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Ordinary People

FORGET STEREOTYPES. Marketing directors, lawyers, clerks, and accountants are all members of Dallas’ black community. The one thing they have in common is their struggle to make it in a white man’s world.
By GALE HORTON CHERY |

GERALD AND TERRI Britt strongly disagree about where they should live and how they should teach their four children to surmount the obstacles of being black. Yet they’re married for richer or poorer, for better or worse. Gerald, 24, is an assistant pastor at Shady Grove Baptist Church in East Dallas, and he doesn’t mind living in a completely black community. His 26-year-old wife, on the other hand, would like to abandon the trappings of their lower-income life. She is a fatalist when it comes to the question of whether blacks can succeed here in Dallas.

“We have always been in the back,” she says, “and until the good Lord takes us off this earth, we will always be in the back.”

Gerald is far more optimistic. “I think we have some great opportunities in Dallas for blacks,” he says. “It’s really a matter of black people realizing how many opportunities there are. I think that, on the whole, black people might well be aware of these opportunities, but there is still that old boogie man there who says the white man won’t let you do such and such.”

Terri and Gerald both grew up near Dallas, but their divergent backgrounds surface when they talk of how things could be, should be, and are.

Terri was reared in a mostly black section of Garland where she lived until the age of 13. She then returned to Dallas and lived with her parents in the Singing Hills section of Oak Cliff.

“My parents brought me up highly cultured – music, arts, ballet. When I came here and started talking about different cultures, blacks looked at me differently,” says Terri of her apartment complex neighbors.

Terri began recognizing disparities between black and white communities as a high school student when she was bused from predominantly black South Oak Cliff High to racially mixed David Carter High in 1971 and found herself academically several grades behind her white counterparts.

Gerald says he never personally encountered a great deal of prejudice when he was growing up. “From what my parents and grandparents have told me, we have come a long way.” But he believes that white people in Dallas may be overestimating just how far blacks have come.

“Most educated whites, whites who are sensitive, already assume we have the equality we have been fighting for for so long, when in actuality we don’t have it.”

Gerald says the white members of the city council don’t understand black problems. “They fail to recognize that the problems we face in the black community are problems people in far North Dallas don’t have to deal with.”

Gerald, whose dream is to have a church of his own and be of service to the community, says he would like to establish his family in a nice section of the black community. But Terri’s picture of the perfect home atmosphere for the family differs from her husband’s. “If I had everything I wanted to have at this present moment, I don’t think I would live in an all-black community,” she says. “I would want to do better for my kids, show them different things, and have them grow up in a different environment.”

LIFELONG DALLAS RESIDENT EDWINA COX believes in the shining image of Dallas as a progressive Sunbelt city that offers the good life. If you are white.

In her eyes, things haven’t gotten much better in the 40 years since she was an infant.

“In one respect, I can’t say it’s better than it used to be. When I was a little girl, the signs were still on the bus, water fountains still labeled ’colored.’ My mother bought my clothes at Neiman’s, but we were not allowed to try them on. Now we’ve gone to a different type of racism. They work on your mind now. Institutional racism is more rampant at this time.”

Equality in employment opportunities and finances are two of the “things” that should have gotten better, if the image of Dallas as a progressive city held true, Mrs. Cox says.

The qualifications for the decent-paying jobs keep changing, says Mrs. Cox, ensuring that only a small segment of the black population will reach the choicest plums.

Where once experience alone would lead to landing a good job or a promotion, that bottom-line qualifying credential has given way to experience coupled with a couple of years of college. Now bachelor’s degrees are the minimum, with master’s and Ph.D.’s preferred. Mrs. Cox thinks that hits blacks harder than whites.

Although she spent her younger days growing up in North Dallas, Mrs. Cox now lives in a middle-class, predominantly black Oak Cliff neighborhood with her two children.

As executive director of Bethlehem Foundation, a nonprofit organization that tries to find food, shelter, and opportunities for the poor, disadvantaged, and outcast, Mrs. Cox says she has experienced discrimination when she raises funds.

“You either have to know somebody or have well-documented statistics that would reflect you have done a good job. There is no equality. They can take a white agency. Not only do they get what they want, but they end up with more than they want or need,” she says.

And as the face of Dallas changes with the construction of multimillion-dollar arenas and convention centers, and housing starts continue unparalleled, the problems of Dallas’ black communities grow more acute and appear worse by comparison, she says.

“There is still mass poverty in Dallas, and this problem is not being addressed. Dallas is a progressive area. Dallas is a wealthy city, but the problems still exist. In a way I think there are more problems than there were when we knew who had to sit in a particular place or drink water from a certain fountain.

“The powers that be act like they can close their eyes and juvenile delinquency, poverty, and crime will disappear. The problems are too numerous for the magnitude of wealth and fortune in Dallas,” Mrs. Cox says.

She is not optimistic about conditions improving for blacks any time soon, not until the top blows off.

“Dallas is prime for a revolution, a civil war. We are sitting on a time bomb. Poor people and minority people are not stupid. They know what’s happening. It’s going to be a matter of survival. Everybody is going to get madder and madder and madder.”

She says one of the things that makes turmoil likely is the difference in attitudes of black young adults today and two decades ago. One reason Dallas didn’t explode into racial violence in the Sixties, she says, is that blacks were willing to negotiate, and whites were willing to make adjustments.

“At least people of my age and older were willing and are willing to negotiate. The younger generation really isn’t very willing to negotiate.

“The fire and the fury is present. They don’t see any grounds to talk. They are more violent. There’s not going to be time for talk. This is what I am seeing on a daily basis. I don’t think even people of my generation could control that.”

And the root of the conflict will lie in how well blacks assimilate American ideals.

“What’s happening to us is our roots are in America, and this is the American Way and the American Dream. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and actually the pie is too small to go around.”

I REMEMBER THE OLD DALLAS THAT PEOPLE HAVE forgotten. When you could only go to the State Fair on Wednesdays, and blacks could only go to the Majestic Theatre. And I ain’t got wrinkles and don’t walk with a cane,” says 33-year-old Ron Nance.

Nance isn’t surprised that so many newcomers and young people, many just a few years younger than he, are oblivious to the way things used to be in Dallas.

“You should not always live in the past. You can’t always go around blaming folks… but I think it’s a gross mistake to forget the past. Not having free access in society is something people don’t want to remember, especially the white community.

“Like the word ’nigger.’ Nobody likes to see it in print. Those are old wounds and nobody likes to be reminded of those wounds.”

Nance, lighting director at KERA-TV, grew up in Hamilton Park and now lives in a house he and his wife, Miaron, are renovating in Oak Lawn.

Nance partially agrees with Dallas’ much-publicized image as a land of opportunity.

“I fully believe unless you have a job with a certain company, you don’t have to leave Texas to make a living. But if you are an artist, especially a black artist, Texas is not going to be as kind to you. Black musicians don’t get half the calls white musicians do.

“If you want to get right down to it, racism is alive and well here. You just figure you are going to deal with it. You have to take it into account. You don’t have to look for it like a boogie man.

“I think racism now is a subtle thing. Racism, especially in this part of town, is connected with money. People don’t want to allow you access to the economic mainstream.”

Nance views employment opportunities as “getting better and getting worse at the same time.” More blacks are holding jobs in previously white terrain.

Nance has a vision of what he would like to see transpire in in the next decade: “I would like to see at least two or three black television directors in Dallas, rather than one. I would like to see the chairman of Exxon be black, and I would like to see four or five more black millionaires, and not more movie stars. Then you know there will be more black foremen at TI and LTV.”

Nance is highly critical of former Mayor Robert Folsom and the city council in terms of their attention to the black community.

“I don’t think Folsom cared about anybody unless they had the right kind of corporate lawyer.” While city officials devoted the efforts to the development and problems in other parts of town, South Dallas has been neglected, Nance says.

“Elsie Faye Heggins had hell trying to do something about flooding.” Nance predicts that shortly there will be a showdown between South Dallas residents, developers, and the city council that will be rooted in economics but will appear to be based on race. The confrontation will come when developers, who have almost exhausted themselves in North Dallas, begin prospecting in South Dallas with plans for townhouses and renovations.

“The areas that are left are those nobody wanted or thought they wanted,” he says.



THE YEAR IS 1950. ELZINA MARIE AND Robert Shelton are settling in for the first night in their new home. The light is momentarily dimmed before a fire bomb rips apart a section of the home of the first black family to integrate Pine Street in South Dallas.

Though the blast hurled the Sheltons from their bed, it did little to shake their conviction to live where they chose.

“It was really white-flight time,” says Mrs. Shelton. “Back then everyone that could go, went.”

At first, a few white neighbors offered to buy the Shelton home in hopes of ridding the neighborhood of them. When Mrs. Shelton set a price they could not meet, the offers ceased. One by one, houses started going up for sale.

While Dallas was prime back then to follow in the footsteps of other cities in the country that erupted into large scale racial violence, Mrs. Shelton credits people like the late Reverend E.C. Estell of St. John Baptist Church with quelling of the potentially volatile situations.

Because of his nonviolent views, many people considered Estell an Uncle Tom, Mrs. Shelton says. “He said, ’1 don’t want no bloodshed. I want integration and I want it now. I want to see it in my lifetime. 1 want it peaceful.’ “

Today, Pine Street bears no obvious telltale signs of its violent past. The street is the exclusive territory of black dwellers.

The Shelton home has been completely remodeled since that first night so many years ago.

“Dallas has really gone a long way, but it has so much further to go.”

Mrs. Shelton, 60, a retired beautician who moved to Dallas from Bryan in 1938, is disappointed in the advancements that have been made by blacks in business.

“Black businesses can’t survive. Blacks can’t borrow money to operate the way white people can, so they have inferior businesses compared to those of whites.

“White businesses can borrow money to keep their businesses up to par, to put in bigger and better businesses.”

At the same time, Mrs. Shelton says, blacks need to learn how to write proposals for funding and pursue more education.

“It’s not altogether the council’s fault,” she says.

THIRTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD SAMMY PEARSON IS a district manager for Ben E. Keith Co., the Dallas Budweiser distributor.

He owns a house in the Cedar Crest section of Oak Cliff and a farm. He considers himself one of the black success stories made possible because of Dallas’ progressive environment.

“For blacks, I think that Dallas is the place,” says Pearson. “For the last 20 years, I’ve seen blacks more than double, triple in advancement. I know this; I’ve seen it happen. They have the best homes they’ve ever had. They drive the best cars. You have more black businessmen in Dallas. You now have 12 black millionaires in Dallas.”

Pearson says blacks have had the flurry of career opportunities because “people in Dallas are not as prejudiced as some places. They’ve gone from sweepers to bosses on the job, from driver-salesmen to district managers, which is what I was. I came right up the ladder,” says Pearson.

Although there have been strides in employment and promotion opportunities, Pearson says only about half of the eligible blacks take advantage of the opportunities they encounter.

Not long ago, Pearson, who has been with Budweiser 17 years, trained the man who became general manager.

“I can’t call that prejudice. I didn’t have the college,” says Pearson when asked why he wasn’t given the position. “If you don’t have the education qualifications to do the job, you can’t holler ’prejudice.’ “

Pearson came to Dallas 21 years ago from Avinger, near Tyler. When he started running an East Dallas keg route for Budweiser in 1965, there were no other black salesmen. His deliveries were mostly to East Dallas “redneck” bars. He says there were never any racial incidents. A year later, Schlitz and Coca-Cola added black salesmen to their delivery routes.

“When I moved to East Dallas, there weren’t any blacks working in Dallas except your common labor. Right now the door is open, and it has been open for the last 20 years. If we ever expect to earn anything we are going to have to work.”

Pearson says if things now aren’t all that blacks want them to be, the fault may well lie among blacks.

“A lot of them blame the white people for everything when it’s really not the white people, it’s themselves.”



CURTIS MCCARTY IS AN IMPOSING, BUT not overwhelming, 67″ black man who wears workingman’s jeans and shirts and retains his East Texas way of talking.

McCarty doesn’t look like the wealthy and successful man he is. Many white businessmen, who McCarty says fail to do their homework, often assume that because he is black he is also poor.

Once, two businessmen were trying to convince McCarty to sell his paint and body shop on Forest Lane. On his way to lunch with the men to discuss the only price McCarty thought worth discussing, $1 million, one of the men told McCarty that if he sold the business he would be able to buy a Mercedes Benz like the one in which they were riding.

That galled McCarty. He raised the selling price out of their reach and then told them about the Mercedes 450 SL he had bought for his wife. He told them they should do their homework next time.

McCarty has many anecdotes about the assumptions whites make about blacks, particularly blacks who are successful but don’t always look the part. Many whites still make the assumption that blacks are so foolish, whites can easily pull the wool over their eyes.

McCarty, 46, has had his share of rebuffs from white businessmen during the 16 years it took to build Orbit Automotive Paint and Body Shop into a lucrative garage. Bank financing for the establishment, expansion of his business, and the construction of his house should have been approved without skepticism and red tape, particularly since he had a sizable amount to invest in each venture, he says.

“The problem facing black people (and 1 have talked to so many who have faced the same thing) is you can’t just write up a proposal on your credit. I know of white people who have gone into business with just a good proposal and credit and nothing else.”

In the late Sixties, when McCarty decided to build a house in far North Dallas, he encountered a line of questioning from white bankers he is sure whites do not have to face.

“They asked, ’How come you have to build a house that expensive?’ ” he says. “Now I don’t have any problems. When you get to a certain status in life, they want you to borrow so they can make an example of you.”

McCarty was reared in Paris, the son of a carpenter and a domestic. His family did sharecropping while he was growing up. At age 17, he turned down a Texas Southern University basketball scholarship.

“I was a dreamer. I figured it would make me too complacent. Now I figure if I had been a college coach 30 years ago that’s what I would still be. I had to make sure I could be able to afford the things in life that I wanted.”

McCarty lives off Preston Road in Mc-Shann Estates (named after a black Dallas physician), a street on which several other wealthy blacks chose to build homes.

McCarty’s house is paid for, as are the cars in his driveway. He owns one of the only two remaining undeveloped tracts in McShann Estates as well as other properties in Dallas and Paris. McCarty also serves on the Dallas Bar Association’s grievance committee.

McCarty says blacks in Dallas have more overall opportunities they can parlay into successes than ever before.

“A black never would have been considered for a position like that [the bar association]. Things are definitely better than they used to be for blacks. There are laws, people can’t discriminate.” But discrimination still exists, he says.

“You are not going to walk into a business one on one and get the same position as a white, so you prepare yourself well.”



SAMMIE PINKSTON DIDN’T REALIZE HOW bad things were for blacks in Dallas until she moved to Richardson seven years ago.

Mrs. Pinkston, 39, a mother of three, says she didn’t know how deficient South Dallas schools were until the family moved and Richardson school officials said her son Dirk, then a second grader, was not at second grade level.

“He learned what they taught him in Dallas, but evidently what they taught him didn’t amount to nothing,” she says.

Richardson school officials wanted to put Dirk back a grade, but Mrs. Pinkston asked to work with her son, to help him along.

“I said then I will never let another one of my kids go to DISD schools. They just don’t pay attention to the black community. They don’t seem to care what’s happening to them. I had to leave before I could figure that out about education,” she says.

Mrs. Pinkston moved from a predominantly black Southeast Dallas neighborhood to a mixed community in Richardson. Differences between the two school systems go farther than academics, Mrs. Pinkston says.

In Richardson, school children can participate in such after-school activities as little league soccer, activities Mrs. Pinkston says exist in predominantly white Dallas schools but aren’t found in predominantly black Dallas schools.

“Soccer works on a kid’s mind. Makes these kids pretty bright, makes them concentrate. Dirk’s been playing since second grade. These schools have so much to offer. They don’t have all these things in Dallas, and I don’t understand why.”

Since moving from Southeast Dallas, Mrs. Pinkston says her eyes have been opened to other disparities between Dallas’ black communities and other places.

TWENTY YEARS AGO, LOTTIE BAILEY WAS one of those “high-minded colored gals” who didn’t like what she saw happening to black people in Dallas and took to the streets to picket and protest. She was among a group of blacks who picketed against the State Fair’s Negro Day policy.

Negro Day was the one day blacks could gain admission to all the exhibits, concessions, and rides without restrictions.

The protest was an overwhelming success. The next year Negro Day and the restrictions on blacks’ activities at the fair were dropped.

Mrs. Bailey tells stories about Dallas whites who hated the discrimination and segregation as much as blacks. Many whites were naive and unaware of the extent of racism.

Once, on her way home from a day’s work as a domestic, Mrs. Bailey was in a car wreck with her white employer. She suffered a sprained hip and a broken leg. Mrs. Bailey’s employer called an ambulance and was shocked when the ambulance driver told him, “We don’t haul Negroes.” Mrs. Bailey’s boss pulled a tire iron from his car and persuaded the driver that she was one Negro he should haul.

Many white people today are like her former employer, Mrs. Bailey contends. They don’t realize that oppressive conditions still exist here for blacks because they are removed from those situations.

Mrs. Bailey, who gives her age as “60 plus,” moved to Dallas in 1924 from Tyler. She was deputized to collect the $1.75 poll tax and actively worked to register blacks to vote. Black participation in the election process remains one of her prime pleas for the city’s blacks.

While she is critical of the city council’s concern about the black communities and the number of black representatives on the council, she also says much of the blame lies with blacks. “Black people will not register, and they will not vote,” says Mrs. Bailey, a retired beautician.

“We could go places if they would just go out and vote. That’s all that keeps us back. We have more rights, but some of the black people ignore those rights by not registering at the polls.

“I have known the time, back years ago, when we couldn’t vote unless we paid poll tax. I remember we couldn’t act as jurors. A lot of the young people aren’t aware of how far we have come. If those young people would wake up, we would have a new day.”

Generally, however, Mrs. Bailey ishappy with the progress blacks have madein Dallas. “I don’t think things could havebeen worse than they were [in the Fortiesand Fifties],” she says. “I think thingsgradually are becoming what they oughtto be.”