Monday, August 08, 2011

"A Blight and a Sin": Segregation, The Kennedy Assassination And The Wreckage of Whiteness, Part IV

In 2006, the University of Texas Press published "White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001." To mark the fifth anniversary of this publication, I am serializing the book at this blog site. Here, I describe how developers, in cooperation with the city council, destroyed African American neighborhoods in Dallas and how white flight undermined the city economically in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the last third of the twentieth century, African Americans and Mexican Americans in Dallas found themselves requently at odds. In the 1970s, black leaders pushed for school busing as a means of ensuring equal education opportunities for African American children. This remedy proved unpopular in the Mexican American community, which joined Anglos in resisting mass busing, fearing that. "their children would be spread all over Dallas and thus lose contact with each other." Fights broke out between Mexican American and African American boys throughout the 1972 school year, with Anglo administrators doing little to stem the violence.

Like African Americans, Mexican Americans were demeaned in newspapers and on television. In the late 1960s, Frito Lay, a corn chip maker and one of Dallas’ largest companies, launched an advertising campaign centered on a character called The Frito Bandito, a Pancho Villa-style caricature, dressed in a sombrero, with bandoliers crisscrossing his chest. This fat, swarthy cartoon figure attempted to steal corn chips while twirling his moustache or his pistolas as he sang a melody ripped off from the Cielito Lindo, a ballad from the Mexican Revolution. The Dallas chapter of the National Postal Union fired off an angry resolution to Frito-Lay executives condemning the depiction of Mexicans as "lazy, dirty, thieving and sneaky."

The early 1970s also heralded a violent police harassment of Mexican Americans, almost simultaneously with a wave of police shootings in the black community, giving both groups a sense of shared danger, a feeling intensified following the July 1973 murder of twelve-year-old Santos Rodriguez by Dallas police. Two officers detained the boy and his thirteen-year-old brother following a break-in at a gasoline station. Officer Darrell L. Cain, in the back seat of the squad car, tried to terrify Santos, in the passenger front seat, into a confession. Cain claimed he thought he had emptied his pistol of bullets before he placed the gun against the child's head in a feigned game of Russian roulette. Cain pulled the trigger after a spin of the cylinder, when the .357 Magnum discharged, fatally wounding the child. A check of fingerprints at the crime scene confirmed that neither boy was involved in the break-in. Cain, who fatally shot a fleeing black suspect three years earlier, was arrested, a judge releasing him on $5,000 bail.

In the wake of this shooting, rage exploded in the city's black and brown communities. On July 28, more than 1,000 protestors marched from Kennedy Plaza to city hall. Marchers set two police motorcycles on fire, smashed windows at city hall and looted elite downtown department stores in the "closest thing to a race riot in Dallas history," a fulfillment of Robert Greenwald's worst nightmare. Arrests followed, with twenty-three Mexican Americans and thirteen blacks jailed. A court later found Cain guilty of Rodriguez' murderer Cain guilty, sentencing him to five years in jail. He served less than three.

In spite of similar experiences with white authority, many older Mexican Americans rejected common action with blacks and desperately sought assimilation. In Dallas, Mexican cultural nationalism nevertheless inspired leaders of the younger generation of activists, such as Pancho Medrano. Medrano early on acquired empathy for the African American cause. In the late 1940s, Medrano, who was already active in the United Auto Workers, asked the president of his local why he was having such problems getting a job as a jig builder, a position for which he was well qualified. He was told that he looked "too much like a Negro to be hired." Medrano subsequently became active in "La Causa," diving into the black and Mexican American civil rights campaign in Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama.

Medrano grew frustrated with the conservative Mexican American leadership. "[W]e tried to get the Mexican Americans to start moving," he recalled later. "Everywhere, wherever we went . . . we tried . . . to stir them to demonstrate or to picket or demand; and nearly all the leadership, especially LULAC's or the American GI Forum . . . would always say, 'No.' . . . Especially the LULAC's; they say, 'We have more pride or education than that. You leave this to the Negroes. They are the ones who do all this — the burning and marching and all that violence. We don't want to do anything with that." Medrano rejected LULAC's embrace of whiteness and had no interest in being a "Latin American." Like many in his generation, Medrano formulated a new racial identity. "We have used the word 'Chicano' all of our lives, since as far as I remember; whenever we are talking among ourselves, we have always used the word 'Chicano,'" Medrano said. "Some leaders of these organizations would not want to call themselves 'Chicano,' saying that Chicano was a derogatory word and they would not use it." Medrano saw himself as outside the white world. He was not alone.

The late 1960s youth-oriented American Chicano movement used the language of post-Revolution Mexican intellectuals like José Vasconcelos and Manuel Gamio, who in the 1920s praised mestizaje, the process of mixture between Indians, the Spanish and black slaves that had produced Mexico's "la raza cosmica" ("the cosmic race"). Rather than degeneration, Latin American miscegenation in Vasconcelos's view produced a super race that combined the best traits of the black, brown and white world. La raza, Vasconcelos believed, would overthrow the shackles of Anglo racism and colonialism and lead the world politically and culturally.

Vasconcelos' ideas began to circulate among Mexican American college students at campuses such as the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1960s. As anthropologist José E. Limón points out, because of an increase in financial aid and because of increased recruitment by the university in South Texas, the 1960s marked a period unprecedented access to higher education for Mexican Americans. Most of the UT students, Limón argues, rose from the lower middle and middle classes. These students turned to radical politics due to three major factors.

First, Mexican American students still burned with their own experiences with Anglo racism. Secondly, these students drew inspiration from their black activist student peers, who began to embrace the black nationalist tenants espoused by Malcolm X. Finally, this influx of Mexican American students came at the same time as the rise of the mostly Latino United Farm Workers union which heavily organized in Texas' Lower Rio Grande Valley.

This confluence of events, in the context of student protests against a Vietnam War increasingly seen as a racist crusade against an indigenous liberation movement, led Mexican American students to form an ideology counter to Anglo assumptions about race, class and the world. In this way, the concept of la raza cosmica, which embraced rather than disdained miscegenation, which honored Indians rather than animalized them, and which portrayed Mexicans as a super race rather than inferior victims, served admirably.

This 1960s generation of students rejected the assimilationist approach of LULAC and the GI Forum. To them, Anglo culture meant colonialism, racism and exploitation. As such they rejected "Mexican American" as an identity. They wanted to distance themselves from an American society that had invaded and occupied half of Mexican territory since the 1840s. At the same time, they did not identify themselves as Mexicans and wanted to express their experience as an occupied people.

These students adopted the name Chicano, a term that previously referred mostly to poor and uneducated recent Mexican immigrants, as their identity. In linguistically linking themselves to the poor, Chicanos both rejected what was seen as the materialism and cultural vacuity of the Mexican American generation and politically aligned themselves with the liberation struggles of African Americans, Cubans, the Viet Cong and other opponents of Gringo imperialism.

In spite of all LULAC and AGIF's accommodation, Chicanos could argue, Mexican American children still attended poorly equipped and funded segregated schools. Most Mexican American students still attended classes taught by teachers who could speak only English and were routinely designated as slow learners because of their language barrier. Many Texas high school counselors, rather than provide encouragement, attempted to push out Mexican American students deemed as troubled.

For all the emphasis made by the Mexican American generation on learning English and flag-waving patriotism, the community never won full acceptance as white nor respect for its culture. The lack of opportunity and fairness after decades of compromise pushed Mexican American groups such as the Brown Berets and the Association of Mexican American Student (AMAS) at the nearby University of Texas at Arlington to promote socialism and reject white identity. Chicanos insisted on "the retention of Mexican cultural traditions — language, ceremonies, songs, family" as well as their "racial and cultural distinctiveness."

This ideology rejected whiteness, but it substituted Anglo racism with quasi-fascist, volkish Chicano supremacism. Chicanismo clung to the notion that humanity could be divided into distinct racial categories with innate characteristics. In any case, locked in a bitter struggle for food, decent housing and work, many Mexican Americans had little time to rhapsodize over the earth-shaking destiny of la raza. As they attempted to build a movement, many Chicanos found themselves tainted by association with the frequent racism of the older Mexican American generation.

Chicanismo found its fullest expression in Houston, beginning in the mid-1960s where it began as a youth movement. Houston Chicanos, as historian Guadalupe San Miguel notes, brought their Mexican and Indian heritage front and center, demanding, for instance, that Chicano and Mexican history be taught in Houston schools. When the Houston school board tried to avoid sending Anglo children to desegregated schools by designating Mexican American children as white and grouping them with black students, Chicano youths found new allies in older, middle class Mexican Americans who now saw value in a separate racial identity.

Both generations began sustained protests against Houston schools for different reasons. Chicano youths protested because assignment of Mexican American students to black schools guaranteed poorly funded, poorly equipped educational facilities. Older Mexican Americans often mixed concern about educational opportunity with negrophobia centered on Mexican American children sharing classrooms with backward blacks.

Such attitudes from older Mexican Americans dampened black support for a remarkable two-and-a-half week strike involving 3,500 students who refused to attend Houston schools in August and September 1970. During the strike, Chicano political leaders organized a network of huelga or strike schools, so Mexican American children could continue learning. As a result of the strikes, more Spanish-speaking, Mexican American teachers were hired by the district, the curriculum was modified to provide more positive portrayals of Mexican Americans and conditions were improved at some minority-majority schools. The Houston school board, however, never recognized a non-white racial status for Mexican Americans, so brown and black children continued to bear the burden of desegregation.

While the actions of Houston Chicanos helped shape Mexican American politics across Texas for the next three decades, statewide the movement experienced mixed results, with white flight undermining any education improvements for Chicano children. Incidents like the 1967 riot on the Texas Southern University campus after the shooting of a police officer and a second uprising on the Houston campus in 1970 after police fatally shot a student only intensified white migration to the suburbs.

White flight also gripped Dallas. The desegregation of public schools, the rage expressed over the Santos Rodriguez shooting and, finally, the 1976 arrival of court-mandated school busing convinced some white residents that Lewis Dabney's undermen had take control of the city. White migration to the suburbs ensued, which undermined desegregation efforts and depleted the city schools of desperately needed revenues. By 1973, the city planning department reported that 100,000 Dallas residents had relocated to the suburbs since 1960, most of those leaving after 1968.

By 1980, blacks comprised a near majority of students in Dallas schools, making up 49.2 of all students, compared to whites, who made up 30.4 percent of the total, and Hispanics, who comprised 19.1 percent. Businesses followed the human flood. The Dallas Cowboys football team moved to Irving. Exxon bypassed Dallas in a corporate relocation, settling in Irving as well. J.C. Penney moved from New York to Plano while AMR, the parent company of American Airlines, built a new headquarters adjacent to the mostly white suburbs surrounding Dallas-Forth Worth Airport. By 1993 the city tax base had declined for five consecutive years, requiring higher property taxes to maintain current levels of municipal services. Dallas and Los Angeles had very different experiences in the 1960s, but the results were the same: the explosion of white suburban enclaves and the impoverishment of an increasingly black and Latino city.

In spite of federal court decisions outlawing segregation in schools, housing and employment, the policies of agencies such as the Federal Housing Administration subsidized white flight in cities like Dallas. As historian George Lipsitz points out, federal highway construction often destroyed black neighborhoods and encouraged the spread of segregated suburbs. Only 2 percent of the $120 billion of new housing financed by the FHA and Veterans Administration between 1934 and 1962 went to nonwhite families, and most of that underwrote housing in segregated neighborhoods. Federal and state tax money provided the construction of plumbing lines and sewage facilities in white suburban enclaves, while 60 percent of the housing destroyed by federal urban renewal programs belonged to African Americans, Mexican Americans and other racially marginalized groups.

Few could have anticipated how separate the black and white world would become post-Brown vs. the Board of Education. For black elites, the late twentieth century opened an era of opportunity. In 1966, Dallas County resident Joseph Lockridge, with the full backing of the white business community, became one of the first two African Americans since Reconstruction elected to the Texas legislature. C.A. Galloway broke the color barrier at city hall in 1967 when he was appointed to fill — for two weeks — the unexpired term of a white city council member. In 1969, George Allen, a conservative veteran of the Committee of 14, became the first black elected to the city council. When Allen retired his seat in 1975, long-time NAACP youth organizer Juanita Craft became the first African American woman to serve.

In 1984, John Wiley Price broke the color line at the county commissioners' court. Ron Kirk, with the backing of white conservatives like former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Republican activist Roger Staubach and real estate developer Trammel Crow, became the city's first African American mayor in 1995. The Dallas media treated such milestones as proving the wisdom of Dallas' consensus politics. Unlike Birmingham, Los Angeles and Detroit, there had been little "racial trouble" in Big D. The smooth transition to multi-racial government re-affirmed the Origin Myth. Dallas avoided the all-consuming riots wracking other urban centers and experienced relative peace because, to paraphrase Holland McCombs, they damned well wanted it that way.

On the streets, few enjoyed Dallas' simulacra of democracy. More experienced bulldozer apartheid, in which poor neighborhoods were plowed under and replaced by pricey developments out of the economic reach of the former residents. After the ethnic cleansing of formerly black and brown neighborhoods, white migrants flocked back, leaving an army of the dispossessed on the further fringes of the city. The explicit rhetoric of whiteness had virtually disappeared from city politics, the schools and the media, but it survived in a landscape that continued to sharply divide the black and white worlds.

A proposed expansion of Fair Park in the late 1960s, primarily for parking space, required the condemnation of middle class black-owned homes in a fifty-acre area between Pennsylvania and Fitzhugh Avenue. Planners eventually extended the project, obliterating a large swath of black-owned businesses along Second Avenue so State Highway 352 could be widened.

Nevertheless, a number of new, more assertive activists including Al Lipscomb, whose lawsuit later ended single-member districts in Dallas city council races, entered politics as a result of the Fair Park controversy. Sporting an Afro in the 1970s and, by the 1990s, dressed in sashes, African robes and beaded hats, Lipscomb joined the city council in 1984. For all his Afrocentric costuming, Lipscomb voted much like his white peers on the council. Convicted in federal court in 2000 of 65 counts of bribery and conspiracy for accepting cash from a taxi company in return for friendly votes, he drew financial support for his political campaigns from conservative white businessmen. Outwardly a rebel, he so served the city's entrenched interests that the head of the hidebound Dallas Citizens Council held a reception for him near the end of his political career. (A court later overturned his convictions.)

Less outwardly confrontational black politicians were even more subservient to white business interests. In 1998, Mayor Ron Kirk successfully rallied support for a new $230 million arena for the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association and the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League. Kirk's addiction to gigantism continued with his successful campaign for a controversial $246 million flood protection and recreation project along the Trinity River. Critics charged that Kirk's big-ticket projects helped the wealthiest developers while depleting funds for basic city services and neglecting issues such as affordable housing and code enforcement. In spite of the promise that electoral democracy earlier held for the civil rights movement, successful black politicians offered more style than substance and continued to serve the same interests that had been protected by the previous, all-white city councils.

Black office-holders did little as real estate developers steadily wiped out historically black neighborhoods, such as State-Thomas, located on the northern and eastern edge of Deep Ellum, and bounded by McKinney Avenue, Hall Street, North Central Expressway, Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Pearl Street. State-Thomas once represented the vital cultural and intellectual center of African American life in Dallas. The neighborhood's blend of Victorian cottages and shotgun shacks eventually housed a blend of blacks, Mexican Americans, and whites. After World War II, Jim Crow ordinances crumbled and housing options for African Americans expanded. When black soldiers returned from the war, they abandoned the old shotgun houses of State-Thomas and migrated to neighborhoods in Oak Cliff and South Dallas newly opened to African Americans.

City planning proved more lethal than such pull factors. In the 1940s, the city condemned land along the railroad right-of-way for Central Expressway's construction, splitting the State-Thomas neighborhood in two. The construction of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway further sliced into State-Thomas. By the mid-1970s, a combination of real estate speculators like Lehndorff USA, computer giant Electronic Data Systems, the Southland Corporation and "assorted trusts and pension funds" paid off most of the remaining residents, leveling homes and leaving vacant lots. Only one grocery store remained and St. Peter's Catholic Church, the city's first African American parish, closed.

By the late 1980s, Dallas Morning News architecture critic David Dillon wrote, "the neighborhood . . . [looked] like a turn-of-the-century photograph of pre-urban Dallas — empty prairie and a few telephone poles." Following zoning changes in the mid-1980s, predatory developers eyed the neighborhood "with the look of a wolf that has spotted a fresh-cooked Christmas turkey." In the late 1980s, a mix of chain restaurants, antique stores and private clubs arose northwest of State-Thomas. By 1990, Memphis Real Estate and Lehndorff USA erected massive, rapidly-filled apartment complexes and condominiums in the area, completing the transformation of State-Thomas from an historically black neighborhood to a middle-class and upper middle-class white in-burb.

The city facilitated the transformation, spending $20.1 million for infrastructure improvements, such as street pavement, and the upgrading of water and sewer lines that never occurred when State-Thomas was a black enclave. The placement of a new McKinney Avenue trolley line and a Dallas Area Rapid Transit station completed the yuppification of State-Thomas, turning it into a shopping and tourist haven. "Our company could not have pulled this off without the involvement of the city," a Lehndorff official told the New York Times. In 1991, Morning News reporter Bill Minutaglio scoffed at the hypocrisy of urban renewal as trumpeted by his own newspaper. "[W]here were the city and private money when the original residents of State-Thomas— the descendents of freed slaves — wanted street signs, sewer systems and newly planted trees around their simple homes?" he asked.

Around the time of school desegregation in the 1960s, 70,000 people lived within a two-mile radius of city hall. By the 1990s, that number had dropped to 30,000. The ever-emptying urban center seemingly confirmed dire warnings by men like Lewis Dabney and Justin Kimball of what happened when cities sank in a tide of color. The depopulation of downtown accelerated with the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. Rising oil prices and banking deregulation by the presidential administration of Ronald Reagan generated a huge pool of surplus capital.

Dallas-owned banks and thrifts poured the flood of cash into real estate speculation, with hefty loans dished out to quickly overextended creditors who began a frenzy of constructing office buildings, strip malls, and condos. Developers took the short ride from real estate speculation to actual fraud, flipping real estate back and forth among co-conspirators, often multiple times in a single day, the same parcel selling for more with each transaction. This inflated property values on paper, until the circle of investors dumped the flipped land into the hands of greedy, but uninitiated, investors. Land values topped out even as developers created more retail and office space than the city could absorb.

The economic bubble burst, causing real estate prices to collapse. Dallas thrifts and banks fueling the phony boom found themselves buried in loan notes that would never be paid. One after another, the leading Dallas financial institutions such as Vernon Savings and Loan and FirstRepublic tumbled. Dallas lenders fueled a nationwide savings and loan meltdown that eventually cost American taxpayers more than $300 billion.

This crisis hammered the city even as oil prices worldwide dropped from $35 a barrel in 1981 to under $10 a barrel five years later. Once abundant capital now disappeared. The savings and loan crisis and the oil bust combined to make the city's business district a ghost town. By the late 1980s, Dallas had the nation’s highest office vacancy rate — more than 35 percent — and the percentage of Dallas residents living at or below the poverty line rose from 14 to 18 percent.

Even more whites fled to the suburbs as the city's wealth seemingly evaporated overnight. The percentage of blacks in Dallas' total population climbed from 24.9 percent to almost 30 percent from 1970 to 1990. As whites fled to the suburbs, property values bottomed out, leaving the city the hole in the economic donut. Even as the need for social services expanded for an increasingly poor city, Dallas’ tax base plummeted from about $51 billion to 43.2 billion. With housing values depressed, developers bought real estate in neighborhoods like State-Thomas at rock bottom prices and built high-price housing and shops in hope of bringing back affluent whites.

Part of the process involved selective enforcement of housing codes in which the city overlooked the violations of major real estate developers and focused on poorer homeowners. The city demolished 1,000 homes in Dallas between 1991 and 1994, most of them in poor minority neighborhoods. A Dallas Morning News examination of 500 destroyed homes found that 86 percent were in neighborhoods with 70 percent or more minority population. Three-quarters, the News reported, were in predominantly black parts of town. The bulldozer blitzkrieg, ordered by the Dallas Urban Rehabilitation Standards Board, "eliminated some substandard housing but also turned some long-time homeowners into renters and reduced the supply of low-income housing."

Mattie Nash, who belonged to the 38-member board, said the program destroyed homes that clearly could have been repaired. "Every week we put demolition orders on houses that could be saved," she said. Agnes Gray, a resident of Vineyard Drive in mostly black West Dallas for more than forty years, stood shocked as the city obliterated her home. "That home meant everything to me," the 81-year-old said, near tears as she stared at what was now a vacant lot. "I just can't understand why they came in and took it from me — a widow woman and a working woman. I feel like I've been robbed."

In the late 1980s, only 250 people lived in downtown Dallas proper, all within a single building. As the bulldozers roared through mostly African American neighborhoods, white re-invasion of the core commenced. The number of downtown residents climbed to 13,000, living in high-priced apartments and condos. McKinney Avenue, north of downtown, became a coven of computer analysts, lawyers, and other professionals while Deep Ellum, which had declined into a sad collection of empty warehouses, became a chic cluster of lofts, music clubs and avant-garde art galleries. City developers soon erased State-Thomas from public memory, shrouding its African American past, re-dubbing the neighborhood Uptown.

Even as bulldozers uprooted African Americans from their homes, more police shootings reinforced the sense that Dallas was a dangerous place for African Americans to live. In the 1980s, the Dallas police killed or wounded an average of 21 people a year, including 30 minority suspects in 1983, a record number, and 29 in 1986. The majority of the victims were black and Hispanic. In the most infamous shootings, officers killed Etta Collins, a 70-year-old black woman, who had called police to report a burglary at her home on Metropolitan Avenue in South Dallas, and David Horton, an 81-year-old man, at his apartment complex in the same section of town.

In spite of the presence of black elected officials, the Dallas police still saw even elderly African Americans as dangerous enough to shoot on sight. The leaden atmosphere deadened activism, fragmenting black resistance. Black neighborhoods were deemed as not worthy of redevelopment or improvement, but only demolition. The streets had to be purified of their blackness by the cleansing action of urban renewal before whites could again enter the racially polluted space. Much of white Dallas still saw humanity as slowly ascending in grades from blacks on the bottom, to darker-skinned Mexican Americans, to lighter Latinos, to working class whites and finally to the middle class and Anglo elites on the top. The very architecture of the city echoed this Great Chain of Being, re-mythologizing elites and dampening further dissent.

After the civil rights struggles of the 1950s, Southerness reeked too much of tear gas and blood and recalled too many images of young black protestors blasted by water cannons. Dallas, in a timeless warp because of its denial of history, now drifted in a spaceless void as well, divorced from its natural setting. As noted in an earlier chapter, David R. Roediger wrote that whiteness is founded on the denial of identity. In late twentieth century Dallas, this involved the erasure of regional identity that might have provided non-elites an energizing sense of community.

Dallas, Morning News writer David Dillon noted, is "more Southern than Western, but not decisively so; it has a Lee Park . . . but also bronze longhorns stampeding in front of its convention center." Dallas could fit anywhere and everywhere on the continent and be neither at home nor out-of-place.

Moviemakers have turned Dallas into a geography-free stand-in for dystopia. The skyline and architecture, with equal ease, represented ultra-violent "New Detroit" in Robocop, the antiseptic home of a futuristic, patricidal culture dedicated to killing anyone over 30 in "Logan's Run," and the post-Kennedy, claustrophobic, conspiracy-filled metropolis incongruously plunked in the middle of the Mojave Desert in "The X-Files: Fight the Future." "This city likes to think of itself as world-class, sophisticated, glitzy," said D.L. Coburn, a local playwright. "Like New York — it's as simple as that. And as a result it has no identity of its own."

Viewed from a distance, the Dallas skyline unites into a futuristic sculpture of high-wattage lights and inscrutable, reflective steel and glass facades that forbid the viewer any glimpse of their inner workings. Once one moves closer, however, the illusory unity of Dallas shatters, fracturing into clashing stylistic splinters as surely as its people broke along racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious and gender lines. Communal ties had snapped. The days when Dallas oligarchs carefully crafted the city's image for the world had long past. Outsiders visiting Dallas lost their awe and saw through the public relations.

Director Errol Morris captured the loneliness of downtown Dallas as well as anyone in his documentary "The Thin Blue Line." In his tale of a man railroaded to death row by Dallas police and prosecutors, Morris represented the city as smudge-free, look-alike skyscraper office windows whirling past the viewer to a consciously monotonous Philip Glass score. Each pane represented not just an empty space, but a workforce as beaten and anonymous as the worker drones in the Fritz Lang cinema nightmare "Metropolis." The sense of enclosing isolation Morris sensed accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s as the number of gated communities — advertised as a "perfect place to live outside the pandemonium of the city" — increased from one, Glen Lakes on Central Expressway, to more than 75, concentrated in white enclaves west and north of downtown.

The dense pack of highrises assumed totalitarian proportions, dwarfing the individual. "Dallas is a business city, and its skyline says that," Dillon wrote. "It is a city of dueling entrepreneurs, and its skyline says that as well. The vise-grip top of Texas Commerce Tower faces off against the sheer pyramidal lines of Fountain Place . . . The image is not egalitarian, with public and private interests clearly represented, but hierarchical, with capital at the top." Dallas suffered from what Harold Clurman once caustically called an "edifice complex," an addiction to monumentality. Absent in its downtown in the early 1990s were the squares, parks, watering holes and boulevards, the "connective tissue that pulls a city together."

The result left a city that visitors saw as lifeless and dull. "If New York is the city that never sleeps, Dallas is the city that never fails to give good bank service," the Mexican magazine Jet Set quipped. The city's physical structure spoke loudly to whites and blacks alike that, in spite of a broader spectrum of color at city hall and on the school board, white businessmen remained solidly in charge.

The Origin Myth -- the idea that Dallas was a city with no real reason for being that had been summoned into existence by the grit of farseeing businessmen -- continued to shape the city's psychology. In creating Old City Park, Dallas assembled a nineteenth century pastiche of frontier-era buildings: churches, a bank, a drug store, a hotel, and a log cabin — many of which were imported from other Texas towns — to create a Disneyfied tribute to the city's early days. Less important than the artificiality of the city's "historic core," however, was the tale these buildings tell.

Set against a backdrop of skyscrapers, the crude wooden structures of Old City Park, along with a downtown replica of John Neely Bryan's cabin, embodied the city's master narrative of progress, from the frontier to the space age. The cityscape proclaimed, in an echo of Holland McCombs, that the Dallas white business clique transformed a village into a metropolis. The city, the skyline suggests, sprang fully realized from the collective skull of the Dallas Citizens Council, unshaped by the surrounding culture. Past conflicts between slaves and masters, Confederates and Unionists, workers and bosses, Jews and Gentiles, Mexican Americans and gringos, disappeared in the shiny reflected light of highrises. The only human drama Dallas freely admitted was the struggle to wring profits from the prairies. Amnesia made resistance harder to imagine, because of the supposed lack of precedent.



Michael Phillips has authored the following:


White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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