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From Confederacy to neighborhood inequity

DEMETRIA McCAIN | 8/28/2017, 7:57 a.m.
While activists fight to tear down the stone-carved painful reminders of a past when Africans suffered under chattel slavery, a ...
Demetria McCain

Inclusive Communities Project

While activists fight to tear down the stone-carved painful reminders of a past when Africans suffered under chattel slavery, a concurrent public action to make the wrongs in Dallas right has been taking place. I attended Albert Sidney Johnston Elementary, a school named after a Civil War Confederate general. I never took pride in my school’s namesake, not because of the violence he engaged to maintain America’s dreadful status quo, but because I never pondered much about who Johnston was. What I did ponder about as a child was why my teachers were often found closing windows to keep out nearby factories’ offensive smells; why my parents forced me to go outdoors and play despite my private terror that a loose dog might wander into our front yard; and what might happen to my newly licensed brother if he disobeyed our parents’ order to stay out of the Highland Park area at night.

To say the city that helped raise me has gone through changes would be putting it mildly. Shortly after President F.D. Roosevelt ordered that a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee be erected in near-North Dallas, the city’s White Citizen’s Council was carving geographic sections that it would designate as Negro districts. The work of the White businessmen’s contractor, infamous city planner Harland Bartholomew, stands today. To no surprise, their Negro districts abut levees, heavy industrial zones and areas that have yet seen significant public investment. The city of Dallas and its regional partners swell with the types of monuments of neighborhood inequity and residential segregation that harm low-income children of color.

In July, the city of Dallas hosted 14 Assessment of Fair Housing public meetings – one per council district – and invited comments from residents about their fair housing concerns. The University of Texas at Arlington’s research team facilitated the sessions while presenting preliminary data findings.

The passion in those who gathered at these meetings sprang from the harms created long ago during our city’s monument-erecting days. At the core of the public’s concerns were the lack of neighborhood equity and options. Complaints about the lack of full-service grocery stores, inadequate public transportation, high crime, loose dogs, environmental hazards, housing displacement, substandard housing, streets in disrepair, an inadequate number of jobs and too few sidewalks were reoccurring themes at many district meetings. Equally consistent were the familiar complaints about the limited options lower income families have when wanting to move to areas where neighborhood services and resources are already in abundance. These concerns have been made repeatedly to city leaders. Yet, despite years of outcries and efforts, not enough has changed.

For example, the city lacks political will to invest in segregated neighborhoods of color that has persisted despite the Southeast Oak Cliff Land Use, Housing, and Economic Study of 1991, which found that numerous conditions in the Wadsworth neighborhood of Oak Cliff fell short of minimum viability. Yet city actions have perpetuated slum and blight conditions by failing to remediate the large, illegal landfill that lies within the neighborhood.