Tenth Street, a Freedmen’s Town with hope

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Dallas Skyline

Tenth Street Residential Association

Black History Month 2019 is officially over, but it lives 365 days a year in communities right here in Dallas. With the 400-year history of recognition of the transatlantic slave trade upon us, we know that Jamestown, Virginia, is not the only place the legacies of our African ancestors can be found.

I grew up just south of downtown Dallas in the Tenth Street Historic District, a Freedmen’s Town, and I am a proud graduate of N.W. Harllee Elementary School, the same school that nationally known blues musician T. Bone Walker attended decades before me.

Tenth Street is one of a few remaining Freedmen’s Towns in the nation. Despite the local and national historic value of Tenth Street, the city of Dallas continues to demolish historic Tenth Street District structures without remorse. The city continues to overlook the value and history of the Tenth Street Historic District.

The Tenth Street Residential Association focuses on halting demolitions, enforcing codes that help preserve our community’s historic character, keeping our community clean and safe, and warding off displacement of long-time residents. We do all this while welcoming new families of varying economic backgrounds who love the value and history of our district.

The city of Dallas must halt all demolitions in our historic district and do away with Dallas City Code Section 51A-4.501(i). The current code allows the city to easily obtain certificates of demolition in historic districts for residential structures with no more than 3,000 square feet.

Homes built by freedmen and their descendants in Tenth Street were well under 3,000 square feet, so the ordinance targets their and their descendants’ legacies. Large-sized historic homes in historic White neighborhoods can be easily found and do not fall prey to the city’s wrecking ball as easily. In fact, because of this discriminatory code’s enforcement, abandoned historic homes in White neighborhoods are more likely to be purchased and restored.

Persistent demolitions have city of Dallas landmark commissioners questioning if the district has run its course and others expressing frustration that African American history is being erased. The remaining 100-year-old homes and structures in the district are significant to the fabric and history of the city and country.

The Tenth Street area was a thriving African American self-sustaining neighborhood with an abundance of businesses and successful individuals from doctors to musicians. As one of the few remaining Freedmen’s Towns in the nation, the city of Dallas should not only preserve the district but tell its story.

The new construction in our district must abide by the historic standards. While allowing new homes to be built on empty lots in our district, the city of Dallas has failed to enforce the historic preservation codes that are on the books and have allowed development that looks nothing like the character of the homes that garnered our neighborhood as a National Historic Site in 1993.

Lack of enforcement and relaxed standards are a threat to the integrity of our historic district. Simultaneously, the city must hold absentee property owners in our district responsible and address the neglect by saving these homes so they can be renovated in a way that preserves history.

The Tenth Street Historic District needs equitable investment as well. Funding must be made available for infrastructure improvement, revitalization of historic homes, and replacement of the homes demolished by the city under its discriminatory code.

In 2017, the Dallas City Council included $7.1 million in funding for the Southern Gateway Deck Park, which is located just south of our community, as part of its bond program. We want to see our neighborhood grow, but it should grow without displacement of long-time residents and in such a way that includes low- and moderate-income owners and tenants.

The forefathers and foremothers of the Tenth Street Historic District were resilient and committed to creating a thriving community. The Tenth Street Residential Association is committed to taking a stand as we try to honor the history of Tenth Street, not just for ourselves, but for our country.

Won’t you join us?

Shaun Montgomery is the secretary for the Tenth Street Residential Association.

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