candidates

Photo courtesy the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Nobody (at least, media-wise) is asking, but we did. And from the candidates who responded to our questionnaires we sent out a few months ago, we know where many of them stand on an ordinance that is allowing the slow death-by-demolition of one of the country’s few remaining intact Freedman’s towns — the Tenth Street Historic District.

Yes, I said country. It’s also one of the city’s few remaining intact Freedman’s towns, but it cannot be stressed enough — the death of Tenth Street would also be a blow to the preservation, history, and story-keeping of our country, too.

Periodically, I drive through to see the homes that are slated for demolition, knowing that at any one of my drives, I could be looking at an empty lot where there was once a home where a family lived, overcame, thrived, and loved.

There are stories in this neighborhood, and most (if not all) of them happened within the walls of the homes the city of Dallas is capriciously stripping from the community, lot by lot by lot. They’re the stories of a community that has survived in spite of what the city has done to it, not because of what it did for it. (more…)

Tenth Street

Demetria McCain, president Inclusive Communities Project, speaks to the crowd gathered at the Tenth Street Historic District Thursday (Photos courtesy John R. Erickson).

Although the demolitions continue unabated in the centuries-old Freedmen’s town, residents in the Tenth Street Historic District got at least a little bit of good news Thursday morning as they gathered in one of the many vacant — yet freshly mowed — lots for an announcement.

It’s an area that hasn’t seen a lot of great news — since it was given its landmark designation by the city in 1993, 72 homes of 260 in the historic neighborhood have been torn down. The community formed the Tenth Street Residential Association to take on the city, and has filed suit to stop the demolitions and to shore up the historic protections it is supposed to have.

But Thursday, the neighborhood got a bit of a boost in its quest to improve its lot, as the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced that it had named the district to its 32nd annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. (more…)

Tenth Street

In 2013, the nonprofit bcWORKSHOP hosted Neighborhood Stories events, including one in the Tenth Street community, where people wrote their hopes for and memories of their neighborhood (photo courtesy bcWORKSHOP)

Editor’s Note: Preserving the historic neighborhoods that have shaped Dallas should be a priority. But despite historic district designations, Black neighborhoods that were home to Dallasites before, during, and after redlining are seeing a troubling amount of demolitions of homes that, residents insist, would be saved if in other historic districts — predominately white historic districts — in the city.

Over the next weeks and months, we will be taking a look at two of those neighborhoods — Tenth Street, and Wheatley Place. Last week, we looked at three homes in immediate danger of demolition. This week, we look at one way the neighborhood is fighting back.

The lawsuit Tenth Street residents have filed against the City of Dallas does not mince words, nor does it pull punches.

“Tenth Street has historically been subject to de jure racial segregation by the City of Dallas,” it reads. “The City has a history of enforcing racial segregation in some neighborhoods by ordinance through direct decisions of its City Council.”

Much of this history is well-documented and comes courtesy of the government’s own record keeping. Redlining consigned Black families to specific sections of town, where the amenities and even necessities were not as robust as in white-only neighborhoods, if they existed at all.

1930-circa area description of Tenth Street by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (click to enlarge)

That history is something Jorge Jasso, a staff attorney with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, can prove easily. Jasso and other attorneys at Legal Aid are representing the Tenth Street Residential Association in their suit against the city.

Jasso points to a 1930s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (or HOLC) map that has been digitized by the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University that demonstrates the redlining that happened in Dallas.

To be clear, Tenth Street has been home to Black Dallasites for more than a century, and is one of the few remaining intact Freedmen’s towns in the nation. Settled by freed slaves after the Civil War, many of those families continue to hold on to the homes and land their newly-freed ancestors were undoubtedly proud to own.

The neighborhood’s genesis was in the 1880s, as it took shape south of the Trinity River in one of the few spots the Black community could own land. By now, the neighborhood would be considered the northeastern edge of Oak Cliff, bounded by Interstate 35, East Eighth Street, and Clarendon Drive.

Personal timestamps on a neighborhood map (photo courtesy bcWORKSHOP).

In 1944, the city designated the Tenth Street community a “Negro only” area. In 1947, the neighborhood was zoned for duplex and single-family residential use only.

But to add insult to injury, as desegregation became a drumbeat in the 1960s, construction of Interstate 35 was routed through the neighborhood. (more…)

Tenth Street

Tenth Street Historic District (photo courtesy City of Dallas)

One of the only remaining intact Freedman’s Towns in the entire country, the Tenth Street Historic District in Oak Cliff’s importance to the community that still has roots there — as well as to the city — is something historians and preservationists feel they can’t stress enough.

The folk and period homes within the district were built in the late 19th and 20th centuries, with the city of Dallas tabulating 257 homes, four commercial buildings, three institutional buildings, and one cemetery within its boundaries.

“Just as Colonial Williamsburg tells the story of American Independence by immersing the visitor in and interpreting the built heritage of the era, so might a restored Tenth Street Freedman’s Town — on the very doorstep of one of the top public high schools in the nation — bring the story of African American Independence to life,” says the website Tenth Street Life. “Historic Tenth Street may well be the last, best chance in the nation to let the land the freedmen bought and paid for and the homes, businesses, and institutions they built on it with their own hands speak for themselves.”

It is believed that the first residents of the freedman’s town were slaves freed after the Civil War ended, many former slaves of Dallas cotton farmer William Brown Miller. A church was built in 1880, and a school opened six years later. More people arrived when T.L. Marsalis platted the neighborhood four years after that.

Restoring the district is the nation’s (and Dallas’) best and last opportunity to potentially create a history lesson that is immersive and riveting, telling the stories and dreams of the generations of Black families in Dallas as they gained their freedom, even through the dangerous and violent Reconstruction era, and beyond during the Jim Crow era, living to establish businesses that are still here today, acquiring land of their own, and building property ownership and wealth. (more…)