The life and legacy of civil rights leader Juanita Craft celebrated by the city

dfwnewsa | March 1, 2024 | 1 | Dallas News

The life and legacy of civil rights leader Juanita Craft celebrated by the city
Juanita Jewel Craft devoted her life to the Civil Rights Movement in Texas – Photo by the Judith Sedwick/Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America as part of the Black Women Oral History Project

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(The Dallas Examiner) – Known as a civil rights advocate, politician and an American hero, Juanita Jewel Craft left a legacy for the African American community that included justice for all. She was committed to fight racism at every level and opening doors for all people. Most notably, she was the first African American woman to vote in Dallas County in a public election.

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To honor Craft’s legacy the city of Dallas along with the Friends of Juanita Craft Civil Rights House and Museum held a special celebration at Dallas City Hall on her birthday. The event included an unveiling of a commissioned mural dedicated to Craft.

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“Thank you for taking the time to join us,” said Martine Philipe, director of the Office of Arts and Culture. “It’s my sincere honor to be here with you as we celebrate the Legacy and birthday of Mrs. Juanita Craft, our civil rights hero.”

Then Dallas City Council member and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn King Arnold read a Juanita J. Craft Day proclamation, which was first recognized in 2022. She explained that the purpose of a proclamation was to inform those who are unaware of the person’s life and accomplishments.

“It is indeed a beautiful day is it not it most definitely is with the Juanita Craft Celebration Day and furthermore it’s always a wonderful day to celebrate someone who has made it possible for you to be here today to continue the legacy and most of all your commitment to her work,” Arnold stated. “I am thankful and grateful to be asked to be a part of this wonderful event today to celebrate the life of a civil rights hero or a shero, Juanita Jewel Craft, who continuously sought out opportunity in her life – not only to better her life but also the life of others.”

Born Juanita Jewel Shanks in Round Rock, on Feb. 9, 1902, Craft was the granddaughter of former slaves, and the only child of schoolteachers. She joined the NAACP in 1935, before becoming the Dallas membership chairman in 1942 and the Texas field organizer in 1946. Over 11 years, she organized 182 branches of the NAACP.

In 1954, Craft began organizing protests against segregation. A year later, she organized a protest of the State Fair of Texas against its policy of admitting Blacks only on “Negro Achievement Day.”

After the ruling of the Brown v. Board decision, Craft worked to integrate the University of Texas Law School and the Dallas Independent School District.

She was also credited with helping to win the fight to enroll the first Black student at North Texas State College, currently known as the University of North Texas, in 1956.

She served the Dallas City Council for two terms between 1975 and 1979.

Due to her lifelong efforts, she received the NAACP Golden Heritage Life Membership Award in 1978 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award in 1984.

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Craft died Aug. 6, 1985. Her legacy to the city of Dallas has been commemorated with the Juanita Jewel Craft Recreation Center and a Dallas city park. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Wheatley Place Historic District on March 23, 1995.

Only 10 homes in the United States are dedicated to telling the story of an African American female trailblazer who fought for civil rights and human rights, one of which belongs to Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House and Museum, which is considered a historical landmark highlighting Craft’s legacy.

“On behalf of Eric Johnson, the mayor of Dallas, I as deputy mayor of Dallas, Carolyn King Arnold do hereby Proclaim February the 9th as Juanita J. Craft Day in honor of her 122nd birthday, I too share my gratitude for the life and life’s work of the Honorable Juanita Jewel Craft.”

Next, Craft’s cousin, Shirley Walker, spoke about the legacy of Craft.

“Juanita was born in 1902, and I was born in 1949, so she was 47 years older than I was so as a child I didn’t have as much communication as when I became an adult. And one of my first memories of Juanita is when she came to Austin, Texas, when I was 23 years old. I had a sibling who was murdered, and she took the time out of her busy schedule, not just because it was a family member, but she wanted to come and make sure that we were comforted and that we were loved and taken care of in the right way. Even though we were in grief she had brought so much joy and so much laughter into the home that it helped to kind of ease that pain a little bit.”

Her cousin said she loved visiting Craft’s home in Dallas as well.

“The second and my most favorite memory of her is in 1982, we visited Juanita in her home. It wasn’t a museum at that time, but it was where she lived,” Walker continued. “And I remember that when we were there over the course of those four days how much love we received from her, how much joy we had in listening to the stories that she had to tell and the things that she had to share with us. And of course, I knew some of the history, but I did not know the magnitude in which she was involved, not just in Dallas but in the state of Texas. And I know how much she loved the children and how much she did to inspire them, and she inspired me.”

Last, muralist Lakeem Wilson, spoke on his artistry work in making the Craft mural.

“I’m an artist, illustrator and entrepreneur and I’m born and raised here in South Dallas, so it’s an honor to be doing this project in the neighborhood that raised me and groomed me to be who I am,” Wilson said. “For too long our stories have been told without the full spectrum of our experience. I believe it’s time to rewrite the script and assure access to the arts in our Black communities. Because it’s an honor to be unveiling this mural which is on the corner of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Street because it stands as a testament of our commitment to justice and equality. This mural serves as a reminder that the fight for civil rights is an important part of our shared history and it continued to shape our present as well as our future. Beautifying Black communities is a big part of my mission as a mural artist and just artists in general. And it’s not just about the aesthetics, it’s about reclaiming the space in our narratives. It’s a statement that says that we belong here, and our story really matters every day.”

The post The life and legacy of civil rights leader Juanita Craft celebrated by the city appeared first on Dallas Examiner.

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