Reflections of Dallas Past: Adapting to a changing city in the ‘40s and ‘50sdfwnewsa | February 9, 2024 | 0 | Dallas News
(Special to The Dallas Examiner) – As I reflect on my experiences living in Dallas, I am obliged to view them through the lenses of a Black person, adapting, along with the city and country, to changing times and events.
Being the eighth child of nine of Wilmer O. and Ocie B. Gray, family ties and family support have always been important attributes as we individually and collectively navigated these changes.
My parents were from small rural communities in southeast Texas, and they brought with them, as they journeyed toward Dallas, rural work ethics and a common approach sense to life. My siblings and I were the recipients of this lifestyle. They took an army barrack and made it into a house/home, upon arriving in West Dallas in the mid ‘40s. They had a Jersey cow from which we obtained milk and churned butter, chickens and a garden. Amenities such as indoor plumbing were not realized until we moved, house and all, to South Dallas in the early ‘50s.
As there were White families still living in the South Dallas neighborhood at that time, my first introduction to racial slurs became manifested. These incidents were followed by support and reassurance from our parents.
My siblings and I watched a playground, school and movie theater change from places that were “off limits” to us, to places where we were accepted.
My brothers and I had morning newspaper routes and arose at 4:30 a.m. each day to deliver the paper. Our sisters were also kept busy with chores. Being schoolteachers, our parents stressed academic endeavors, the ticket to extracurricular activities being based on one’s academic performance.
As the neighborhood became more Black, so then did other changes happen. The local school names changed as did the streets. Forest Avenue became Martin Luther King Boulevard, Oakland Avenue became Malcolm X, and Negro Achievement Day at the State Fair was eliminated; Blacks were able to attend on any day.
An African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” was definitely at play during the ‘50s and ‘60s, for neighbors were not hesitant in reminding you that they knew your parents and were not hesitant in reporting misdeeds to them.
The street cars disappeared from downtown Dallas and so did the requirement that Blacks sit in the balcony of the Majestic Theater. With the new opportunities, complicated challenges also occurred. Being excluded from a restaurant or theater didn’t exclude you from the military draft. Korea and Vietnam became jealous specters demanding consideration in career choices.
The first job that I held, outside of delivering newspapers, was “Tire Man” at the Sears/Roebuck on the corner of Ross and Greenville. Salary? $1.75/hour. This store, as other Sears, is no longer in existence, vanished like other iconic places over the years. My parents, siblings, relatives, friends and I have adapted, as has the city and country. Vocational circumstances, military commitments, marriages and educational pursuits saw our dispersal to various locations across the U.S. and other countries. However, regardless of our new domiciles, we each seemed to have a longing to return home.
Having returned to Dallas in 1978, leaving in 1961 to attend college, medical school, military services, and residency, I have acted as chauffeur for siblings and relatives as they return to visit over the years. They exclaim, “Let us go by the house!”
The army barrack/home still looks pretty good, and having watched us grow from small children as we picked pecans under the (still standing) majestic pecan tree in the front yard and churned ice cream on the patio in the back yard, it may think the same of us as we visit and remember!
1960 – First Black participant in Boy’s State, and designed the flag for Boy’s State in Austin
1963-1968 – Editorial and Sports Cartoonist-Campus Chat Newspaper at University of North Texas in Denton
1968 – Designed emblem for the Student National Medical Association
1973 – Chief of Emergency Room at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington, D. C. – Honorably discharged as Major
1975 – First person of color admitted to Ophthalmology Residency Program at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland
1978-2018 – Ophthalmologist/Private Practice/Staff at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas
2000-2018 – Chief, Department of Ophthalmology, Baylor Scott &White Hospital in Dallas
1970-2024 – Married Carol Coleman Gray, M.D. with two children and four grandchildren
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