By MOLLIE FINCH BELT
The Dallas Examiner
When I was a teenager, my parents bought a home in South Dallas, and I went to Lincoln High School. It was 1957 and there was no junior high school for Negroes in Dallas, so I went to Lincoln in the eighth grade.
We were not considered high school students so were not allowed to participate in many high school activities. The other students or the school administrators did not accept us. The high school had to accept us because the elementary schools for Negroes were overcrowded – all three high schools for Negroes had eighth grade students.
South Dallas was vibrant at that time. We had grocery stores, and a drugstore with a soda fountain at the corner of Hatcher Street and Oakland Avenue, service stations that lighted up the intersections.
We had excellent teachers. My math teacher was Mamie McKnight, who later taught math at El Centro Community College when it opened. My English teacher was Yvonne Ewell, who later was a Dallas Independent School District trustee. One of my principals was Dr. Otto Fridia, who was a no-nonsense person and did not tolerate discipline problems. He later became interim superintendent of Dallas ISD
My locker mate and best friend was Betty Byrd, our houses were in close proximity. We walked to school and home together every day for five years.
Betty and I went to the public library every Saturday. One of our parents would drive us there and pick us up. The buses were segregated. Negroes had to sit in the back of the bus and Whites sat in the front. My parents did not allow me to ride segregated buses. Betty and I would spend two to three hours at the library. It was one place that was not segregated. We learned all parts of the library. I continue my love for books today.
We could not eat lunch downtown. There was nowhere to go eat that was not segregated. The lunch counter at H.L. Greens was segregated – there was a counter for Negroes in the basement of the store and a counter on the first floor for Whites only. H.L. Greens was an inexpensive variety store downtown.
The Majestic Theatre was segregated too – Negroes sat in the balcony and only Whites sat on the first floor. My parents did not allow me to go to the Majestic.
In fact, my parents did not allow me to go anywhere that was segregated – having separate facilities for Negroes. There were many places Negroes could not go at all.
Our high school football games were always on weeknights at Cobb Stadium, because weekend nights were used by the White high schools.
I was an active member of the Youth Council of the NAACP. Juanita Craft was our leader. We met on Monday nights in the backyard of her house when the weather was good and in a small church next door when the weather was bad. Students from all three Black high schools came to the meetings. We learned about the activities of the Civil Rights Movement that was happening in other states. This is where I learned the song We Shall Overcome. Our only activity was going to local churches on Sunday afternoons telling the congregations about the fight that was taking place to end segregation in other states, for Negroes to have equal opportunities – such as voting rights.
At the time, it was against Dallas ISD policy for teachers to belong to the NAACP. My father was a civil rights attorney, and I was a member of the NAACP and participate in their activities in spite of the fact that my mother taught in the Dallas Public School System. Many of my friends whose parents worked for Dallas ISD did not belong or participate.
Schools were on the verge of integrating. There were planned meetings between Negro and White students in preparation for integration.
I remember one group, the YMCA had clubs for girls and boys (Tri-Hi Y and Hi-Y clubs) and the Mooreland Y clubs met with White YMCA clubs.
We met discussing state government, the meetings culminating with a trip to Austin, only the Negro students were not allowed to go to Austin with the group.
I was so hurt. You can imagine how I felt, meeting with a group of students (White and Black) planning an activity centered around state government and then we were told we could not go to Austin.
My father sent me to a Quaker sponsored camp in Massachusetts for teenagers to compensate for not being able to go to Austin. It was the first time I flew on an airplane and my first trip alone out of town. It was a very enlightening experience. I remember at the camp we had group discussions on disarmament. There were teenagers (White and Black) at the camp from all over the United States.
The Dallas School System was very dictatorial. It mandated that the Negro high school graduations be consolidated. When I graduated in 1961 we had one commencement at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium for all three Negro high schools and one prom at the Convention Center. We were allowed to have our individual baccalaureate ceremonies at our individual schools.
Some of the students at Lincoln rebelled at first by not paying our senior fees but we eventually gave in to the wishes of the district. We felt that taxation without representation was not American.
Despite segregation and having substandard materials, many Black students in Dallas managed to succeed and became some of today’s successful leaders. Madison High School produced a U.S. ambassador, physicians, politicians, lawyers, teachers, judges, etc. Lincoln High School produced physicians, lawyers, judges, newspaper publishers, teachers, counselors, college professors, engineers and the list goes on.
By 1961 we were on the verge of integrating Dallas. There were all kinds of meetings between high school students (White and Black) to see how we would interact with each other.
But when I graduated from Lincoln High School in 1961 the schools were still segregated.
Mollie Finch Belt is the publisher of The Dallas Examiner and the daughter of the newspaper’s founder.