By MOLLIE FINCH BELT
The Dallas Examiner
The first thing I remember about being back in Texas is the heat. We arrived in the summer of 1954, and I was not accustomed to Texas heat.
We stayed with my mother’s parents in Marshall, Texas. My grandfather, Rev. A.J. Newton, was a Methodist minister at Ebenezer Methodist Church and trustee on the Wiley College Board of Trustees. It was in Marshall that summer that I joined the Methodist church and my grandfather baptized me.
Texas was still segregated. Marshall was no exception. My grandfather would take Jackie, my cousin, and I to the movie theatre every time the movie changed. At the movie theatre, Negroes had to enter from the side entrance and sit in the balcony. A clerk sold us our movie tickets. We had to give our food order to the clerk and she went to the main snack area and brought us our popcorn and drink.
My grandmother would take us to the ballpark on little league night for Negroes. Those nights were designated for Negro little league baseball teams to play at the city park. It was a big outing for Negroes in Marshall. Adjacent to the ballpark was a park with picnic tables and benches where everyone would come out and socialize.
We went to the Methodist Youth Fellowship institutes held on the campus of Wiley.
These were our only recreational activities. My world was all black again – like in Tuskegee.
At the end of the summer we moved to Dallas.
In a paper written by my father, Fred J. Finch Jr., entitled, “How The Walls Came Tumbling Down,” a recollection, he described Dallas in 1954 as follows:
- Negroes sat on back of streetcars and buses.
- The only “White” theatre a Negro could attend was the Majestic, and Negroes sat at the top near.
- Dallas ISD schools were segregated.
- Negro women couldn’t try on hats in department stores.
- In some stores, such as Dreyfus, children couldn’t try on coats and dresses.
- Negroes couldn’t eat at lunch counters in downtown stores.
- Employment was limited to servants, such as waiters, bus boy, janitors, elevator operator, maids, etc.
- In higher education, schools like SMU, UTA, NTSU and TWU were segregated.
- Restrooms and drinking fountains were segregated.
- Hotel rooms were unavailable to Negroes.
- The State Fair was open to Negroes only one day, “Negro Day.”
However, in Dallas, Negroes had more to do than in Marshall. There were the two Y’s, Maria Morgan YWCA and the Mooreland YMCA, that offered recreational activities. I took dancing lessons at the YWCA and went to overnight camp the one week in summer that the Negro YWCA was allowed to have camp at Camp Tres Rios. The YMCA had a nice indoor swimming pool and they had swimming classes and clubs for girls and boys.
Both the Y’s were located in North Dallas – an area that is known today as Uptown. Also, the majority of Black churches, insurance companies, hotels, professional offices, medical offices, etc. were in North Dallas.
There was a Black movie theatre in North Dallas but the type of movies were not suitable, so my parents did not allow me to go.
Later, the Forest Avenue Theatre was given to Negroes because White people had moved out of South Dallas. South Dallas had been a White area, but when Negroes moved into the area, Whites moved out.
North Dallas increasingly became crime infested and Negroes migrated to the Southern part of the city for better, safer communities. Numerous businesses closed. Many feel the city intentionally allowed this part of town to deteriorate. The YMCA and YWCA built buildings in Oak Cliff. The Black churches also moved to Oak Cliff.
Mollie Finch Belt is the publisher of The Dallas Examiner and the daughter of the newspaper’s founder.