By MOLLIE FINCH BELT
The Dallas Examiner
As a youth, I went to K.B. Polk and George Washington Carver Elementary schools and Lincoln High School in the 1950s. Schools in Dallas were segregated back then. The city only had three high schools for Negroes – Booker T. Washington in North Dallas, Madison High School and Lincoln High School in South Dallas.
Booker T. had been the only high school for Negroes for many years. My father graduated from there and went to Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, on a basketball scholarship. It was there that he met my mother.
Lincoln opened in 1939 for Negroes who had moved to the Southern part of Dallas. Everyday after it opened there were fights between the students at Lincoln and students at Forest Avenue High School – a White school. The fights were so severe that the district instituted different times for the schools to dismiss students so they did not meet.
In 1956, there were not many White people still living in the area, so the Dallas Board of Education closed Forest Avenue to White students, and designated it for Black students. The school was renamed Madison High School. Negro students living in West Dallas were bused to Madison where they went to school with Negro students who lived in South Dallas. Initially, there were fights every day between the students from both areas. Eventually, they learned to get alone.
During those years, we received only second hand educational materials. When the White students received new textbooks, their old textbooks were sent to the Negro schools. In spite of the fact that our textbooks were outdated, we received an excellent education because we had excellent teachers.
Some of our textbooks still had the assignment sheet on the inside cover where students at the White schools had previously used the books and dated and signed their names. In other books the assignment sheet were completely covered.
Professional jobs were limited in Dallas for Negroes. There were few professional jobs for college educated Negroes back then, so most taught school, were counselors or principals in the segregated school system. College educated Negroes who were not able to get jobs in the Dallas School System worked as custodians in office buildings downtown and other service jobs. Some obtained jobs in school systems in nearby cities like McKinney, Terrell, etc.
With limited job opportunities and services, the Negro community had to be self-sufficient. There were many successful Negro-owned businesses, such as real estate companies, law firms, physicians, dentists, medical groups, plumbers, electricians, dress shops, cleaners, barber and beauty shops and insurance companies. These businesses were patronized by Negroes in Dallas because Negroes were not able to access these services elsewhere except in a segregated setting.
My mother was a college professor, but she taught in the public schools because there was no college for Negroes in Dallas. I remember she had to take education classes at Wiley during the summer in order to get certified to teach in high school. Her major at Wiley had been as she would say with pride “pure math.”
My father opened his law office in South Dallas. He and C.B. Bunkley, another Negro attorney, shared a suite of offices in the Watts Building located on South Oakland Avenue – now Malcolm X Boulevard – near Warren Methodist Church. When the law office first opened, South Dallas was thriving. Oakland Avenue had all types of businesses: real Estate offices, law offices, doctors’ offices, plumbing company, etc.
Later my father bought the building that The Dallas Examiner owns today on the lower end the block.
When he bought the building there was a small dress shop upstairs, a plumbing office on the parking lot and individual business offices. He converted the building into a law office. E. Bryce Cunningham and Joseph Lockridge practiced law in the building with him.
My father was active in the NAACP and filed numerous civil rights suits. Also, he was instrumental in getting Black students admitted to Arlington State College – later renamed the University of Texas at Arlington.
My father was also instrumental in eliminating Negro Achievement Day at the State Fair when he was chair of the Redress Committee of the Dallas NAACP.
During the State Fair in October Negroes could only go on one day, Negro Achievement Day, for many years. There was a high school football game during the day and a Black college football game at night. Negroes came from all over the state to attend that day.
Though both of my parents were civically active, my mother was not a member of the NAACP. At the time, Negroes employed by the Dallas School System were not able to belong to the NAACP. To my knowledge they never bothered my mother.
Mollie Finch Belt is the publisher of The Dallas Examiner and the daughter of the newspaper’s founder.