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Tales from the Dallas History Archives: Scenes from 1949, When the Mob Ruled Dallas

In 1949, streetcars still roamed Dallas' streets, the Adolphus Hotel towered over its neighbors downtown, the State Fair was still segregated, and Benny Binion wanted his money.
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Authorities conducting police raid on a policy game gambling operation in Dallas on December 29, 1949. The illegal policy ring was operated in part by the Urban Distribution Company and gambler Benny Binion. Shown from left to right: Jim Mathis, Dallas District Attorney Will Wilson and Dallas Police Chief Carl Hansson. From the Hayes Collection, Dallas Public Library
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Tales from the Dallas History Archives: Scenes from 1949, When the Mob Ruled Dallas

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A cool thing about working in an archive are the discoveries revealed through customer requests. While looking for a photograph of a cemetery, I stumbled across photographs related to the funeral of Mildred Noble. She was the wife of a well-known Dallas gambler from the 1940s named Herbert “The Cat” Noble, who was the intended target of the car bomb that took her life. While I was aware of Noble, this aspect of his story, that his wife was killed instead of him, is one of the many rabbit holes one can go down in the Dallas Public Library archives.

Herbert Noble did eventually die on August 7, 1951, ending a feud with then-Dallas gambling kingpin Lester “Benny” Binion that began in 1946 after Noble refused to pay an increased percentage of his gambling profits demanded by Binion for “protection.” Noble survived at least 10 attempts on his life including multiple shootings in which he was wounded several times and two car bombs in 1949. Ultimately, it was an explosive in his driveway that killed him while he was retrieving mail. His death was featured in Time magazine a week later.

What else happened that year of poor Mildred’s unfortunate demise? I found many fascinating 75-year-old images, all from 1949, which cover a wide range of events. There were other photographs related to organized crime in Dallas, such as a series that shows authorities conducting a police raid on a policy game gambling operation in December 1949. A policy game operates like a lottery, in that people bet on numbers with the intent that their selection is chosen in a drawing. The illegal policy ring was operated in part by the Urban Distribution Company and none other than Benny Binion.

There are images of the Mexican American community in Dallas including work and religious life. Streetcars are seen in other photographs transporting Dallasites to various destinations, and an elevated view of Akard Street shows many iconic Dallas buildings like the Adolphus Hotel.  

Several I’ve put together here highlight the African American community in Dallas during the era of segregation. This includes Dallas public school extra-curricular activities and images of the paper delivery boys who worked for the Dallas Express. The weekly newspaper, founded by W. E. King in 1893, focused on the African American community and ceased publication in 1970. Its readers relied on the newspaper to provide news coverage not included in the Dallas Times Herald or the Dallas Morning News of that era. 

The State Fair of Texas spent multiple decades as a segregated event in Dallas, only allowing African Americans to enter the fair on designated days. Photographer Marion Butts captured events on one such October day in 1949.

The year 1949 had other hallmarks in Dallas history as well, such as the big celebration event for the launch of Dallas’ first television station KBTV, owned by oil magnate Tom Potter. It would later be bought out by the News and WFAA radio owner A. H. Belo Corporation in 1950, becoming WFAA-TV.

Finally, one of my favorites, is an image of the Starlight Operettas performers, the precursor to what would later become Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park.

Enjoy this photograph gallery depicting many different aspects of life in Dallas in 1949—all found in the archives of Dallas Public Library.


Contact Dallas History & Archives Division at Dallas Public Library at (214) 670-1435 or email [email protected] with questions about the many fascinating photographic resources available.

Brandon Murray, a librarian and archivist in the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History & Archives Division, writes about North Texas history for D Magazine. See more of this series here. 

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Brandon Murray

Brandon Murray

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Brandon Murray is a librarian and archivist in the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History & Archives Division. He writes about…
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