Activist state

The State Fair of Texas at the time of segregation

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the Texas State Fair began in 1886, and with it came segregation. For many years black visitors were not allowed to attend except on designated days.

In the 1950s, fair protests against segregation began to take place in the form of pickets and boycotts. In 1960, a year before allotted days were abandoned and seven years before the fair was completely desegregated, The Dallas Morning News interviewed Reverend H. Rhett James Jr., a local activist. He said that “the fair’s policy on desegregation is unclear and questionable. Our young people are refused on the Midway and in certain shows, such as the Ice Capades. I will say this, they are not safe from our picket lines.

In honor of Black History Month, The news looks back at the coverage of people who experienced segregation and those who fought it at the State Fair of Texas.

These excerpts chronicle some of their first-hand memories.

RC Hickman

(RC Hickman was a renowned photographer who took pictures of the black community in Dallas, including the state of segregated schools and protests, according to the Texas State Historical Association. In 1994 he published a book of his photographs titled Behold the People: RC Hickman’s Photographs of Black Dallas, 1949-1961.)

Photographer RC Hickman alongside a selection of his photographs taken between 1949 and 1961.(Barbara Davidson/Staff Photographer)

Excerpt from “BLACK IMAGES – A photographer looks back on his days behind the lens”

Byline: Leslie Barker

Originally published April 13, 1987.

RC Hickman took his last photo 15 years ago. But in his office at a South Dallas rug store, memories of his three decades as a photographer surround him.

Other photographs also show segregation. It has photos of twin pageants and musical productions on Negro Achievement Day, the only day black people could visit the State Fair of Texas. When NAACP members boycotted the day, Hickman was there to film as they marched and carried signs: “It’s no feat to be separated at the fair. Stay out.’

1950s picket signs at the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House.
1950s picket signs at the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House.(Helen Jau / Staff Photographer)

Craft Juanita

(Civil rights activist and politician Craft Juanita moved to Dallas in 1925. Ten years later, she joined the NAACP and began her fight for equality, desegregation and better living conditions, according to the Dallas Public Library History and Archives Division. This included the desegregation of the State Fair of Texas.)

Former Dallas City Councilwoman Juanita Craft at the NAACP convention in Dallas on...
Former Dallas City Council member Juanita Craft at the NAACP convention in Dallas on June 24, 1985.(David Woo / personal photographer)

Excerpted from “IN HIS FOOTSTEPS – The men and women inspired by Juanita Craft are now a living legacy of the late civil rights leader”

Byline: Thomas Huang

Originally published April 20, 1994.

The kitchen table – this is where Juanita Craft fed her fellow civil rights leaders. The barbecue in the back – this is where the young people planned protests.

Here, decades ago, Ms. Craft taught neighborhood kids and teenage NAACP members the importance of standing up for what they believed in.

Joe Atkins thinks back to the early 1950s. The Texas State Fair held a separate “Negro Day.”

Each year, officials set aside a day that black people could attend. On this day, by tradition, black people would enter Fair Park in a parade.

Mrs. Craft would have none of that. She discussed the parade with Mr. Atkins and other teenagers. They held meetings at her home as part of a local NAACP youth council.

Dallas Morning News headline for October 14, 1955.
Dallas Morning News headline for October 14, 1955.(DMN)

“She told us that we had to go there like everyone else, every day it was open,” recalls Mr. Atkins, 57. In protest, “she encouraged us, as students, not to participate in the parade.”

The boycott created a conflict. The students argued with the administrators who wanted them to participate in the festivities. Administrators stripped some of the students of their academic honors.

The fight left a lasting impression on young Joe. “I learned that people could be punished for standing up for what was the right thing to do,” Atkins says.

george allen

(The following excerpt is in remembrance of George Allen, the first black man elected to the Dallas City Council and the namesake of the George Allen County Civil Court building in Dallas, as reported by journalist Steve Kenny.)

A photo of George Allen from 1980.
A photo of George Allen from 1980.(David Woo / personal photographer)

Excerpt from “Dallas When Jim Crow Was King”

Byline: Steve Kenny

Originally published September 14, 1980.

“One Saturday, we were riding the Second Avenue streetcar. The State Fair of Texas was then in session, and my youngest child said, “Dad, can’t we go for a ride on that Ferris wheel?” You could see the ferris wheel spinning and you could hear the calliope playing.

“And that was the worst feeling, I’m sure, that a father has ever had to try to explain to his children without them feeling inferior, why they couldn’t ride that damn Ferris wheel this that day.

“They could only ride one day a year. Negro Day at the Fair was the name. I finally, as a cop-out, told them dad just didn’t have the money.

“It was the first time it had come back to me in a dramatic way. If I hadn’t had kids, I probably wouldn’t have worried about it so much.

Bessie Slider Moody

(This excerpt recounts memories of Dallas teenagers who worked to desegregate the State Fair of Texas under the leadership of Juanita Craft. In 2008, they came together to discuss Craft’s legacy and the protests at the Juanita J Craft Civil Rights House & Museum at 2618 Warren Avenue in Dallas.)

Bessie Moody (left), board member of Black Dallas Remembered Inc., and Dr. Mamie McKnight,...
Black Dallas Remembered Inc. board member Bessie Moody (left) and Black Dallas Remembered Inc. founder Dr. Mamie McKnight together at the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House in Dallas in 2008.(Melanie Burford / Staff Photographer)

Excerpt from “Decades Ago, Teenagers Fought for Equality – Civil Rights Advocate Craft, Young Blacks Fought State Fair Segregation”

Byline: Karen Ayres Smith

Originally published February 10, 2008.

Bessie Slider Moody was only supposed to go to the State Fair of Texas on Black Day in 1955.

But she and other members of an NAACP youth council decided it was time to make a change.

Paired with her brother, Ms Moody, then 16, walked halfway and lined up with white customers for the Ferris wheel, roller coaster and food. They were turned away each time – only to return the following night.

“They were telling us to come back on People of Color Day,” Ms Moody said.

It’s been 53 years since Ms. Moody and other Dallas teenagers worked to desegregate the State Fair, but Ms. Moody’s memories came alive on Saturday as she sat in the house where her group launched those plans.

She and other members of Black Dallas Remembered Inc. came to the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House to remember Ms. Craft, the longtime civil rights lawyer and leader of Ms. Moody’s youth group.

The Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House in South Dallas.
The Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House in South Dallas.(Helen Jau / Staff Photographer)

Ms. Moody said she and other black teens meet monthly in the backyard for NAACP youth meetings. Ms. Craft also opened the house to neighborhood teenagers every day after school.

“I feel really privileged to be able to come back to a place that I was an integral part of back then,” Ms Moody said on Saturday, sitting in front of two vintage picket signs on the wall of the Craft house.

Mrs. Craft and NAACP lawyers gave teens instructions on how to approach the fair in 1955the same year, the NAACP filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in separate schools for white and black children in the Dallas School District.

Ms. Moody, who attended one of the district’s black high schools, carefully took notes each time she and her brother were turned away from the fair so they could hand them to the lawyers.

“We never felt threatened because we knew how to be flexible,” Ms Moody said. “Ms. Craft taught us to be really respectful and to do it in a legal way.

Only one vendor agreed to serve the group’s sodas that year, but staff wiped their hands on the tops of the bottles so they weren’t drinkable, she said.

In 1961, segregation at the fair ended.

“I felt really proud to have had something to do with this change,” said Ms. Moody, a lifelong Dallas resident. “It was kind of a piece of history.”

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