Oak Cliff history: A theory as to why everyone knew everyone

This Easter 1960 confirmation class of Grace Lutheran Church, formerly at 1232 S. Beckley, shows one of the many Oak Cliff church youth groups formed from students who attended numerous elementary and junior high schools. In this case, most of these students went on to attend Kimball, Adamson, and SOC.  Photo by Jimmy Hylton
This Easter 1960 confirmation class of Grace Lutheran Church, formerly at 1232 S. Beckley, shows one of the many Oak Cliff church youth groups formed from students who attended numerous elementary and junior high schools. In this case, most of these students went on to attend Kimball, Adamson, and SOC. Photo by Jimmy Hylton

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.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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  • Sandra Nachlinger

    Great article, Gayla. I think you’re right about the Oak Cliff connections. Weren’t we lucky to have grown up there?

  • Charles “Benny” Kirtley

    Absolutely the fondest memories were made in Oak Cliff. Great job Gayla on keeping the memories going about our beloved Oak Cliff. My father and his business made it possible for me and my family to be in contact with literally thousands of people in the Oak Cliff area. Growing up in the Westmoreland Heights area and Weiss Park was a dream come true for any kid. L.P. Cowart, L.V. Stockyard, Sunset, and Kimball High School hold many great memories for thousands of us. Lifestyle was unbeatable and there was no place like Oak Cliff.

  • Ron Brannon

    I went to three separate elementary schools. First, Second – Jeff Davis. Third, Seventh – Mark Twain. Fourth through Sixth – Daniel Webster. I then followed all of those kids I met to Browne JH and on to Kimball HS. Out of the 923 students in our graduating class, I think I knew by sight if not their name at least half of them. Everywhere you went …Kiest Park, Restaurants, Wynnewood Theater, Shopping…you met someone you knew. That was pretty cool now that I think of it. Thanks for Jogging the Old Memory Gayla !

  • Cherie Griffith McBee

    Yes we did grow up in a home town and I loved it. I miss my early years in Oak Cliff.

  • Larry Stevenson

    Again, great job Gayla. Because of the growth during those
    years we were growing up through Elementry, Junior High and High Schools and all the churches you nailed it. We definitely grew up in “Home Town USA.”

  • Susan Keener

    Thanks for explaining this in such detail! I’m a member of a family with three generations raised in Oak Cliff! I live out of state now but still am deeply connected to the Cliff! Time and distance can’t break the childhood bonds of church , school or my neighborhood Glen Oaks.

  • Jim Kidd

    So true,Gayla. Many of my friends today are my friends through SOC,Storey,Clara Oliver,Fernwood Baptist,BSA Troop 144, and the list goes on. Also,many of those same friends had parents that grew up in Oak Cliff and shared childhoods and neighborhoods with my parents just adding to the Oak Cliff connection. Oak Cliff was more than just a section of Dallas-it was a genuine Community.

  • Bill Melton

    Gayla-
    You “Nailed” it again! The story is great and as a Native, I totally agree with your
    conclusions regarding the way that Oak Cliffites melded together. What a great place
    to grow up and live in the 1950’s and 1960’s! And Oak Cliff really is back!
    On another note, thanks for joining us last Thursday night for the Oak Cliff Lions Club’s
    2014 Extravaganza. It was a great success and your presence made it all the better.