By MADISON WILLIAMS
The Dallas Examiner
Dallas natives have described Juanita Craft as an icon who had great influence on the Civil Rights Movement. In an effort to keep her name and legacy alive, local groups have committed to restoring her home where she taught youth about civil rights during a time of racial tension and unrest, while a local youth group has committed to carrying mission on the to the next generation.
On Feb. 9, 1902, in Round Rock, Juanita Craft was born and her legacy began.
Her work in the Dallas community as a civil rights advocate and a politician coined her as one of the most influential activists in her community, according to Craft’s biography.
In 1935, Craft joined the NAACP and later became the Dallas Membership Chair in 1942.
Over 11 years, Craft organized 182 branches of the NAACP and became the first African American woman to vote in Dallas County in a public election.
Her tireless work in the community allowed her to establish the NAACP Texas State Conference, serve as a youth advisor for the Dallas NAACP, and become the first Black female to vote in Dallas County and the first Black female recognized as a poll tax collector. She was heavily involved with the integration of Dallas restaurants, the Texas State Fair, and two Texas universities. She also served on the Dallas City Council for two years, according to Women in Texas History.
In the 1940s, Craft founded the Dallas NAACP Youth Council that has become a model organization worldwide. During the 1950s, she moved to her now famous home that she used as a meeting place for the youth.
For several years, the group has continued Craft’s mission. Recently, new officers and executive committee members for the youth council were sworn in by Judge Ingrid Warren.
The newly elected president of the youth council, Chaelon Simpson, recited a speech at the ceremony in Craft’s home on June 12.
“As the newly elected president of the youth council, it is my sworn honor and privilege to protect the values that Ms. Craft spent all of her life cultivating in an environment of growth with my fellow members,” he said.
The purpose of the youth council serves to generate a leadership of youth who become model citizens in their community. Students who exhibit strong leadership skills and are committed to bringing recognition to the youth council were chosen through an election process.
“Every other person of color is directly impacted by the systems in place currently is what made me want to get up join the change in a way,” said Simpson, speaking on his passion for serving others.
The new executive board will oversee several projects, including voter registration, community service and youth mentorship.
2021 Dallas NAACP Youth Council Leadership
• President Chaleon Simpson
Simpson is a junior at Bishop Dunne Catholic High School. He is the president and founder of his school’s Model UN Club and the vice president of his school’s African American Awareness club. He participates in multiple community engagement events and protests. In his free time, he enjoys journalistic and creative writing and mastering the skill of social media management through multiple internships and outlets.
• First Vice President Hailey Norris
Norris is an upcoming senior at Mansfield Lake Ridge High School in Mansfield. She is a member of the Liberal Student Union, a participant in the National Honor Society, and is highly active in various community service activities and groups. She founded and created her own nonprofit organization, Teenage Brigade that contributes to the betterment of education, and economic situations for African Americans and other minority groups. She also participates in the #CAP program, which prepares students with college readiness skills and tactics that will benefit them for years to come. She partakes in drawing and creating various forms of art, as well as studying and researching spectrums in relation to biology, which will be her major in college.
• Second Vice President Chancey Applewhite
Chancey Applewhite is an upcoming senior at Lancaster High School with a current GPA of 4.07. She is a member of Groundwork Dallas, Union Gospel Mission and TOP, to name a few.
• Secretary Hailee Hall
Hall is a junior at the School of Science and Engineering at Townview. She is a member of the National Honor Society and is a UIL Journalism Team member. For five years, she has been a member of the Dallas Chapter Links STEAM Academy. She serves as an NAACP Vote 4 Me Ambassador and a youth leader at Friendship-West Baptist Church. She has been featured in Voyage Dallas Magazine as an up-and-coming entrepreneur as the founder and owner of Aesthetic Prints, a photo printing and framing company.
• Assistant Secretary Laila George
George is a rising junior at Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet at Townview. She is a member of the moot court team and is part of the pre-law program and is extremely interested in the criminal justice system. She is over the youth department at Redeeming Faith Church. Laila is also a virtual tutor for children from the ages of 4 to 9.
• Treasurer Triniti Houston
Houston is a rising sophomore at the School for the Talented and Gifted at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center. She has been the treasurer of the council for two years. As the treasurer, she spearheaded the group’s 2020 VOTE T-shirt and face mask fundraiser and purchased NAACP graduation stoles for the senior members.
• Assistant Treasurer Alexis Harrelson
Harrelson attends Lake Ridge High school. She is a member of multiple organizations that help the youth prepare for life. She helps mothers in need of assistance, as well as other areas of the community where she can.
The Craft House
Craft’s legacy and work is revealed through the preservation of her home. Craft held gatherings in her home to discuss social justice and organize protests. Guests in her home included civil rights leaders such as Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins and artists such as Duke Ellington and Marian Anderson. She also held barbecues in her backyard to gather the community and hold discussions about community issues and activism, according to the Texas Historical Commission.
Built in the 1930s, it has been preserved to commemorate her contributions to society as the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House. The house building was designated as a Texas Historic Landmark by the THC in 2010.
In 2018, the house suffered damages due to a sprinkler piped that busted and flooded the building. With the help of the Junior League of Dallas, the house is amid complete reconstruction.
The league has identified itself as an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.
That year, the league chose the Craft House for their centennial project and began fundraising to restore it.
“We have been great partners in this work to restore the home and make it more accessible to the community in South Dallas,” said Sarah Jackson, JLD centennial project chair.
The league, in partnership with the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture, has raised over $1.3 million for the historic building. They will continue raising money for the restoration and ongoing operational costs.
“We’re hoping to make this a treasure and landmark at the national level,” said Christa Sanford, JLD president. “We want to work with partners around the state to get this designated as first the U.S. Civil Rights Trail in the state of Texas.”
The league will also continue to reach out to community partners to offer Dallas ISD to provide students curriculum development regarding civil rights in Dallas, specifically for PreK-12th grade students, to highlight change agents like Craft in education.
The restored house, located at 2618 Warren Ave., will be unveiled in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in May 2022.