The Dallas Examiner
Music, prayer and personal recollection all played parts of the local legends celebration at Southwest Center Mall held Feb. 21 in honor of Black History Month.
Seven area leaders of the past were recognized for their efforts in law, education, civics and media during the two-hour event. Large banners hovered over attendees in recognition of religious mentor Dr. E.K. Bailey, Judge Louis Bedford, medical expert Dr. Emmett Conrad, civil rights pioneer Juanita Craft, education reformer Yvonne Ewell, and Publishers Fred and Mildred Finch.
During the celebration, a first for the South Corridor shopping center, family members of each honoree were recognized and presented with a framed portrait that would be hung in the mall for permanent display.
Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Erik Wilson was one of the dignitaries who spoke during the ceremony upon the accomplishments of those honored.
“I encourage each of you sitting here, go to the Internet when you get home, and Google these local heroes that give America its true history …” he told the crowd. “They had selflessness and willingness to persevere and proceed, succeeding while moving in opposition through the tidal wave created by African American enslavement, abandonment in education, public segregation, denial of voting rights, ‘separate but equal,’ and ford the wall designed to preserve the myth of the inferiority of African Americans; they are heroes not just for African Americans but for all Americans because they helped us make us a better society …”
State Sen. Royce West provided a more candid commentary to the proceedings, describing how he personally knew all of the local legends in his lifetime as a student, an attorney and eventually, a lawmaker.
“I tried to figure out the common denominator there was between all of them and what it is is they cared,” West said. “They cared about their fellow man. They recognized that it was up to them to make certain that they took care of their fellow man.”
Wilson described the attributes that earned the first honoree her recognition.
“For 40 years Yvonne Ewell was a trailblazer, educator, administrator, community leader who tirelessly pursued innovation in education using her local and national platform.”
He also described how she became the first Black female appointed as a district-wide elementary school consultant in 1964 and became Dallas ISD superintendent in 1978.
West also shared his assessment of Ewell.
“She stood for what was right. When she spoke she knew exactly what she was speaking about. The fact of the matter is, she knew better than many others as it relates to the issues of education impacting not only Dallas but specifically African American students,” he conceded.
Minerva Rodriguez of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce shared some of the background on the Finches, founders of The Dallas Examiner. Mildred started out professionally as a math teacher, Rodriguez noted.
“When the Dallas Community College system opened its downtown [El Centro] campus in 1966 she went to teach there and later became head of the mathematics department.
“Fred was a Dallas native who proudly served in the United States Army,” she shared about the former Tuskegee airman, and stated that he obtained his law degree from Harvard.
“After graduation the Finch family returned to Dallas to launch Fred’s practice, positioning himself on the front line of the legal battle for civil rights,” Rodriguez said, affirming that it was through Fred’s efforts that area collages and the State Fair became desegregated.
“Fred and Mildred’s most notable contribution came in 1986 when they founded The Dallas Examiner, one of the longest-running Black newspapers in history,” she continued.
“They had a passion for making certain that the community knew what was going on,” West added. “To make certain the community gets information from a perspective that you can’t get from The Dallas Morning News or some of the other newspapers.”
Wilson once again took the stage to discuss Conrad, a former captain in the Air Force and the next notable to be recognized.
“In 1956, Dr. Conrad became the first African American to serve on staff at St. Paul’s Hospital in Dallas. In 1980 he became the chief of staff leading more than 700 doctors.”
Wilson also offered that Conrad was the first Black member of the State Board of Education.
West reveled that Conrad was one of his customers back when he had a paper route.
“I could count on him buying a paper every week, so he became one of my customers. Life is funny,” he noted. “… And he made certain that issues impacting African American students and other students were in fact talked about, and when he had the political coalition together, dealt with accordingly.”
Peter Brodsky, owner of Southwest Center Mall, introduced the accomplishments of Bailey next, describing him as “one of the premier African American expository preachers of the 20th century.”
West spoke about his feelings for the clergyman who founded the Concord Missionary Baptist Church.
“I don’t need to tell you about who E. K. Bailey was,” the senator decreed. “This man was a visionary … He was world-renown as a minister and he cared about this community.”
Once the doctor had established Concord in 1975 it became one of the fastest growing churches in the U.S.
“Bailey believed preaching must be didactic and practical, speaking to both the head and the heart,” Brodsky acknowledged.
Wilson again stepped to the stage and spoke of the next legend, Bedford, whom West called one of his “dear, dear mentors.” Bedford was admitted to the State Bar in 1951.
“He served on a legal counsel on a pivotal case to declare ‘separate but equal’ unconstitutional in the Dallas public schools,” Wilson said.
Bedford later became the first Black judge in the county and was appointed in 1978 by President Carter to nominate federal court judges for the Fifth Circuit.
“Outside the courtroom he was a pillar of the community, cofounding the J.L. Turner Legal Society to specifically nurture African American attorneys and serving in numerous social, civic and professional organizations, including the prominent Dallas Bar Association,” Wilson observed.
The final legend, Craft, was also honored by Brodsky.
“Her grandparents had been slaves and her parents had belief in education,” he noted as he designated her “a legend in civil rights.”
According to Brodsky, Craft’s first step into activism was to join the city’s branch of the NAACP in 1935.
“Over the period of 11 years she took Texas by force, organizing 182 branches of the NAACP in the state. In 1944 she was the first Black woman in Dallas County to vote.”
Brodsky also described Craft as a Democratic precinct chair who also served two terms on the City Council. Craft led protests against unfair treatment and fraudulent practices in trade schools in Black communities as well.
“She proudly visited the White House on invitations from presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter,” Brodsky confirmed.
West recalled that she was adamant about building bridges.
“She implored me that, in whatever I did … that I needed to make certain that I built a coalition based on interest, not based on the color of one’s skin,” he stated.