Dallas Black History
Dallas’ black history became realized in the post-Civil War era. After the war many blacks moved west to the DFW area looking for work in the train yards of Dallas, Fort Worth, and Denton. Many others built small rural agricultural communities outside these cities. As the area began to grow with industry more and more blacks came looking for opportunities. By the 1950s Blacks had been “redlined” into certain sections of the city, mainly South Dallas and Parts of Oak Cliff. But after forced desegregation during the civil rights era most whites abandoned Oak Cliff and it became home to a large portion of Black Dallas.
Because of racism, drugs, crime, etc. These areas of the city fell into decline during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. However, as the Black middle class began to grow many of them built homes in areas such as Red Bird and started migrating to the southern and northern suburbs. Also black college grads and other migrants from across the country began flocking to Dallas in the late 80s and increasingly during the 90s. Declining areas of South Dallas and Oak Cliff are beginning to be revitalized through city and grass roots efforts. This brings us to where we are today; a growing and continually developing Black Dallas.
More than 30 black communities have been documented in early Dallas. 10th st and the Queen City neighborhoods in South Dallas have been preserved. Little Egypt gave way for a northeast Dallas development. Frogtown gave way to the West End Business district. The Prairie, once the core of black life near downtown fell prey to urban renewal. It is now a highway interchange. The following are some of the more known early black communities in the area.
Bear Creek (Irving)
The oldest known black community, founded by former slaves, in Dallas County is located in Irving. Jim Green, a former slave, bought land near Bear Creek in the 1850s. In the 1880s, Jim Green established a mission and helped build a one-room freedom school that later held as many as 80 students at a time. By 1900, nine black families owned land in Bear Creek. The Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center at Bear Creek Heritage Park is part of the City of Irving’s Parks and Recreation. It is named after the city’s first black City counsel member and Bear Creek resident. Many of the areas original homes still stand but it is entirely surrounded by development.
Freedman’s Town /Tenth Street Historic District (Oak Cliff)
This district is the oldest relatively intact Freedmen’s Town in Dallas, with many of its original buildings still standing. A starter neighborhood for blacks soon after Emancipation, most of the remaining historic houses were built between 1890 and the early 1940′s in various folk designs: shotgun, double shotgun, and camel back. These modest houses are examples of the skill of black craftspeople; Roughly bounded by E. Clarendon, S. Fleming, IH-35E., E. 8th, eastern end of Church, E. 9th and Plum
Freedman’s Town (North Dallas)
Freedman’s Town was created immediately after Emancipation as a separate settlement adjacent to the town of Dallas, but still well outside its limits so as to escape harsh vagrancy laws specifically targeting freedmen. By the close of Reconstruction, when it was incorporated into Dallas proper — Freedman’s Town contained at least 500 citizens. By the late 19th century, the area was known as the North Dallas Freedman’s Town. The name of the community has been changed. Originally known as Freedman’s Town, by the early twentieth century it was more commonly known to its own inhabitants as North Dallas and later still the “State-Thomas” Neighborhood incorporated into the city of Dallas at the close of Reconstruction in 1874.
The area was settled as a “freedmens’ town” by former slaves after the Civil War; its location on Elm Street, just east of the Houston and Texas Central tracks near the depot, was too far from downtown Dallas to be desirable. The area was called Deep Elm or, as early residents pronounced it, “Deep Ellum.” Because of the proximity of the railroad it was also called Central Track. Entertainment was an important part of the business of Deep Ellum, which became a Mecca for jazz and blues artists. In 1920 twelve nightclubs, cafes, and domino parlors were open in Deep Ellum, and by 1950 the number had grown to twenty. Many famous jazz and blues musicians played in the neighborhood at some time, including Blind Lemon Jefferson and Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins.qqv Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetterqv began performing in 1920 in Deep Ellum, before he began his career in Greenwich Village in New York. By 1991 Deep Ellum had become popular as a nightspot for young urban dwellers and had fifty-seven bars and nightclubs. Today there are only a few clubs in Deep Ellum that cater to black clientele.