In 2009 two of my former high school friends created a Facebook page titled “Oak Cliff Boomers.” The page has reconnected thousands of 1960s and ’70s classmates and built a larger, more homogeneous group. Members often post photos of and write about their bygone days in The Cliff. As you would expect, there’s no shortage of stories and images.
Back in the Boomer days and earlier, it seems a significant number of us Cliffites actually knew another significant number of other Cliffites. Well, at least we knew of each other. Or someone we knew, knew whichever someone else we were talking about. This “circle” included parents, siblings, grandparents, relatives and friends. Although a bit difficult to believe, for the most part it was true. It was always an interesting phenomenon to me, so I’ve thought about it and come up with the following.
Originally, Oak Cliff High School reigned as the only secondary education facility south of the Trinity. Then Sunset High School opened in 1925 and, for the most part, everyone who first walked through the doors of Sunset had either attended Oak Cliff High the year before, was originally scheduled to attend Oak Cliff High, or had parents, older siblings, relatives or neighbors who had attended there. In other words, practically everyone at the new Sunset knew or was kin to most everyone associated with Oak Cliff High. Although they became bitter rivals, the two schools shared weekend dances (alternating between the two campuses), many dating couples attended the different schools, and the local Oak Cliff social fraternities and sororities contained members from both schools.
When South Oak Cliff High School (SOC) opened in 1952, it absorbed students from Oak Cliff High (by then renamed W. H. Adamson) and Sunset. Thus, the SOC Golden Bears knew many of the Adamson Leopards and Sunset Bison and vice versa. Then Justin F. Kimball opened in the fall of 1958, pulling students from SOC and Sunset and possibly a few from Adamson as well. Once more school allegiances were mingled in these mergers, and classmate relationships changed. But, as in earlier days, many students among the different schools continued to date and marry. When David W. Carter opened in 1966, the new school took students from Kimball and SOC, again causing some Oak Cliff families to have older children attending one high school while the younger ones were in a different location.
Another item that added to the massive Oak Cliff interrelationships came when many of the former Adamson and Sunset Depression-era students became parents after World War II. With growing families, many sought newer or roomier homes, which normally required relocating south and southwestward in the city. Some families moved around Oak Cliff for other reasons, but with most of the moves these former Sunset and Adamson students raised their families within school boundaries different than the institutions they had attended. These parents, however, still continued the relationships with their former high school friends. Additionally, as they approached retirement, many of the once young teachers at Adamson and Sunset ended up teaching the children of their former students when these teachers were later transferred to SOC, Kimball and Carter.
Another element was the constant assembling, breaking-up, and possible reassembling of students. Elementary schools were notorious for splitting up sixth- or seventh-grade classes and sending them off to at least two different junior highs. Then, when attending high school, some of these students could be reunited again if parents moved even a few blocks away. With the sometimes changing boundaries and the construction of new schools (due to the overwhelming number of kids entering Dallas ISD at that time), it was possible for neighboring students to attend separate institutions when the new school year arrived, only adding to Oak Cliff’s “familiarity mix.”
Some families around The Cliff were members of the Oak Cliff Country Club, the Wynnewood Swim Club or the old Riverlake Country Club. Adults joined the Lions, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs as well as the Oak Cliff Chamber, the Oak Cliff Jaycees and other similar organizations … again keeping Cliffites connected. Another piece of the puzzle is the fact that many boomer junior high students “studied” the yearbooks of their older siblings or others. Looking for dreamy high school guys and 1950s and ’60s versions of hot chicks, many a young Cliffite or preteen spent hours learning about the older high school kids from those Adamson, Sunset, Kimball, SOC and Carter yearbooks.
But perhaps the main ingredient in this unique situation was that regardless of whichever school or socio-economic level was involved, on Sunday mornings many Cliffites were sitting together in Sunday school or in a church worship service … or with a youth group or church choir, alongside others from all over Oak Cliff. Though not the only churches around, most of the large ones in those days were in North Oak Cliff — churches where parents and families had attended and known each other for decades and whose ball teams played each other. No matter where you lived, a trip back into the heart of Oak Cliff remained a normal Sunday (and possibly Wednesday-night) routine for many boomer families, certainly adding to the Oak Cliff relationship matrix.
On a personal note: My mother graduated from Adamson, my dad from Sunset. I graduated from Kimball, my siblings from Carter. My children’s godmother attended Adamson, their godfather, SOC; my brother- and sister-in law roamed the halls of Adamson. And my high school boyfriend? Sunset. See what I mean?
So, there you have it. An explanation of why Oak Cliff Boomer folks are so connected. Or at least that’s how I see it.