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History

How a Bus Tour Helps Illuminate Dallas’ Black History, Hidden in Plain Sight

| 1 week ago

Dallas projects itself as a swaggering, self-made city destined for greatness. It proudly proclaims to have no limits, no reason to be and no history. But there is a history hidden in plain sight.

It is hidden because Dallas plowed through the city’s first and largest African American cemetery to build the North Central Expressway in the 1940s. It is hidden because Dallas history books, like Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation, get blocked by publishers at the risk of embarrassing city leadership. Neighborhoods change at warp speed. Historic buildings stand empty and neglected, if they still stand at all.

Stories get buried and replaced with myths of a white male business elite that created a regional economic empire out of nothing. The old white leadership controlled official memory for decades through a combination of the pulpit, news media, school curricula, entertainment, architecture, and urban renewal. But today, academics and curious residents are creating a more accurate history that includes the human costs of Dallas’ development.

Now retired, Don and Jocelyn Pinkard spend their days researching scarcely discussed stories of Dallas’ past for their Hidden History DFW tour. Visitors travel the city to more than 20 historic African American sites before lunch. The Pinkards and their families go back generations in Texas. Having both been raised in Oak Cliff, they have firsthand knowledge of the city and its many transformations. And they are sharing it.

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History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: Dallas Is a Football Town

| 2 weeks ago

Dallas has long been associated with a fervor for the sport of football—as has Texas as a whole—even before the arrival of the Dallas Cowboys in 1960.

The NFL will begin its 100th season on September 5.  Whether you’re a fan of football in general or you’re loyal to America’s team, you don’t have to wait until game day to immerse yourself in this sport and its historical legacy. Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History & Archives Division has photos from the Dallas Cowboys of yesteryear in its collection, as well as other football-related photos from various decades. Many historic photographs are available to view in the library’s online catalog. The photo above this post is from a September 1967 game between the Cowboys and Baltimore Colts. Let’s take a look at a few others.

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Arts & Entertainment

Amazon Picks Up Starck Club Doc — But It Might Not Be the Film You Remember

| 2 weeks ago

If you’ve been around Dallas for any length of time, you’ve heard of the Starck Club. The 1980s temple of Lone Star hedonism is the stuff of legend. Grace Jones played its opening night. Rock stars like Jimmy Page hung out at the bar when they were in town. The interiors—designed by up-and-coming French designer Philippe Starck—spared no expense: polished black terrazzo floors, shimmering gauze drapes, and a grand staircase that led to a sunken dance floor. Club managers say the crystal champagne glasses were chosen for the way they sounded when they shattered on the floor.

But what made the place legendary, and not just for Dallasites, was that in the early days the club was synonymous with a new legal drug called Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine—better known as MDMA, ecstasy, molly, or, in the early early days, Adam. The euphoria-inducing drug flowed through the Starck Club’s veins, upending Dallas society and culture and helped to turn it into the ground zero of rave culture.

If you are intrigued by this fantastic episode in Dallas folklore, you can now check out filmmaker Joseph F. Alexandre’s documentary Sex, Drugs, Design: Warriors of the Discotheque on a variety of streaming platforms. The film has been picked up byAmazon, Vimeo on Demand, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, UDU digital, and a few other platforms.

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Beer

Manhattan Beer Company Got This One Wrong

| 4 weeks ago

In recent days, Dallas’ Manhattan Project Beer Company has been called to task for its atomic-based nomenclature, in particular, a beer called Bikini Atoll. The brewery claims that by naming its product after an atoll in the Marshall Islands, it’s building awareness. But many people disagree, in particular, Pacific Islanders. One approach to the outpouring of public objections would be to listen and learn. After all, who better to speak authoritatively on the myriad associations conjured by a product named Bikini Atoll than Islanders in the Pacific?

The brewery, unfortunately, has doubled down and will not drop the name. Another perspective to consider is the audacious act of commodification that precedes the most recent one and the kind of multiplier effect this exerts on Pacific Islanders, in particular, Bikinians.

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History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: The Changing Dallas Skyline

| 2 months ago

The Dallas skyline seems like an immutable sight. Its presence exudes a sense of permanence, but if the past several months has taught us anything, it’s that no building in Dallas lasts forever. In the early morning hours of May 28,, the 115-year-old Ambassador Hotel building in the Cedars caught fire and partially collapsed, requiring a controlled collapse of the remaining structure.

A few weeks ago, a building in downtown proper that previously housed the Reserve Life Insurance building was imploded by demolition crews to make way for new construction by its current owner, First Baptist Dallas. There are plenty of photos of Dallas’ old towers at the Archives Division at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. And there are other photos of fires, tornadoes, and construction that changed the makeup of the buildings around downtown. Let’s take a look at a few. (Above these words is a 1950 fire at what is now the Wilson Building. )

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Arts District

We Can Thank H. Ross Perot for the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

| 2 months ago

There are a lot of memories surfacing of H. Ross Perot, who passed away on Monday, but any recollection of the man and his impact on Dallas would be incomplete without acknowledging his role in the development of one of the city’s truly exceptional cultural treasures: the Meyerson Symphony Center. In 2000, we published an excerpt from Laurie Shulman’s book about the development of the Meyerson, The Meyerson Symphony Center: Building a Dream, and it contains an anecdote that perfectly captures Perot’s selfless, sharp-minded, and determined character.

In 1984, the dream of building a grand symphony hall for Dallas’ struggling orchestra was anything but a sure bet. The Arts District was mostly a collection of vacant lots. The symphony was in bad financial shape, and it was still playing at the Music Hall of Fair Park, a lovely building but one with the acoustical appeal of a barn. Still, boosters believed the orchestra–which had the distinction of being the first symphony in the country to declare bankruptcy–could become one of the best symphonic ensembles in the world if it only had a suitable home.

Symphony boosters tasked a young Robert Decherd–the Dealey family scion–with the job of taking over the operations of the symphony and overseeing the dream of building a new symphony hall. Decherd recruited Morton H. Meyerson, the new CEO of EDS and another young rising star in the local business community, to chair the committee raising funds for the new hall.

Meyerson knew that in order to get the symphony hall project going, he would need to find a huge initial donation that could galvanize philanthropic enthusiasm for the project. He turned to his old boss, Ross Perot:

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Controversy

Dallas’ Confederate War Memorial Isn’t Going Anywhere (For Now)

| 2 months ago

Last February, the Dallas City Council voted to pull down the Confederate War Memorial, a massive obelisk in Pioneer Park Cemetery that is surrounded by statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his rebel generals. The monument has been shrouded in a black tarp ever since, as the city negotiates with a contractor who will remove the monument. But for now, the memorial will remain thanks to an emergency stay filed in the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals.

The legal challenge to the city’s efforts to rid Dallas’ landscape of its prominent totems to the Confederacy has been rumbling in the background of the public debate over the meaning, significance, and fate of the monuments. Warren Johnson, who recently lost a bid for the District 14 council seat, launched an effort to keep Dallas from removing its Confederate monuments after the statue of General Robert E. Lee in Lee Park was removed in September 2017. Johnson’s group–Return Lee Park–argues that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Antiquities Act in its removal of the statue.

Other legal efforts to block the removal of the monuments have been dismissed, but Johnson’s case is winding its way through the appeals process. Arlington attorney Warren Norred filed an emergency stay on demolishing the memorial while the appeal process plays out, and on Monday Justice Bill Whitehill issued an order that granted the motion.

So where does that leave us?

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History

A Dallas Bus Tour Highlights Black-owned Businesses to Feed Your Stomach and Soul

| 3 months ago

Inspired by the local food she found while writing Cornbread & Collard Greens: How West African Cuisine & Slavery Influenced Soul Food—published in January—Deah Berry Mitchell wanted to put together a tour that would combine local food and black history. But she needed a partner, so she reached out to Dalila Thomas, a local food writer and blogger who also produced the “Chew on This” segment for CW33.

Thomas turned her down—at first. She thought better of it.

“I’m like, ‘This is super awesome,’” Thomas says now. “‘I’d be crazy not to get involved in this. It has the potential to be something amazing. And it’s Deah.’”

Soon, The Soul of Dallas Food & Black History Bus Tour was born. The two take guests on a five-hour tour restaurants and businesses that can range from a Pan-African bookstore to a black-owned popcorn shop. In the past, they’ve touched Freedman’s Cemetery, the Juanita Craft Home, Delightful Sweets by Mary in the Grow DeSoto Market Place, and Kessler Baking Studio. The bus occasionally drops by a spot that isn’t actually black-owned but has had a positive impact on the black community, such as Bonton Farms. For the most part, the trip highlights black business owners, chefs, and history.

“We see a lot of experiences that are entertainment-based and straight-up booze and food,” says Thomas. “But there’s so much more in any city, especially Dallas, to offer.”

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Trinity River

Is It Time to Change the Name of the Trinity River Back to the Arkikosa River?

| 4 months ago

The Trinity River carries no shortage of baggage. Look no further than the current election cycle. Sure, the hated Trinity River toll road is dead and gone, but the runoff between State Rep. Eric Johnson and council member Scott Griggs is still being framed in some circles as a showdown between deep-pocketed backers of the toll road and an anti-boondoggle crusader.

As we have written over and over, the Trinity’s history is defined by failed efforts to tame a force of nature generations of Dallasites have spent little time appreciating or understanding. Perhaps we went wrong even earlier than that. Perhaps our Trinity problems go all the way back to the name.

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History

Oak Cliff Eyes the Mayor’s Seat. In 1990, Some Wanted Out of Dallas.

| 5 months ago

In 1990, Oak Cliff tried to split from Dallas. After decades of City Hall mismanagement and neglect, some residents felt the Cliff would be better on its own. Writing in the Dallas Morning News amid the furor over de-annexation, journalist Bill Minutaglio compared the proposal to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In his estimation, Oak Cliff secessionists wanted to turn their neighborhood into a “Lithuania-on-the-Trinity.” Cold War humor aside, the statement contains a larger truth.

Oak Cliff has been called a lot of things. It was once “the Southwest’s greatest playground.” Later, it was the city’s “red headed step child” or “Dallas’ own Jerusalem.” Then there was that reference to a Baltic republic. What runs through those comparisons is that something was just a little different here. It was a neighborhood a bit out of step with the rest of the city. Maybe Oak Cliff just hasn’t quite been Dallas enough for Dallas. This view has, historically, permeated City Hall. For decades city leaders have been all too comfortable disregarding the black and brown residents who have long called Oak Cliff home. The hardening lines between the north and south of this city have left folks below Interstate 30 wanting reflective representation on the City Council and improved access to city services.

Later this year, they may have one of their own in the middle seat of the council’s horseshoe.

As this May’s election draws closer, some candidates in the race to succeed Mayor Mike Rawlings have deep ties to Oak Cliff. Scott Griggs has represented North Oak Cliff on the City Council since 2011. Albert Black grew up in South Dallas and built a successful business in Oak Cliff years later. Jason Villalba is an Oak Cliff native, but now lives in North Dallas. This isn’t the first time, either. Former Mayor Laura Miller called North Oak Cliff home before she moved to Preston Hollow.

Historically, Oak Cliff residents have been uncomfortable with their second-class status in the city. Change has been halting, incremental, and incomplete.

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History

Will Bonnie Parker Finally Get to Rest In Peace Next to Her Lover Clyde?

| 5 months ago

Like most people growing up in the last decades of the 20th century, I can’t remember the first time I heard of Bonnie and Clyde. They were always just there, like Pecos Bill, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, or Paul Bunyan. They existed in the imagination as a blend of history and fiction, part of a larger-than-life cast of folk heroes that helped explain some aspect of the American character.

My interest only deepened when I saw Arthur Penn’s seminal 1967 film and fell for songs like Serge Gainsbourg’s beautiful elegy to the lover-outlaws. Moving to Dallas made their story a little more tangible. In time, I sought out the porch of the Barrow filling station, some of the banks they held up, the storefront cafe where Bonnie once worked, and the streets of West Dallas that still looks very much like they did when it was rife with two-bit criminals and known as the “Devil’s Back Porch.”

But it wasn’t until late last year when I stumbled upon an obscure YouTube interview of Clyde Barrow’s nephew, Buddy, that I began to think about another, little-known side of the Bonnie and Clyde story. In that interview, Buddy speaks about some of the grief his family endured during the decades after Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down outside of Gibsland, La. He also speaks the families’ desire to bring some closure to the past by moving the body of Bonnie Parker to a burial plot next to Clyde. The Barrows have kept it empty and waiting for her since 1934.

Listening to Buddy, I realized that he and his family had their own story to tell.

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