Dallas has a reputation, not entirely unfounded, of being a place that the civil rights movement largely passed by. It’s what Jim Schutze wrote about in The Accommodation. But the key word there is “largely,” because Ernest McMillan’s life is testament to the fact that there were people fighting for justice, trying to dismantle systemic racism, people who would not sit quietly by. And when Ernest told me his story for my profile of him in our May issue, what was surprising — and, really, it shouldn’t have been and I know it isn’t to many — is that a lot of what he was battling still exists.
For instance, how he ended up in prison. Or, I should say, how he ended up on the run and in exile for a few years and then in prison for a few more. It was over, at most, $200 of damaged produce, a casualty of Ernest’s protests against the food deserts in South Dallas and the predatory store owners taking advantage of them. This was in the early 1970s and it feels like every other part of that story could happen right now.
Which is why we still need Ernest and it’s comforting that he has never given up, even when most people would have.