Reflections of Dallas Past: South Dallas in 1956

Mount Horeb Baptist Church, was located at the corner of Lowry and Sunday streets in the South Dallas, 1947. – Photo courtesy of the Times Hearld Negro City Directory

 

By MOLLIE FINCH BELT

The Dallas Examiner

 

Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd was named Forest Avenue.

Malcolm X Boulevard was named South Oakland Avenue.

I am Black and I lived in Dallas in 1956 when it was a segregated city. Negroes and Whites lived in separate areas of the city. There were separate facilities for Negroes and Whites. When Negroes were permitted to use the same facility, there was a separate section designated for them. This section was usually in the back or in the balcony or basement.

There was a popular convenience store in downtown Dallas, H.L. Greens. Negroes were allowed to shop in H.L. Greens but we had to eat at the lunch counter in the basement of the store. The main lunch counter was located on the first floor and was for “White Only.”

Much like the hospitals had separate waiting rooms for Negroes, along with many other facilities.

Negroes had separate movie theatres. We were allowed to go to the Majestic Theatre downtown, but we had to sit in the balcony. I remember when the movie Imitation of Life released in 1959 was showing at the Majestic. Everyone wanted to see it because it was about racial prejudice. Most of my friends went to see the movie but my father would not let me go because Negroes had to sit in the balcony of the theatre.

Negroes and White neighborhoods were also separate. When Negroes moved into an area of town, Whites moved out.

In 1956, the Forest Theatre was designated as a Negro theatre after the mass migration of White and Jewish families from South Dallas – when more Negroes started moving into in the area.

I do not recall the Forest Theatre being called the “Colored” Forest Theatre as is published in some periodicals. Maybe this is what it was referred to by the Dallas White community, but we knew it as the Forest Theatre. It was a beautiful building with a widening staircase going to the balcony and plush red carpet on the floor. It was the place to go on weekend nights for dates and to meet your friends.

It was the nicest theatre for Negroes in Dallas.

The neighborhood in South Dallas in 1956 did not consist of slums as it is referred to in some publications today. The homes and businesses were well kept. There were lawyers offices, doctors offices, beauty salons, barber shops, real estate agencies, insurance companies, a Black owned business school, drugstores, a florist shop, dress shops, grocery stores, churches, two high schools (Lincoln and James Madison), elementary schools and churches. There were major service stations that added to the attractiveness and safety.

The area had single homes and apartment complexes and they were well kept. I wish I had taken pictures of the area in the 50’s and 60’s.

South Dallas neighborhoods were filled with professionals – doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners. There were also blue-collar workers – janitors, maids, couriers, cooks etc. Back then, we all lived together. We were proud of our neighborhoods.

In 1956, Forest Avenue High School, located on Forest Avenue, was designated a “Negro” high school and renamed James Madison High School when White and Jewish families moved out of South Dallas and Negro families moved into the area.

Prior to that time, there were only two Negro high schools in Dallas, Booker T. Washington and Lincoln, and they were overcrowded.

 

Forest Avenue High School had many well known graduates, people who have contributed to Dallas and the country being a better place. Some of the graduates were:

  • Stanley Marcus, retail giant of Neiman Marcus.
  • Adlene Harrison, first female mayor pro tem and acting mayor of the city of Dallas.
  • Jack Mitchell, founder of Dallas Teachers Credit Union.
  • Dr. Norman Kaplan, cardiologist and hypertension researcher, esteemed throughout the U.S.

James Madison High School has also had many outstanding graduates – who attended the school in the late 50s and early 60s – that have contributed to Dallas and our country being a better place. Some of them are:

  • Michael Lenoir, physician and former president of the National Medical Association.
  • Anitha Mitchell, internal Medicine Specialist in Inglewod California.
  • Sylvia Stanfield, first African American woman Ambassador to Brunei (1999-2002).
  • Judge Thomas G. Jones, Justice of the Peace in Dallas from 1991 to present.
  • Ronald E. Jones, first African American mayor of Garland.

 

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