Reflections of Dallas Past: Growing up in Dallas during segregated times

dfwnewsa | February 16, 2024 | 0 | Dallas News

Reflections of Dallas Past: Growing up in Dallas during segregated times
Betty McGowan White Culbreath – Courtesy photo

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(Special to The Dallas Examiner) – This month is a good time to reflect on growing up in segregated Dallas and the experiences I encountered during that time and now. Having recently celebrated Dr. Martian Luther King’s birthday also put me in the mood of thinking about how my happiness growing up in Dallas and what was said in Martin L King Jr. Day speeches this 2024 were so different from what I remember.

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I spent my early years in a little community named Booker T. Washington. It faced the two-lane highway 75 North. There were three streets; my family lived on two. The community consisted of professional Blacks, postal workers, housekeepers, service workers and homemakers. We had one church, Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which later relocated to Elm Thicket.

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The Booker T. addition was full of life. My Aunt Janie Wilson was the neighborhood storekeeper and my grandfather, George McGowan Sr., lived in the rear of the store, across the street from Mt Zion. So, we were in the thick of things. Our house a duplex that faced the service road of Highway 75.

I remember when the first improvements to Highway 75/Central Expressway started. It was such fun in the evening being able to run and play on all that freshly poured cement after it dried and putting the markers back after we finish for the night. It was best playground/park in the city for the Black kids.

The Dallas transit – our city bus system – end of the bus line was located adjacent to the Booker T. addition, across the highway. My mother, Alberta Sweeney McGowan, would ride that Capital bus to and from her doctor’s appointments in the Flowers Doctors building on the corner of Hall Street and Thomas Avenue in what is now known as Uptown. When I would accompany my mom on bus trips because we bordered the bus at the end of line, the bus was empty. I would sit directly behind the driver’s seat. The driver knew his regular passengers by name. We would be close to Hall Street stop before the bus would begin to fill up with other people, mostly White. My mother would beckon for me to join her in the middle of the bus near the very back and most of the time I would comply. But there was one day that as the bus filled earlier than usual, my mom beckon to me. I suddenly became “Rosa Parks” and said “No, I want to stay here.” She was embarrassed and angry at my disobedience. The bus driver intervened and said, “Let her stay here.” From that day on, I was the Black kid riding in front seat on Dallas segregated bus system. A White bus driver decided it was the right thing to do.

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In 1949, the GI Bill established grants to build new housing for Black Veterans returning home from war. Black soldiers purchased newly constructed homes. One of the first neighborhoods was Arlington Park. By that time, my mother had died from a massive heart attack. My father, George McGowan Jr., later remarried. My stepmother taught me a lot, even if sometimes it seemed mean spirited.

Arlington Park was another fun place to live. All the new homes and families’ young children had much to learn and create fun things to do. I laugh when I think of how muddy the streets would become after any rain, because the city had not built streets or sidewalks. Even streetlights had not been installed prior to us moving into our lovely white houses with black trim, with paved driveways to our backyard garages.

We attended school in North Dallas Hall and Thomas Street. The long ride on our school bus was hard. Our parents would drop us off if time permitted. However, most of the time Uncle Taff picked us up and delivered us to our designated school. I attended St. Peter Academy of the Notre Dame, J. W. Ray Elementary, Darrell and the great Booker T. Washington High School.

Living in Dallas during these times prepared me for the career paths I chose and followed to help my city become a better place for all to live in.

The post Reflections of Dallas Past: Growing up in Dallas during segregated times appeared first on Dallas Examiner.

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