Civil Rights in Dallas at the State Fair ‘Dallas in the time of MLK’

The Dallas Examiner

This year, the State Fair of Texas has an exhibit, Dallas in the time of MLK, in the Hall of State that displays the highlights of the Civil Rights Movement in Dallas.

The exhibit consists of the photographs of civil rights leaders in Dallas who made significant contributions. My father, Attorney Fred J. Finch Jr.’s photo is among them.

My father founded The Dallas Examiner newspaper because he wanted Dallas to have a quality newspaper with news about and of interest to African Americans.

He was also a civil rights attorney and was involved in many legal battles to desegregate Dallas. One of these battles was integration of the State Fair of Texas.

It has been held in Dallas every year in the fall since 1986, except for periods during World War I and World War II. However, Dallas was a segregated city and Negroes were not allowed to go to the fair except on one day, Negro Achievement Day.

In 1955, Juanita Craft organized protests against the segregationist practices of the fair.

I grew up in Dallas during this time and remember only being able to go to the fair on one day. My father did not like for me to go to the fair on Negro Achievement Day because he was against me participating in segregated activities.

Negro Achievement Day was celebrated with a large parade in South Dallas down Oakland Avenue – which has been renamed Malcolm X Boulevard – as well as a Black high school football game played during the day, and a Black college football game played at night in the Cotton Bowl. Negroes came from all over the state to attend on that one day.

My father sheltered me from segregated activities as much as possible. For example, I was not allowed to go to the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas because Negroes had to sit in the balcony. The only place I could go in downtown Dallas was the public library because it was integrated.

Denise Bunkley, the daughter of attorney C.B. Bunkley, shared with me her experiences of going to the fair with her father and brother when she was a child during this time. She said when her father would take them to the fair, if he was told at the gate that his children could not get on the rides that day, he would take them back home and they would try another day.

We know now that he was testing the fair to see if they were still prohibiting Negroes from participating. Her father would take them back to the fair several days to see if they would be allowed to enjoy the activities at the fair. Some days they could participate; some days they could not.

Bunkley is currently working in the Media Office at the State Fair, coordinating TV shows, among other things.

How far we have come.

I was especially glad to visit the Civil Rights room in the Hall of State because the photos of African Americans – many of whom I knew – made me remember the segregated society I grew up in.

Among the photos is one of Juanita Craft. Seeing her photo brought back many memories. Craft was the Youth Advisor for the Dallas Youth Council of the NAACP. I was a member of the Youth Council.

Every Monday night, members of the youth council would meet at Craft’s South Dallas home. When the weather was good, we met in her backyard. When it was cold or raining, we met in a small church down the street from her house.

These were important meetings because Dallas was on the verge of integrating. Craft kept us informed on what other youth were doing to integrate their cities. We talked about how we could make Dallas better.

Unfortunately, many youth whose parents worked in the Dallas Independent School District did not attend the meetings. It was perceived in the Black community that Dallas ISD would not tolerate their Negro employees being members of the NAACP – probably an unwritten rule.

In spite of the fact that my mother, Mildred N. Finch, was a math teacher at Madison High School, she allowed me to join and attend the NAACP meetings – thus risking losing her job. She remained employed at Dallas ISD until she left to teach math at El Centro Community College.

The exhibit also includes photos of Martin Luther King Jr. when he visited Dallas. The Dallas Historical Society is responsible for bringing the exhibit.

I encourage you to visit the Hall of State when you attend the fair this year.

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