Greatest Dallasites: Juanita Craft (No. 97)

The woman who integrated DISD.

When I was in high school, I was the president of an NAACP youth chapter in Louisiana, and Ms. Craft was working with the NAACP youth chapters, fighting to get colleges and universities desegregated. She became one of the starlets of the South, one of a number of Southern black women whose voices could not be silenced.

When I moved to Dallas, in 1969, I was told I needed to talk to Ms. Craft. She was the liaison to the white power structure. She possessed a capacity to interpret black struggles and black disappointment to the white power structure. They didn’t see her as a threat like they saw people like me. She was a dignified person, and they couldn’t ignore that. She challenged the status quo and nudged them along to make progress. They would listen to what she would say. But she was also stubborn as a mule. You couldn’t tell her a damn thing. She had a great sense of humor, but you had to be careful, because you didn’t know what would come out of her mouth.

When we were boycotting Safeway, she sent for me and told me that I would not get support from the Negro preachers. But she said it was okay, because people didn’t listen to them. It was Ms. Craft who said don’t worry about it.

I used to say my daughter Brandi grew up in her lap. She would ask me to go see “Craft,” and I said, “You have to call her ‘Ms. Craft.’ ” But Ms. Craft said, “No, she calls me Craft.” All throughout her life, she always had a soft spot for young people. And I think with everything she accomplished—integrating universities, the Dallas Independent School District, and the State Fair; or organizing protests at lunch counters, restaurants, theaters, and public transit; or becoming a city council member after we won the long fight to implement single-member council districts—she was always motivated by a deep affection for young people.

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