Reflections of Dallas Past: Growing up in a divided city

dfwnewsa | February 2, 2024 | 0 | Dallas News

Reflections of Dallas Past: Growing up in a divided city
Verna G. Brown Mitchell – Courtesy photo.

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(Special to The Dallas Examiner) – I grew up in Dallas – a “tale of two cities.”  At 7 years old, I was stricken with paralytic polio. I was sent home from the hospital without care. It took my mother’s White employer to insist that I be seen, diagnosed and treated. This was my introduction to the world beyond South Dallas. There would be a number of years that my mother had to navigate a not-so-friendly system to advocate the best possible care for me. While doing this, she also made sure that I didn’t fall behind academically.

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I can remember being excited to go to the Majestic Theatre to see Gone with the Wind. Of course, we had to sit in the balcony. I also remember being downtown on a hot day. My older sister carried me to the basement at H. L. Greens to get a drink of water from the “colored” fountain. The fountain was broken. My sister looked at me, then at the White salesperson. She walked me to the “White” fountain and said, “Drink.” We both boldly drank from the fountain and left. Like civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, we experienced sitting at the back of the bus (street car) when we rode downtown to shop. Also, we purchased our shoes at one place – Volk’s, the only store that allowed us to try on merchandise.

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Sunny South Dallas was a very supportive community. It was a changing community. Whites were leaving the area as Blacks purchased homes. And the names of some schools were changed, like Ascher Silberstein School to Charles Rice Elementary. I grew up on the corner of Crozier and Exline. I walked a short block to Rice, where my mother served as president of the PTA. I had outstanding teachers, namely Leslie Doty, Donnie Breedlove, Margie Calico, that not only provided academic support but social skills as well. We were taught grammar and the “times tables.” Speaking correctly was extremely important, as was respecting yourself and others. Every student was encouraged to do his or her best, because only doing your best would get you to college.

My parents afforded me every opportunity, so I was a freshman in college before I realized that I was at-risk. Even though the books that I used in school had the names of other schools and students, I was never deprived of exceptional learning experiences at Lincoln High School, the Mighty Tigers. We were the only high school with an NDCC, National Defense Cadet Core and Black Knights Drill Team. I was exposed to the opera, the symphony and participated in performances all over Dallas with the school choir. There was no doubt that I would graduate with honors from LHS. Again, there were superior teachers, Maurine Bailey, Willie B. Anderson, B.H. Blackmon, Gladys Mayo to name a few. They provided what we needed to be successful in a society that might not see me as I really was. I’ve been able to hold my own in any environment whether friendly or adverse.

I returned to Dallas after college and worked in the segregated Dallas Independent School District. I went through the desegregation court order with peers that were supportive or not. I relied on those skills that had been introduced in past years to help me maneuver this professional situation.  

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I successfully navigated my 35-year career with the Dallas ISD. I retired as principal of Thomas Tolbert Elementary School, the school that I opened in 1996. The auditorium of the school carries my name. I also served as principal of Maynard Jackson Vanguard School.

I’ve always thought that public service is extremely important. In this arena, I have served in leadership roles with numerous boards, organizations and committees, including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc, The Dallas Historical Society, Links Inc. and Dallas Retired Teachers Association. I currently serve with Dallas Council District 3 Senior Affairs Commission, African American Museum Board, Baylor University Medical Center Volunteer Leadership Council and the Dallas Independent School District Racial Equity Committee.

I grew up in “Sunny South Dallas,” and it is still, a “tale of two cities.”

The post Reflections of Dallas Past: Growing up in a divided city appeared first on Dallas Examiner.

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