Candace Thompson, on left, moderates a discussion with Patricia Perez on the life and legacy of civil rights activist Juanita Craft. – Photo by Noah Cathey/ The Dallas Examiner


The Dallas Examiner

“Do I need to grab some tissue?” Patricia Perez asked.

As the moderator prepared to ask the final question, Perez held back the tears of pride, joy and gratitude. During the Craft Kids: Civil Rights and the Dallas NAACP Youth Council discussion, she sat speechless, attempting to find words that do justice to the impact of a Dallas legend and national treasure – civil rights activist Juanita Craft.

Craft was one of the foremost human rights champions in the southern United States, beginning in the 1940s. As a Dallas City Council member and Democratic precinct chair, Craft was the first Black woman in Texas to be deputized as a poll tax collector. One of her biggest impacts was her work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. As regional and national youth coordinator, she established 182 NAACP Youth Councils throughout four states including, one in her native South Dallas, according to Friends of Juanita Craft board. Her rich legacy lives on through the Dallas youth she worked with for almost half a century, colloquially referred to as “Craft Kids” – one of which was Perez.

Perez offered a firsthand account of the work and impact of Craft – as one of her most devoted disciples – during the discussion held at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum on June 20. The conversation, moderated by Candace Thompson, chair of the Friends of Juanita Craft board, was held in conjunction with the Candy Brown Holocaust and Human Rights Educator Series.

“I spent the first 12 years of my life in New York City,” Perez said. “My mother had to split her children up, so she sent two of them – myself and my baby brother – to Dallas to live with her brother, my uncle and his wife. His wife knew Mrs. Craft. As soon as we left the airport, my aunt introduced my brother and I to [Craft] and the rest is basically history.”

In looking back at the deep and long-lasting connection they built, Perez stated it was destiny that brought them together. And even 38 years after the death of Craft, Perez has worked endlessly to preserve the legacy and tell the story of her mentor and friend.

Perez said Craft used her platform to educate and inspire young people in her neighborhood. She always enlightened them with truth and didn’t censor any information. Her personability allowed her to relate to youth in a unique way.

“She saw every person as equal,” Perez said. “As youth, she made us engaged and involved. We were always working with her. She’s gonna tell us straight how it was because she felt like that’s how we needed to know it. How can you soften water hoses and dogs being turned on your people? You can’t stop that. And I think that’s why she got through to so many of us. She was so effective with us because we knew that she was real.”

In the then thriving and busy South Dallas, Perez and other youth council members walked up and down Oakland Avenue [now Malcolm X Blvd.] selling NAACP memberships, candy, Christmas seals and anything Craft believed the community wanted. Most of money raised was used to fund the youth council’s trip to the NAACP National Convention each summer.

“For three summers of mine, we filled up a bus headed to the convention,” Perez said. “I was fortunate enough to travel to Los Angeles, Boston and Cincinnati. The year of the Boston Convention, our youth council won the competition of who could sell the most memberships. We won and our prize was lunch and a movie with Sen. Edward Brook from Massachusetts, the first Black senator since Reconstruction. What 13-year-old has lunch with a senator?”

These cross-country experiences inspired Perez to remain active in South Dallas. She participated in Craft’s Kids Kan Kampaign – intentionally misspelt to give the youth a good connotation of the initials KKK. For her last three years of high school, she participated in SMU’s summer Upward Bound program. She served as secretary for the Dallas Youth Council and the Texas NAACP Youth and College Division. Perez credited Craft with helping her find ways to remain involved and informed.

“I think what she did for me was introduce me to many possibilities,” Perez said. “Things that you might have thought were impossible weren’t She made us feel really powerful during a time when people were conspiring to make us feel powerless. That is what was important for her.”

In 2018, Perez returned and joined a steering committee making plans to remodel and preserve Craft’s South Dallas home, which Craft willed to the city of Dallas. The historic home once served as a sanctuary to Dallas-area youth. Youth council meetings and many sock hops were hosted there. Perez now volunteers at the house three times a week, helping to educate the next generation and give them a place of which to be proud.

“I would like to see that house become to South Dallas what it was when I was a kid,” Perez said. “A place to gather, to think things out and plan things. I just think it would be good for the community to have that museum there. People can come in and see history. We get a kind of bad rap in that neighborhood. I think some pride needs to come back to that community. And I think that house could do some of that.”

In the end, Perez hoped that the work she has continued to do will help inspire youth to fight for what they believe in just like Craft did for decades. She also said she prayed that history would treat her mentor with the respect and kindness her work deserved.

“She was one of a kind,” Perez said. “I’ve met many people in my life. I’ve never met anyone like that. I’m 70 years old and I’ve been around. I’ve lived in D.C., San Francisco, New York and Dallas. I’ve met many people from many walks of life. I met people who work in the same field. And I’ve just never met anybody like Mrs. Craft. I hope she is remembered for a very long time.”

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