Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 16, Number 01, Spring, 2004 Page: 3
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/hroughout much of the twentieth century, a relatively
small group of Dallas civic leaders-mostly
white businessnmen-kept a tight rein on local politics.
While claiming to promote the interests of the city as
a whole, they tended to ignore the particular concerns
of women and racial and ethnic minorities.When they
did address such concerns-in areas like housing and
education, for instance-both their process and the
results often tended to be paternalistic.
Challenging this dominant elite wasn't easy. It
entailed risks and demanded no small amounts of
courage.Yet Dallas was blessed with independent spirits
willing to speak out against perceived abuses and
call for a place in the governing councils.This issue of
Legacies profiles a number of such individuals. Because
their efforts contributed to a gradual opening up of
the political process, we have entitled our theme,
"March to Democracy."
Juanita Craft is perhaps this community's most
revered civil rights figure, a woman who experienced
racial discrimination in many forms but whose persistence
and leadership eventually won her a seat on
the Dallas City Council, the prestigious Linz Award,
and many other honors. One of her most importance
achievements may have been her organization of
African-American youth in 1955 to protest racial segregation
at the State Fair of Texas. Rachel Burrow's
article details this fight, which pitted Mrs. Craft and
the young people not only against the white establishment
but also many blacks as well.
Each civic leader builds on the legacy of predecessors,
and Mrs. Craft was no exception. From 1934 to
1945, the Rev. Maynard H. Jackson set an example of
courageous leadership in the African-American community.
Going beyond the traditional role of religious
pastor, the Reverend Jackson organized the Progressive
Voters League to encourage black citizens to register to
vote, and he challenged the white establishment by running
for a seat on the Dallas School Board.
White and Hispanic citizens also challenged the
system. As early as 1915, Helen Viglini lied about her
marital status (claiming she was unmarried and childless)
in order to gain employment; within a few years,
she was Dallas County's first woman assistant district
attorney. In 1949, J. B. Adoue, a prominent banker
who had experienced first-hand the manipulations of
the powerful Citizens Charter Association, led an
effort that resulted in allowing Dallas voters to elect
their mayor directly. And Pleasant Grove merchant
Max Goldblatt, who also suffered from the inequities
of the city council electoral process, filed the lawsuit
that eventually allowed voters in each council district
to elect their own representative.
As the first Mexican-American man elected to
the Dallas City Council, Pedro Aguirre found himself
leading the protests against abuses of the police department
in one of the city's most tragic racial confrontations,
the Santos Rodriguez incident. And lawyer
Frank Hernandez repeatedly led civil rights challenges
to the Dallas school board, the judicial system, and the
city council; eventually he became the first MexicanAmerican
judge in Dallas County.
Not all stories of political mavericks have happy
endings. The career of William Sidney Pittman is one
of the most poignant in Dallas history.The first prominent
African-American architect in Texas, Pittman
designed several notable buildings, including the
Pythian Temple and the St. James AME Church in
Dallas, before the impact of prejudice and the Great
Depression destroyed his career.Turning to journalism,
he so antagonized influential citizens that he was tried
for sending obscene material through the mail and was
sentenced to Leavenworth Penitentiary. In her article,
Carolyn Perritt calls on previously unseen court and
prison records to document Pittman's sad downfall.
Those individuals profiled in this issue are by no
means the only people who participated in the
"March to Democracy" in Dallas. Among those
whose stories appeared in earlier issues are George
Allen (fall 1998), Norman Washington Harllee
(spring 1996), Sarah T. Hughes (fall 2001), and Rene
Martinez (fall 1998). We hope to tell the stories of
many more in the future. As Dallas continues to grapple
with issues of fair representation and equal opportunity
for all, theirs is a legacy worth recalling.
Michael V. Hazel
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 16, Number 01, Spring, 2004, periodical, 2004; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth35092/m1/5/: accessed June 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.