Neighborhoods We Called Home

Dallas Heritage Village preserves history of segregation in Dallas

MIKE McGEE | 9/18/2017, 11:49 a.m.
“We’re actually the worst city when it comes to preservation,” Dr. George Keaton Jr. remarked during the Sept. 1 opening ...
Top Right: This 1930s-era shotgun house is part of the African American section in the Neighborhoods We Called Home exhibition currently at Dallas Heritage Village. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

“We’re actually the worst city when it comes to preservation,” Dr. George Keaton Jr. remarked during the Sept. 1 opening of the Neighborhoods We Called Home exhibition at Dallas Heritage Village. The Neighborhoods exhibit, a collaborative venture showcasing the history and housing of Black, Hispanic and Jewish neighborhoods of the city, runs until Dec. 30 and is intended to be a balm to the issue that the doctor spoke on.

“And when I go to different events, when it comes to that – to tear down a building – I always say, ‘You need to look at what New Orleans or look at what Boston’s doing.’ Some of those houses go back to the 1600s,” Keaton continued. Although he admitted Dallas is not as old as those cities, he maintained that the core principal was exactly the same. “When you do away with that you’re actually losing the character of a city.”

The doctor is one-third of the developers of the Dallas Multicultural Historical Coalition, along with Debra Polsky and Juanita Nanez. It consists of a trio of focal groups dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the history of the three major marginalized ethnicities of the city.

“I have to say, it’s been a long road, it’s been one of the toughest exhibits to do (that) I’ve ever done. I thought I knew a lot about neighborhoods and urban history – I even thought I knew a lot about African American history; I was the (teaching assistant) for it at UTD for, like, six years with an expert,” Evelyn Montgomery, curator of Dallas Heritage Village, noted as she addressed attendees.

“I thought I understood a lot of things but this has been the most amazing learning experience to me, to see neighborhood history differently, to see how people may feel about their heritage, and that of their neighbors and their friends, and their own parents, in a way I have not seen it before,” she said.

Keaton also spoke to those at the opening.

“My group, Remembering Black Dallas Incorporated, started in 2014, and we have hit the road running since we started, and we do many projects throughout the year, and we were very challenged to do this house,” he said.

The house he referred to is a shotgun house, a style of home many African Americans lived in during the 1930s, removed from a freedman’s town and placed into the Village. The structure gets its name from the design: a narrow home with rooms one behind the other instead of a connecting hallway. It has been said one could fire a shotgun on one end of the house and the shot would travel through all the open doors of the house and out the back door without hitting anything in between. Keaton explained the specific layout beginning with the first room.

“Normally this would be a bedroom/room. The living room would be there on the porch, as you see that’s where the folks gathering was.” The relocated house also contained a bedroom proper and kitchen, much of the wooden sides within layered with wallpaper that replicates the styles of the time.