Will the Tenth Street Grant Save the Neighborhood?

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Tenth Street
The 1911 Elizabeth Chapel was an icon on Tenth Street. It was destroyed in the late 1990s.
(Black and white photos courtesy of Daniel Hardy of Hardy, Heck & Moore, July, 1990)

David Preziosi, the Executive Director of Preservation Dallas sent me an email last week about Tenth Street. It filled my heart with hope.

“I received some great news this morning! It was announced that Tenth Street has been approved for an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The grant will allow the Tenth Street Residential Organization (TSRO) to hire a staff person to help the organization with efforts to preserve the neighborhood. We assisted TSRO with the grant application and will continue to help them as the new staff person gets going This is very exciting news as it will be a big help in working to preserve one of our most important African American neighborhoods in Dallas.”

Tenth Street
1100 and 1000 blocks of East Tenth Street

Tenth Street was placed on the Preservation Dallas Most Endangered Places list in 2018 and on the National Trust’s Most Endangered Historic Places in 2019.

Dallas’ Tenth Street Historic District is one of the few remaining Freedmen’s Towns that is still an active neighborhood. Established by newly freed Africans after the Civil War, it has a collection of modest folk and vernacular dwellings dating from the 1890s to the 1940s that are currently under threat of development and demolition

Tenth Street
1000 Block of Betterton Circle

I’m sad to say I didn’t have a depth of knowledge about this historic district. So, I started researching. A lot of people graciously gave me quick history lessons.

Tenth Street resident Robert Swann, who is the Landmark Commissioner for District 4, was incredibly helpful, sending me resources, information, photographs, and providing a primer on his neighborhood and the challenges still faced today.

Tenth Street
111,119, 1121 East Tenth Street

Stolen Homes From Rightful Heirs

Many of the homes in the Tenth Street neighborhood were left to ensuing generations with a simple X mark on a deed, or piece of paper because of course, many of these former slaves could not read or write.

You can see the issue. It became easy for unscrupulous investors and developers to take advantage of the situation. Homes were essentially stolen from rightful heirs because they were hard-pressed to prove their rights in the eyes of the city.

Although Tenth Street residents have been fighting City Hall for years, it got ugly in 2010. An ordinance, approved by the council, allowed the city attorney’s office to easily tear down homes smaller than 3,000 square feet. The homes in the neighborhood are generally simple wood-frame houses. There are a wide variety, however, including Craftsman Bungalows, Victorian homes, and shotgun houses like you see in New Orleans and Houston.

Before demolition was halted last year, 70 of the district’s 260 homes were razed. City attorneys maintained they needed the ordinance to expeditiously eradicate blight from beleaguered neighborhoods.

There’s an excellent word for this kind of reasoning, but my editor won’t let me use it.

Tenth Street
Harilee School, 1216 East Tenth Street

The Erasure of Black History

Let’s get to the hard truth about the city’s approach with Tenth Street: It’s about erasing Black history. You have to ask why. Is this truly in the name of progress?

Historically, when it comes to Black neighborhoods, progress does not lie in the residents’ eyes, but in the deep pockets of developers who have the right political connections. And it always starts with highways.

Time and time again, highways were inserted into Black neighborhoods, disrupting Black lives. Urban renewal in these circumstances meant removing Black people.

Pride, Integrity, Perseverance, and Love

Who deems a neighborhood worthy of preservation? Surely it should be the residents. I talked to one and found out the real story.

Tenth Street
Sam Black’s home.

The real story of Tenth Street is one of pride, integrity, perseverance, love, and home. Most of all, it’s about home.

Tenth Street
Photo courtesy of City of Dallas

I can’t think of anyone I’ve spoken to that can show us what home means more than Patricia Cox. Ms. Cox is a board member of the Tenth Street Residential Organization and is the kind of neighbor we all want. She’s engaging, funny, witty, passionate, and smart. She was born here and lives in the home her parents purchased back in the 1940s. She raised her kids here and created a business here.

Photo courtesy of Robert Swann

“My dad was away in the navy and my mother did not have a car, so she walked the neighborhood to find a house to buy,” Cox said. “My parents worked so hard, and I could not let this house go. Everyone comes over here — my kids, my sister’s kids, my brother’s kids — because this is home.

“This was always a very nice neighborhood. I remember how it was and it can be that way again.” Cox continued. “The highway destroyed everything. It was built to separate us and keep us at a disadvantage. You could walk over the bridge to town before that. Politicians and developers have been trying to get their hands on Tenths Street since I was a girl. I moved back here in 1982, and I can tell you if a house burned down or was torn down, the city would not let you rebuild it. Why do you tear down a neighborhood you have lived and worked in? There is only one answer: Greed.”

Tenth Street
Chart courtesy of City of Dallas

Activists That Don’t Take No For An Answer

There have always been activist organizations in the Tenth Street neighborhood, but now they are more focused, better organized, and have learned how to get things done. The grant is evidence of that. The Inclusive Communities Project (ICP) has been instrumental in helping neighborhood activists. They have an initiative called Voices for Opportunity, which is an advocacy training program.

“The residents reached out to us to see how to handle public hearings, manage social media and to learn advocacy tools,” ICP President and Treasurer Demetria McCain said.

Member Jennifer Rangel helped the residents formulate their desires in the grant.

“Our position at ICP is Tenth Street needs all possible resources,” McCain said. “It’s a David and Goliath story when you look at the residences. It’s also a fair housing issue. It starts with that ordinance that protects only historic houses and structures over 3,000 square feet.”

This is typical of one of the homes that were demolished. Do you think that would have happened in the M Streets? (Photo courtesy of Michael Cagle, December 5, 2018).
How I-35 gnaws at the edges of Tenth Street (Photo courtesy of Robert Swann)
Clarendon Avenue slices the Spring Hill neighborhood of Tenth Street in half. (Photo courtesy of Robert Swann)
One of the few surviving homes in an area of significance that was excluded when the landmark boundary was drawn along I-35E. (Photo courtesy of Robert Swann)

Photo courtesy of Robert Swann
All that remains of the iconic Elizabeth Chapel is a mural by Johnice Parker at the Eighth & Corinth DART station. (Photo courtesy of Robert Swann)

It’s evident two things must happen immediately to preserve Tenths Street and Black history. The 3,000-square-foot rule must be eradicated, and the staff person the grant will fund must be a watchdog and an active advocate for the community.

“We want to rebuild homes and to keep our homes, “Cox said. “I’m going to fight for my neighborhood until I can’t. Then, hopefully, my nieces and nephews will take over.”

The last chapter on this fight for preservation is not written. Let’s hope it’s both a happy ending and a new beginning.

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Karen Eubank

Karen is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager for more than 25 years and a professional writer for over 20 years. Karen is the mother of a son who’s studying for his masters at The New England Conservatory of Music. An ardent animal lover, she doesn’t mind one bit if your fur baby jumps right into her lap.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. jaynie schultz says

    Fantastic! The more people become aware of this challenge and opportunity the more of our history will be celebrated. Thank you for this article.

  2. Shannon Leigh Thornton says

    Thanks for this article Karen! I’m sharing it with my yoga class, where we’ve been donating 50% of class proceeds to various organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests for racial justice. We’ve given twice to Inclusive Communities Project to help them continue this important and truly, David vs. Goliath scale work. This is great news!

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