Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 12, Number 2, Fall, 2000 Page: 31
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A SMALL MIRACLE:
From 1907 in Dallas to 2000 International Year of Thanksgiving
BY PETER P. STEWART
A world seed was planted on
Elm Street in Dallas in
I907. Dr. William H.
Greenburg, who had become rabbi
ofTemple Emanu-El in I901, had a
simple question for his fellow
clergy: "Since we only have one
common religious holiday, why
don't we celebrate it, together?"
Rabbi Greenburg felt that citizens
of all creeds and nationalities
should gather to give thanks "as the
children of God at least on one William
occasion during the year."1 His
invitation to join in the first "People's Thanksgiving
Service" may have drawn thoughtful
looks, but a tradition was born.
While Dallas residents had much to be
thankful for in I907, they did the unusual thingthey
expressed it. The city had survived the
financial recession of the I89os to emerge as the
banking and insurance center for the Southwest
and the world's leading market for cotton gin
machinery. From about 42,000 in 900o, its population
was increasing rapidly, and civic leaders
had recently organized the "150,000 Club," aimed
at reaching that goal by I9Io. The day before
Thanksgiving, the local papers reported that the
planned observance "has struck a popular chord."
It would have a new feature: "people of all creeds
are urged to attend ... this is unique."
Hundreds of people packed the Bush
Temple of Music on Elm Street on Thanksgiving
Day, Thursday, November 28, I907, and
hundreds more were turned away, unable even
to get standing room. Speakers
included Baptist, Christian, Episcopal,
Jewish, Methodist, Presbyterian,
Roman Catholic, and
Unitarian clergy. Standing in front
of a banner inscribed, "Have we not
all one Father?", Rabbi Greenburg
reminded his audience, "We ought
to be thankful today that we are
children of forefathers of deep religious
conviction and unbounded
faith." Father James M. Hayes of
Greenburg Sacred Heart Cathedral declared,
"The time has gone when men hate
each other because they differ in belief Religion
is naught but love, because God is love." And Dr.
J. Frank Smith of Central Presbyterian, in the
principal address, stated, "You see on this rostrum
a Catholic beside a Unitarian and a Methodist
beside a Jew, and there is no spitting of fire."2
The first People's Thanksgiving Service was
such a success that it became an annual event. An
especially large crowd of 4,500 people assembled
at the Fair Park coliseum on Thanksgiving Day
in I918 to celebrate the end of World War I.3 As
residents of a relatively young city that was
growing and prospering, Dallasites clearly felt
drawn to express their gratitude in a common
forum on a holiday traditionally devoted to
However, the next year only a few hundred
gathered for the service at City Hall auditorium.4
Dr. Greenburg had recently left Dallas to take up
duties in New York, and without his leadership,
the annual thanksgiving services fell into
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 12, Number 2, Fall, 2000, periodical, 2000; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth35101/m1/33/: accessed October 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.