Historic Sites and Persons of Dallas African-Amercians

Many African Americans contributed to the city of Dallas since the early years. The roles are numerous and impossible to list in one place but there are several organizations with deep roots in this area.

The Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce came into existence after a dispute within the Dallas chapter of the Booker T Washington’s National Negro Business League. In 1926, the split was formalized when a small group of 100 persons broke and created the Dallas Negro Chamber of commerce. The first director was W. E. Clark. It was tough the first few years with varying membership numbers and financial issues. It was reorganized in 1932 under A. Maceo Smith. The new staff created permanent programs with activities concentrating on black political activity. The group lent help to local small businesspersons to run restaurants, barbershops and grocery stores. They also worked with specialized groups such as the Negro Plumbers Association and the Negro Golf Association. After many successful years, including large increases in registered voters, the group changed its name to the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce in 1976 and is still active today.

One of the oldest black political groups in Texas organized in 1936 as the Progressive Voters League. Dallas area blacks began to group together in 1934 to create better conditions for black political activity. They encouraged local blacks to pay the poll tax and to exercise their right to vote as an American citizen. The leaders rightly believed that getting more blacks involved as a political group would lead to better solutions to many problems such as schools, crime and unemployment. Along with other groups, they managed to create a voting bloc that changed the balance of power in the Dallas City Council elections in 1937. The group is still together and was used a base by John Wiley Price to become not only a county commissioner, but also the first black on the commissioner’s court in Dallas county in 1985.

In Dallas, the Freedman’s Cemetery contains over 7,000 African American burial sites from Freedman’s Town near North Dallas. The cemetery spans dates from 1869 through 1925. There is an exhibit as the African American Museum with objects from the graves on display as a record of its history. Recently this cemetery was designated a historical landmark and a memorial is under construction. As part of Freedman’s Town, the Tenth Street Historic District contains many of the original buildings. The houses were built by local blacks to display their skill and style.

In the area of Deep Ellum is the Knights of Pythias Temple. The building was built by black artisans in 1915. The first black architect in Dallas, William S Pittman, designed it. In 1989 it was designated a Dallas Historic Landmark. The temple was a center of social and cultural events for the African-American community of the time.

The Wheatley Place Historic District consists of wood frame bungalows from 1916 through the 1930s. It was named from Phyllis Wheatley, who was the second published female poet in America in the 18th century. There is also the Phyllis Wheatley school. It was built in 1922 for African-American students and is today still a center piece of the area.

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