It’s been almost 38 years since civil rights leader Juanita Craft died and left her home to the city of Dallas as a remembrance of the struggle for equality and dignity of Black people in our city.
Honoring that space and using it as Craft would have wished has never proved easy for the city.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a lot of fuss over plans to move the home from its original location at 2618 Warren Ave. to a new spot at Old City Park.
The Dallas County Heritage Society wisely insisted that the home remain where it was built, in the heart of South Dallas and in the place where Craft did her important work to draw together leaders of a movement for freedom.
News that the restored home is now open again for tours is a welcome victory for the history of the city. And it’s an opportunity to remember all that Craft gave to help create opportunity for those society marginalized.
From that little white house on Warren Avenue, Craft became a force of action and change. Among many stories of her work, one is worth singling out here, and that is her famous organization of a 1955 youth picket rally against what was known as “Negro Achievement Day” at the State Fair of Texas. She mocked the event as “Negro Appeasement Day” in reference not only to the ongoing segregation at the fair but to the patronizing tone of the whole “celebration.”
“Those kids — we made signs all that weekend, and on Monday the kids went to the starting point at Lincoln High School and boarded the floats right along with the queens and everybody else and rode down the streets saying ‘Stay out. Don’t sell your pride for a segregated ride,’” she said, according to a Dallas Public Library record.
Her work was either ignored or maligned in the mainstream press of the day, including in this newspaper. But it made a difference. A Dallas Public Library report notes that, while “Negro Achievement Day” appeared in fair promotional material in 1956, it was changed to simply “Achievement Day” in 1957.
Of course, Craft’s work as an organizer and leader extended well beyond protests at the State Fair. But given that Fair Park sits just a few blocks northeast of her home, it’s a worthy remembrance of the impact she had and all the more reason to celebrate the fact that her home is now restored after a destructive 2018 flood.
Dallas is a city famous for tearing down its history. But the history of Juanita Craft has to be built up. It has to be put in front of us as a reminder of what happens when human beings demand the dignity they have been denied.
“It is my hope that after I am gone, people of all backgrounds will visit my house and come to understand that individuals can make a difference, and to appreciate the importance of service to community and nation,” Craft said just before she died. “You don’t have to be rich to make an impact, but you have to work and to care.”
Truer words are rare.
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