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Local legends who paved a path to justice

MIKE McGEE | 3/4/2016, 4:33 p.m.
Music, prayer and personal recollection all played parts of the local legends celebration at Southwest Center Mall held Feb. 21 ...
Dylan Belt admires the portrait of his great-grandparents, Fred and Mildred Finch, that will hang permanently in Southwest Center Mall. Both were honored for their contributions to history. Mike McGee

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.