Sometimes I drive through downtown Dallas, cut across that new bridge into Oak Cliff and say, “Now look at you Dallas”. I remember in the early 80’s downtown Dallas didn’t have a population after 5 pm. Now, there’s a loft high-rise or renovated warehouse at every turn. Deep Ellum is figuring out its next face. Uptown has a trolley and every restaurant and shop under the sun. The Arts District is overflowing with museums and performance spaces. Oak Cliff has Bishop Arts District and mucho grande plans to be the hippest blend this side of town. North Dallas boasts a million-dollar shopping mall. And, all the surrounding suburbs are dotted with some sort of Super store, chain store retail and restaurant pattern as well as various immigrant community business hubs. So, I drive up under these trees into south Oak Cliff and ask, “where you at?”
Lemme Tell You Some Dallas History: A Hub-byebye
Position your mind to consider a time post Juneteenth 1865 in Dallas, Texas, and you are a child of those to walk off a violent plantation into the next hateful scenes of US History, toting none but God and your unstompable desire to just have some peace and a place to be. Imagine the energy in the air in the midst of being shifted from slavery to Freedman’s Towns to Wards and pressing ever forward to build thriving self-sufficient communities of grocery stores, dress shops, churches, and schools. Hover your memory above a forming nation, as the century turned, moving from agriculture to industry, from slavery to wage labor, from the legalized human bondage to legalized neglect.
This was the era of racial segregation (not legally ended until 1968) meaning being zoned to certain areas of land to live. I imagine the collective energy it took, with lack of access to resources and civil support, to develop major communities like Deep Ellum, Freedmans and ‘North Dallas’. Stop and read the plaque in front of the Knights of Pythias on Elm, built in 1916, by Sidney Pittman the architect genius son-in-law of Booker T. Washington.
This neighborhood had Black doctors and dentists, musicians and social clubs and this building was the first in Dallas built by Blacks, for Blacks, with Black money. (read more about it here ) The most marginalized people, with the least, cornered into so called slums, were giving birth music greats and the imprint of the name Deep Ellum as the residents would pronounce the ‘m’ in Elm.
Ask Dallas historian Donald Payton why there are only remnants of these neighborhoods as seen under and along the edges of downtown Central Expressway by Woodall Rodgers that crushed and scattered the businesses, homes and people and pushed Black neighborhoods into South Dallas, Oak Cliff and up to Hamilton Park. (read more here ) This expansion plan started from the 1940’s and continued into my own personal memories in the late 80’s. I remember, watching the last of the neighborhood across from my high school, Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing & Visual Arts (Yes, say the whole name please) and St. Paul United Methodist Church, get swallowed up by Woodall Rodgers, condo apartments, lil expensive boutiques and City Place/Target. I remember coming home from college in the early 90’s and getting on the widening Central Expressway at Hall street and looking to my right into the face of a little girl sitting on the step of her porch, nothing separating her from the highway but a chain link fence. Ask local elder who was there, Mama Mac (Mrs. Eva McMillan) about it. They will tell you and you will be amazed! (Read a paper on Dallas Freedman Towns here ) And then, read about the parallels of the forming, dividing, gentrifying and reforming of Black neighborhoods and businesses across this country. Then, you will probably be angry. It’s been a vicious rode.
Owner of Pan African Connection Bandele Tyemba, may his soul rest in peace, said to me one day, “you have to keep your energy up. Energy is Power”. I was so tired and hungry that day that it took a minute to resonate. … Energy is power… I realized one of the most revolutionary things one can do is to stay healthy and energized. Because what a powerful resilience, in my opinion, that even under the constant threats, and reality, of lynching picnics and burning crosses, Black people managed to build business and community. Those are some strong shoulders to stand on. …We are not just passing through.
So, where you at?
I have always been one to participate in wherever I live or visit. I like to explore the community and talk to folks. I have always explored the DFW metroplex. I notice when people move to Dallas from elsewhere in the country or world, they are told not to go to South Dallas or Oak Cliff. I hope you will check out more of the history. It seems I’m always in those ‘don’t go over there’ places. When I was in Ghana they said, “Don’t go to Nima. They will slit your purse and take your money”. I had breakfast in Nima almost every morning and was at total peace. (Medina, you are next)
So if you wanna know “where I’m at”: I’m in ‘those places’; sipping on some tea in the garden listening to beats: keeping the energy UP.
KUJICHAGULIA- SELF DETERMINATION
“TO DEFINE OURSELVES, NAME OURSELVES, CREATE FOR OURSELVES AND SPEAK FOR OURSELVES”. The principle of self-determination carries within it the assumption that we have both the right and responsibility to exist as a people and make our own unique contribution to the forward flow of human history.