruit juice from the commissary for communion. Griffin's sermon lasted an hour, but the Lomaxes were unable to record it in full as the disks they used only held seven minutes of sound per side and had to be turned and changed frequently. They did record the congregation singing "Wasn't That a Mighty Storm" about the hurricane that decimated Galveston more than 30 years earlier.

In 1963, before racial desegregation occurred, the facility housed white second offenders. In 1969 Windham School, an institution for inmates in all units, became a regular school district eligible to receive state foundation funds. During the 1960s TDOC changed the designation of its penitentiaries from prison “farms” to "units". In the late 1980s, Darrington housed a lot of leaders of prison gangs. In 1986 and 1987 a 12-foot high gunwalk was built that allows prison guards to more easily oversee all recreation yards.


In 2021, the name of the Darrington unit was changed to the Memorial Unit.

References:

https://easttexashistory.org/items/show/35

http://lifeonthebrazosriver.com/DarringtonPlantation.htm