Friday, May 27, 2022 May 27, 2022
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A Bombing Victim Recalls the Nightmare

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Thirty-seven years after that night, Elzina Shelton can sit in the dimly lighted room at the front of her house on Pine Street in South Dallas and remember exactly what the blast felt like, what it looked like, even what it smelled like. “It was horrible,” she says.

Mrs. Shelton is sixty-six years old now, a beautiful woman with a strong, implacable face. Her eyes glitter when she remembers May 8, 1950, the night she and her late husband. Robert M. Shelton, moved into the house she still occupies. Black families were just beginning to move into the all-white neighborhood on Pine in South Dallas. The Sheltons had worked all that day, moving their possessions from the old Maynard Jackson family home, where they had rented a room, to their dream house.

“My husband was working as a maintenance man, and I was working in a beauty shop,” Mrs. Shelton says. “His boss had loaned him the down payment. We had to move; we had no choice. Black people at that time were living on top of each other in rooming houses.

“We had just turned the light out and gone to bed. The lady who sold the house to us, she had a shed on the back where her boys slept in bunk beds. The bomb must have landed on the roof of the house in back and then it rolled down onto the flat roof of that shed. It smashed that all down, blew the back of the house in. It blew out every window in the house. It was so strong, it knocked the wallpaper off the walls.

“The smell was horrible. We knew it was dynamite. At that time, they were bombing all around here, every night. We knew what had happened the minute it hit. We weren’t totally unexpecting it, knowing how racist these white people were in Dallas.”

Robert Shelton was taken to Parkland Hospital with a badly gashed leg. Mrs. Shelton was uninjured physically but spent eight days in the hospital, resting and getting her nerve back. And then they both went back and rebuilt their house.

“There was harassment every day. They called us and said, ’Niggers, move out.” We said we’d move. We said we’d move if they paid us $50,000, because it was worth that much to us.” She stops and smiles a hard smile. “We had paid $5,200 for it.

“The NAACP hired a man, Leroy Cole-man, to sit out front with a shotgun and guard us while we slept. And we built this house back. My husband was determined he was going to stay here. We had bought this home, they had sold it to us, it had gone through, and we were determined that one day it would be ours, if we were willing to pay tor it.”

For a while, the city’s white power structure took note of the threat the bombings presented to the larger racial peace. The newspapers of the period hinted that the Dallas Police Department, if not directly involved in carrying out the bombings, was not actively involved in stopping them. A special blue ribbon grand jury made up entirely of members of the Dallas Citizens Council investigated the bombings and issued a report strongly suggesting that white church and neighborhood groups had been involved.

Thirteen people were indicted, but only one man, Pete Garcia, was ever tried. No one was ever convicted. And, after dominating the front pages for two years, the entire matter disappeared one day like a rock dropped in a lake.

Some of the surviving members of that grand jury say today they think it went far enough: the bombings stopped; that was enough. Pressing it beyond that to establish guilt would have been too disruptive, they say. To this day, the real origin of the bombings is a massive and unsolved mystery, still casting a long shadow on the black community’s perception of the police department specifically and of the white establishment generally.

As for the grand jury investigation, “We were never informed which way it went,” Mrs. Shelton says. She said she and her husband lived ever afterward with the knowledge that the police or their next-door neighbors “could have been the ones that did it.”

Today, the house on Pine Street is well-tended and pretty. Mrs. Shelton says the city used to sweep the street every night when it was a white neighborhood. Now she never sees a city sweeper, so she sweeps the street in front of her house herself. Robert Shelton died recently at age seventy-nine. “I would never ever have let them make me move out,” she says at the door, her eyes flashing again behind the screen, “because I know from whence I come.”