Forty-six years ago, Dallas ISD desegregated its schools, an essential, yet complicated process. Advocate Editor Keri Mitchell interviewed the attorneys, district staff and students whose stories left their mark on a complex time in American history.
Originally published July 2011
Until 40 years ago this fall, black students living in Dallas were relegated to a small portion of the city’s schools. The rest were reserved for white students. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit outlawed segregation by race 17 years earlier, Dallas public schools hadn’t fully heard the message.
In 1971, however, after plenty of lip-service but little concrete action from public school administrators, a federal judge forced black and white students to integrate through busing. It didn’t take long for the fallout to begin. Lives were disrupted. Students and parents threatened each other. Families both black and white fled their neighborhoods for suburban and private schools. This story isn’t an attempt to analyze that history-altering process. Instead, 40 years after desegregation began, key neighborhood residents involved in the process look back on those years and tell us in their own words what the changes meant to them, our neighborhood and our city.
Interviews have been condensed and edited.
ED CLOUTMAN was beginning his career as an attorney in Dallas when Sam Tasby walked into his office in 1970 saying he wanted his two sons to be allowed to attend their neighborhood school. Cloutman filed the lawsuit and spent the next 33 years defending the cause of Tasby and all minority families and children in the Dallas school district. Today Cloutman spends most of his time representing labor cases.
Cloutman:I grew up in Louisiana, and I never attended a school with African American children in it until I got to college. It was not a big deal where I grew up, just one of those things that was there. My parents were reasonably progressive for the time. There was lot of boisterous language about the early civil rights activists who would ride the buses or sit at the lunch counter, and mother and daddy would say, ‘Look, this is going to take a while, and there will be a lot of things said you shouldn’t believe wholeheartedly, and it will be a while before our Negro friends are allowed to participate in the things we do, but it’s coming, so you should never talk badly about these friends.’ And there wasn’t any talk in my house for fear of my mother and my daddy. Those were unusual times. Different now, thank god.
VICKI CARDARELLA is a third-generation Cliffite who entered Kimball High School the year it opened, in 1958, and graduated in 1964. She later returned to her alma mater as a teacher. Today she lives in Kessler Park with her husband and daughter.
Cardarella: I can remember the colored restrooms and colored water fountains when I was a little girl. My dad owned a dress manufacturing company, and a black man worked for my dad, and my dad taught me to treat that man with just as much respect as any other man — because he was a man.
ALBERT BLACK graduated from W.W. Samuell High School in 1977. Today he lives in Kessler Park and is an entrepreneur, most notably as the founder, president and CEO of On-Target Supplies & Logistics, which operates out of our neighborhood. He has held many influential positions in Dallas, including the first African American chairman of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce board.
Black: My father worked as a doorman at the Baker Hotel, which is now where the Bell Plaza [now AT&T Plaza] is on Commerce Street. At a very, very young age, not even 6 years old, he’s telling me about the people who are running the City of Dallas. He enjoyed opening doors for the city leaders, the white men who the highways are now named after.
My father read two Dallas newspapers and took a lot of magazines, and our allowance was based on reading articles that he thought would challenge us. I didn’t have a chance to read the sports page, but I had to read the editorial piece. I wanted to read [African American columnist] Carl Rowan, and he would always give me [conservative columnist] William Buckley’s articles. My father understood the nature of being provoked and being educated.
STEVE CUMMING graduated from Kimball High School in 1974, and he’s president of the Justin F. Kimball High School Alumni Association.
Cumming: Dallas was a very racist city. The Klan was very active until the end of the ’80s or early ’90s and may still be in some form. The blacks lived in their area, and the whites lived in their area, and when the blacks moved in, the whites moved out. I can remember in high school before desegregation started, schools that were black schools, schools that were white schools, schools that were Hispanic schools. That’s the way it had always been.
Black: I don’t think any one individual was waking up in the morning to be that bigoted. I do believe that the coming together of neighbors believing that they were protecting and somehow guarding institutions — their neighborhoods, their schools, their places of recreation, their women and children — I do believe that because of that misplaced concern, that bigotry was developed.
JAN SANDERS is the widow of Barefoot Sanders, the federal judge who assumed the desegregation court case in 1981. Sanders still lives in Dallas and remains active in the community.
Sanders: The thing was that we had Jim Crow laws that were discriminatory, and from those laws we have the heritage — the culture of discrimination that affirmed those laws. People tolerated that this is just the way we live together — we have colored water fountains and white water fountains, we have colored waiting rooms and white waiting rooms, we have black schools and white schools. These were the cultures that emerged from the law. The culture might change but the law is static, so that’s what had to change in the courts. Some people have said, well, the community finally changed enough to accept this change, but the law part of it was very important. We are a nation of laws. People’s whims and prejudices come and go with the wind. They’re not as established as the law is, and the way our government is set up is to respect the law.
ROBERT H. THOMAS began representing the Dallas school district in the desegregation case in 1980, when the original attorney had to resign due to health issues. Thomas and his wife, Gail — the president of the Trinity Trust Foundation — live in Dallas, and he is a partner emeritus at Strasburger law firm.
Thomas: The first case was Brown v. Topeka and was handed down in 1954. The Supreme Court said segregated public schools are unconstitutional. And nothing happened, actually. It just fell on deaf ears around the country. And then a couple of years later, the Supreme Court handed down another decision that said, “We really mean it. You’ve got to desegregate the schools and do it with all deliberate speed.” Well, speed is in the eye of the beholder.
BOB JOHNSTON is an Adamson High School graduate, class of ’59, and taught at the school from 1962-69. In 1970 he began working in the Dallas ISD communications department, and was the board secretary for 17 years until 1998 when he became special assistant to the superintendent until his retirement in 2000.
Johnston: We had had a couple of court orders before 1971. One in 1955 — it wasn’t any big thing; it didn’t contain a lot of changes — and then a stair-step order in the late ’60s where we were to desegregate grade by grade beginning with the first grade and doing a grade a year. Then they came back and changed that and we kept the stair-step, but it started in the high schools. Then they filed a new suit, and that brought about the big order in ’71.
Cloutman: Mr. Tasby walked into my office in West Dallas in summer of ’70. It was late summer, and kids had gone back to school. His kids, Eddie Mitchell Tasby and Phillip Wayne Tasby, were then being assigned to Sequoyah Middle School and Pinkston High School, and he thought it was not fair because there were nearer schools to his home, and no buses available — they had to ride the city bus at his expense. He was a working guy. We started talking to other people, and by October, we had filed the lawsuit.
Thomas: You know the difference between state and federal courts? People elect judges in the state courts, and judges in federal courts are appointed for a lifetime. That’s a major difference. So if a judge wants to get reelected, he’s not going to say, “We’re going to desegregate schools.” They would have been voted out the next election. So it wasn’t too long until the liberal lawyers figured out that the only place to force desegregation was in the federal courts.
Cloutman: We were real sure we were going to win the initial round. The schools were well out of compliance with what the Supreme Court had said at the time. A huge round of cases were decided by the Supreme Court the year of our trial, and they were sort of the benchmarks: “You’ve got to do this, and you’ve got to do it now. You can’t wait any longer.”
Thomas: The Tasby case was filed in Judge Mac Taylor’s court, and he didn’t know what to do with it. You won’t believe this, but the school district says, “Well, if we want to have these students go to school with each other, why don’t we install televisions in each classroom so schools in South Dallas can hook up with North Dallas classrooms and they can conduct desegregation that way?” Is that not classy?
Cloutman: It was $25 million just to install the cameras and the screens. Today that’d be closer to a half a billion, given inflation. We got that stopped in about a week.
In the 1960s, Dallas schools were designated for specific races, white or black, with other minorities typically falling into the “white” category. South Oak Cliff, for example, was designated a white high school when it was built in 1952. Then black families began moving into the developing neighborhoods around the school, and after preliminary court orders forced Dallas to open schools to students of all races in 1965, black students began attending South Oak Cliff. Four years later, in 1970, the school had changed from almost 100 percent white to almost 100 percent black. Even newer high schools in the Oak Cliff area were David W. Carter and Justin F. Kimball, both primarily white. When busing began in fall 1971, white teachers and staff members were bused to South Oak Cliff, while black students, teachers and staff members were bused to Carter and Kimball.
Cumming: The court ordered that the makeup of a school had to be at least 25 percent minority. Kimball, for example, was an Anglo school, probably 99.5 percent, and .5 percent Hispanic, so the district did it by busing all these kids in.
Cardarella: I taught in the fall of 1970 and the spring of 1971 at Kimball. Of course, we knew that integration was taking place, but we didn’t know until mid-summer what all was going to happen. Because I was one of the newest teachers in the Kimball English department when integration took place, I was transferred to South Oak Cliff. I went from an all-white high school of 3,000 to an all-black high school of 3,000. It was a vast change.
Cumming: For high school kids, what happened was that, primarily, the African American and Hispanic students were being bused into Anglo schools, but Anglos were refusing to go into black schools. A lot of them just moved. We lived a block from a grade school, and my sister was a third-grader and would have been bused from Oak Cliff to South Dallas to attend a primarily black school. So you’re talking about an 8-year-child being bused across town to a minority school, and that’s what led to white flight, because they weren’t going to have that. My parents moved down south to a little town called Ovilla and got out of Dallas completely. It wasn’t the fact that my siblings would go to school with minority students, it’s that an 8-year-old child doesn’t have any business being all the way in South Dallas. What if an emergency happened? There were even some dissidents in the black community — we’re sending my child across town with those white folks, and we don’t know anything about that area.
Sanders: Some of the very respected African American leaders were for busing, and at the end of it, they were against it. Why should these kids ride all the way across town to go to school with kids down the street?
Johnston: When busing started, the superintendent at the time, Nolan Estes, had all of the central office administrators get their school bus driver’s licenses, and the first big school day of the busing order, he drove a school bus himself. Dr. Estes also integrated leadership at the schools. He brought in principals and assistant principals of other ethnicities than all white, so that helped facilitate desegregation, too.
Cumming: Everybody always blamed it on Dr. Estes. It was all his fault. Well, it was a court order.
Johnston: [Estes] had hired monitors who rode the buses with the kids from South Dallas and then worked at the schools when they got out there so the kids knew somebody from their neighborhood. One reason we used so many monitors was because there were lots of folks in the black community that didn’t like the idea of their kids being bused out. They wanted integration, but they feared what would happen at the end of that bus ride, or whether or not they would get on the bus and go out to the school only to be put in a separate class. And that happened sometimes until somebody would find out about it and straighten it out.
Black: I lived in a community called Frazier Courts, which is in southeast Dallas. It was the seventh-grade that was the youngest class that could be bused, and I was in that seventh-grade class. We went to John B. Hood [Junior High], and immediately the culture clash began to take place. Dallas had been so segregated of a city that none of us in Frazier Courts who were part of the first class of busing had any experience interacting with white students, and none of the white students gave me the impression they had had interaction with black students. The logistics of it all in relation to the busing seemed to be planned, but in relation to expectations and education and how we were going to manage issues, problems, disagreements, those weren’t worked out very well. The consequence was the busing started but the education stopped. As the buses seemed to roll on and on, the education expectations from the school seemed to fall down further and further and further. We were more interested in maintaining order than we were in introducing provocative subject matter for children to learn. I’m sure there are exceptions from my experience, but I didn’t get the quality of education that I had experienced from first- through sixth-grades.
Cardarella: One of the gentlemen who had been a coach at Kimball was awarded a job as an administrator at South Oak Cliff, and his name was Milton South. When I got to South Oak Cliff, there wasn’t anyone who had been involved with the English department very much, and Milton South gave me four classes of junior English and one class with the top 20 seniors of the school. The junior English classes were an eye-opener because the South Oak Cliff kids had one set of books for four classes. At Kimball, each of my classes had their own individual books, not only literature but also spelling books and other supplementary texts — to take home. My kids at South Oak Cliff had one set of literature to read in the classroom. I had some juniors who could barely say the alphabet. I had one junior female who could not say the alphabet. I had 30 in a class, and we ranged from barely being able to read to reading on an 11th-grade level. They were good kids, but they had not been provided with the texts they needed or the teaching they needed to do as well as the other children.
Cumming: The whole reason Mr. Tasby was bringing that lawsuit is there was such a disparity in the schools. They had the worst textbooks, they had the worst equipment, worn-out band equipment …
Thomas: We had a bunch of black students in shabby buildings. I mean really crummy buildings. They were colored schools, and they had not been kept up. The roof leaked and it was cold and the campus wasn’t big enough, so the court said to supervise the buildings.
Sanders: A lot of people in the community simply distilled the integration-segregation issue with students sitting in the classroom, and certainly that was a huge, important part of it, but that wasn’t all of it. A lot of the inequities in the Dallas ISD had to do with staff, facilities, boundaries. They were the vestiges of the Jim Crow laws, and so there were a lot of facets for him as the judge to get right.
Black: We didn’t deal with things like no books anymore. We didn’t deal with un-air-conditioned schools. So those were advantages of busing for us. An argument can always be made that you shouldn’t have to be bused for those standards, but the fact of the matter is we were the perfect example of the argument against separate but equal.
Cardarella: Milton South had finagled his way to get me this English class of the top seniors, and I realized these kids were sharper than all get out. I decided my best bet for them was to get a college-bound program in there for them, so I called SMU and I found out what texts they were using, and we ordered them because they couldn’t afford them. It was a big, thick textbook, and they did presentations on any one of the short stories I selected, and they had to get up and teach the class for a period.
Black: I remember going into my high school locker room, and the head coach was standing on the outside in the hallway. It was report card day, and he was checking report cards and telling students to bend over if something was out of order, meaning their report cards had bad marks. It seemed to be along racial lines. More paddling was taking place among the black students because they’re the ones whose report cards weren’t sufficient. When I got to the coach in line, I guess the pattern had been set, and I remember him saying, “Bend over, Black, bend over,” calling me by my last name. I went ballistic. My response was total revolt. I don’t believe that I disrespected the coach, but I do believe that I came very close in arguing that he should never put me in a category without checking, and I believe that today.
Cumming: I was a sophomore in 1971, and at Kimball, from what I can remember, things went pretty smoothly. We had a principal, Dr. W.P. Durrett, he was kind of a legend in Oak Cliff. He really built Kimball. He was the first principal in 1958 when the school opened and helped establish a lot of traditions. That was back in the day when the principals ran the schools. Mr. Durrett was very conservative, a real disciplinarian, and ran the school with an iron fist.
Carderella: W.P. Durrett was something else. You either loved him or hated him, and I happened to love him. He was a fabulous guy. His expectations were very high. We had so many people sent there who couldn’t make it in other schools, and he straightened them all out. They either followed the rules or they left.
Cumming: The only problem I can remember from desegregation, I guess it was about the second week of school. The black kids decided they didn’t like the way they were being treated, and they were going to riot. They were going to burn the school down. They were showing this principal they were not going to tolerate being mistreated. I don’t think they actually were, but he was so strict that even the white kids didn’t like it. If you got sent to the principal’s office, you probably got three licks and got sent back to class, and nobody said anything to their parents. If I got in trouble in school, I would have gotten spanked again when I went home.
In that particular era, you’ve gotta remember Vietnam was raging, and that was a hard time to grow up — the hippies, the long hair, the drugs and the sex — and I think Mr. Durrett’s whole thing was, and I had heard him say myself, he was not going to have someone come in and disrupt his school because Kimball High School had always had the finest of everything — football, bands, uniforms, musicals every year with Broadway-quality production. So when he got wind of this, they locked down the school. He called the Dallas Police Department, and they sent the SWAT team. All the students had to go to their classrooms, and he had teachers lock the door. Nobody could come in, and nobody could go out. He had some of the male coaches walking the halls, and had them go down to the woodshop and grab a board. My understanding is he told them, “If anyone causes trouble, beat the hell out of them. Doesn’t matter if they’re white, black, pink, purple or green.” So the police escorted the students who were bused in out of the building in small groups. The police made sure they got on the buses and made sure they were safe. Because white kids had gotten wind, and they were ready to rumble, and it seems like we did have a fight or two in front the school that the police had to break up.
The next day, Mr. Durrett had an assembly in the auditorium with all the kids who were bused in, and made a speech to them: “This is Justin F. Kimball High School, the finest high school in Dallas, and by God, if you think you’re going to come in and tear up my school, you’ve got another thing coming.” And after that incident, we never had any more. All through the year, there would be a fight or somebody would take a poke at somebody, but that’s all I can remember in my three years at the school.
Cardarella: We had a policeman on each level of the school and in certain wings for protection. What made me feel safe was that Milton South, he provided the best protection. He went to the football team and said, “This woman is going to teach a class to help your people, and I want four boys to volunteer to escort her in and out of school.” And I never had a problem. One day we’d gotten word that the students were all going to boycott the school, so when the time came, I just stepped aside and they all walked out. South Oak Cliff is built in a rectangle, and they all went into the interior of the school, which is outside in the grass, and we just shut the school down. They had a bunch of new, young white teachers that had come into that school, and there were a bunch of people maybe with attitude problems, and they didn’t like the way it was going, so they were fighting back.
Black: I remember very little order. I think there were always fights.
Cumming: It was a new experience for all of us because it was the first time I had a black teacher and had gone to school with minorities. I didn’t have a problem with it because I had gone to church camp with minorities, and my parents had raised us to be respectful to everyone, but unfortunately, we had kids who hadn’t been raised that way.
Black: The salvation of it was there were exceptions. I found exceptions in athletics. I think that the coaches, because of their experience seeing the Southwest Conference integrate in 1969, they were more apt to adapt because they saw an opportunity to discover greatness with the receipt of these athletes that came to them through the desegregation order, and sure enough, a lot of these schools became great. That helped an awful lot to calm the waters in other scenarios. All of us have a tendency to fall in order when there are leaders that command attention and respect, and the athletic powers did that in many ways. It allowed people to have a reason to root for the other fellow. There could have been the same experience in choir; I didn’t notice it. I noticed camaraderie built along the cheerleading and drill teams and in the ROTC. I graduated before it could have taken place in the classroom. We were not on the debate team, we were not in school plays. Those kind of intellectual exercises seemed to exempt us. Looking back on it, I think there should have been an insistence of sorts for those fields to be every bit as diverse as the playing fields and courts were. There was still the Southern bias of inferiority. The black student was inferior. That can sound incredibly disappointing to you and me today.
Cardarella: Many of those seniors I taught, the majority of them, all received scholarships. Listen, anyone can teach bright kids. Getting those textbooks may have propelled them forward somewhat, but they were going to get it one way or another. It takes a real teacher to teach the slower kids so they can catch up. We need to treat our children, no matter what color they are, like they are important people because they are. They are our future. I can’t say I ever saw a difference between the black 3,000 at South Oak Cliff High School and the white 3,000 at Kimball High School. The ones at South Oak Cliff didn’t demonstrate the same ability because they hadn’t received an equal education. I know that kids were passed on for age, not because they knew what they needed to learn.
Black: The desegregated schools were very concerned with a process, but we weren’t concerned as much with the outputs. Career counseling was one of the places that it was most evident. I was never counseled on being anything but a football player, and that is cliché but it is also the truth. I never wore my report card as a badge, and their due diligence on students was so poor that they assumed I didn’t have the grades to do anything but bang heads on a football field. I wanted to hear what they were saying, but that’s not very responsible when you know that the chances of playing in the NFL are about as good as being struck by lightning.
Cardarella: The bright kids were much harder to corral and keep in line than the slower kids. They were angry, they were exposed to prejudice. These were high school seniors who were smart enough to realize that they were smart, and they weren’t receiving the education the white kids were receiving. I had one of them stand up in class one day and call me a bitch. And I went straight to Louis McQuirter, who was a black principal, and that student had to come back to the school with his parents and apologize before he was permitted back into class. I told them all the time that they had to study, that learning was the only thing people couldn’t take away from them. And they finally realized this young white teacher wasn’t there to hurt them but to help them, and that I cared for them.
Cumming: In all four years of high school, I had only one bad teacher, and it was a black teacher. She lasted about a year, and then the principal transferred her out. Conversely, one of the best teachers I had in high school was a young black woman who taught algebra. I’ll never forget Mrs. Holcomb. She knew how to relate to the kids, and she knew how to get the message across, and she didn’t care if you were white or black. I never had a black teacher discriminate against me or single me out.
Cardarella: I gave a speech one day. All the girls came into the auditorium, and I told them what to do to improve themselves and do better in life, and they sat there and chit chatted. I waited until they were finished, and then I said. “I’m talking to you, and I want you to listen to me.” And they stopped talking, and when I was finished, they gave me a standing ovation. There are some barriers you had to break, and those barriers had been built up for a reason.
Cumming: As the years progressed, we didn’t think anything about it. We were classmates. We were all in it together. We were in it to get an education and get out so we could go to college. I remember that there was a lot of dissension, and it was not a perfect plan, but the court felt busing was the only way to desegregate fully and fairly. It seemed to me like people made a bigger deal of it than it was. Kids are kids, and kids are flexible.
Black: It was about 13, 14 miles from our community to John B. Hood. We were children, so therefore we had never before seen the golden arches, a McDonalds. They didn’t build in our neighborhood. As it relates to the social component, busing was excellent for that. It integrated societies.
Black: It was about 13, 14 miles from our community to John B. Hood. We were children, so therefore we had never before seen the golden arches, a McDonalds. They didn’t build in our neighborhood. As it relates to the social component, busing was excellent for that. It integrated societies.
Cumming: We had several black kids that came over from Madison High School in our ROTC program. One of our battalion sweethearts was a black girl. When I was a senior, she was dating one of the officers who was black, and the cadets elected her to be one of our sweethearts. Friendships were built being in activities together, and the good thing about it was you really learned about other cultures, and I think that helped build good foundations because when I went to college, you were there with everybody — white, black, pink, purple, green — and you just never really thought about it. People are people, and I guess you find out they put their pants on just like you do — one leg at a time.
Undoubtedly, Dallas ISD desegregation had an impact on the racial makeup of Oak Cliff. But the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg — the demographic changes or desegregation — is still being debated today.
Cloutman: Dallas was growing then, and people were basically being told, “Don’t locate in the Dallas ISD because they have busing.” And it worked. It wasn’t so much we had white flight, but no white in-migration, and as white kids graduated, there was nobody to replace them. People with school-age children were not locating here.
Thomas: One of the things that made it difficult was that we had such a large African-American population south of Interstate 30, and none north of Interstate 30, so it made it very difficult to mix bodies or teachers or anything without crossing the expressway. That’s a historical fact and a historical problem we had with desegregation because of the long distance between blacks and whites.
Cumming: Dallas ISD was divided into the north zone and the south zone, and the Trinity River separated it. In the south zone, Kimball was always considered one of the flagship schools. Carter was, too. The south side, we always got the bad deal. The north side always called the shots, and it’s always been that way. There was even some disparity between the white schools on the south side and the north side. It wasn’t just white and black. Oak Cliff has always been considered to be the redheaded stepchild of Dallas. If you say, “I’m from Oak Cliff,” people go, “Oh.” They think you live in a slum and you drive a 30-year-old car. It’s just crazy. Oak Cliff is a beautiful place.
Cardarella: My grandparents built a house on North Clinton in 1920. My mother went to Cliff Temple Baptist Church and was baptized there, and I was baptized at Cliff Temple in 1954, and I still go to Cliff Temple Baptist Church. If you grew up in Oak Cliff, it was like a small town. We all knew each other from the four high schools — Kimball, South Oak Cliff, Sunset and Adamson — and of course, I thought Kimball was the best, but I imagine everybody thought theirs was the best. I’m a Cliffie and love everything about it. I like the variety of faces. I like the different colors. Even the stuff I don’t like’s better than North Dallas.
Black: Kessler Park, we look like Noah’s ark. There’s two of everything on our street. It’s great for us.
Cardarella: We’ve always been the ugly ducking of Dallas or the evil stepsister. Instead of planning and having some thinkers come into our city government that could help guide and move the different races together, it was like, well, just dump that in Oak Cliff. It’s never been about Oak Cliff. It’s been about downtown Dallas and North Dallas. I can’t tell you all of the political things that were done incorrectly, but I know they were done. We ended up with white flight.
Johnston: That’s really when we saw the first church schools spring up, and a lot of churches started schools or let schools be housed in their facilities. There hadn’t been much of that prior to the time the court order started. The mindset was that the black kids were rough and violent and didn’t behave, and people feared that, even though it basically wasn’t true, but it’s hard to convince somebody.
Black: The Dallas home real estate landscape looks the way that it does because of white flight. Dallas Christian and all of those schools were founded at the time of the decision. Some people can say coincidence, but come on — they weren’t going to one of those schools with those people.
Cardarella: We should have done everything we could to keep kids in school, and we should have done something to prohibit full areas being taken over by one group. The reality is we still have people who are afraid to come over to Oak Cliff, and that’s ridiculous.
Johnston: Nobody targeted Oak Cliff, but you would have a hard time convincing some people who were living there at the time. It had a lot of white flight to Duncanville and DeSoto. There’s always been a lot of bitterness; they felt they were put upon by the courts and the school district. It may have happened because of the court order, but it wasn’t intentional. The busing order didn’t have the effect that the demographic change did in Oak Cliff. The neighborhood change, I think, had already begun before the court order, and it accelerated once it happened and once people started talking about it. There was a lot of fear of “block busting” out in Oak Cliff. In the early days of not school desegregation but desegregation, period, the rumor was people would buy a house, move two or three families in, and would lower everybody’s property values. White families wouldn’t like it; they would put up their signs and move away. For instance, Carter High School right off I-20 and I-35 was virtually an all-white area, and one of the orders bused kids across 35 in the South Oak Cliff [High School] attendance zone into Carter. Within four years that area became all black because the people whose kids were being bused over there didn’t want their kids to be bused, so they just moved. So the area changed complexion almost overnight.
Cumming: I remember so well when we played football against schools such as North Dallas High School, which was primarily Hispanic. We played Sunset, and at that time it was beginning to shift from an all-Anglo school to a Hispanic school. The area had changed. The demographics at Kimball have shifted from an Anglo school to an African-American school to Hispanic. Blacks have moved out of this area to the south or north, and Hispanics have moved in. I’m president of our alumni association, and we give scholarships to students. You look into that auditorium and see more Hispanic students than black students.
Johnston: I think it would have happened anyway as people aged in the neighborhood, but at the time, nobody realized that. It kind of reminds me of 20 years ago, Dr. Bill Webster, our chief demographer, said in the year 2010, the district would be majority Hispanic. Nobody believed it then, but it happened a lot sooner than that. That’s really been the biggest change in the schools — the rapid growth in the Hispanic population. When I first started in the school administration, I think there was probably a 15-20 percent Hispanic population, and now it’s almost 80 percent. Adamson is a good example of how schools change. I graduated from there, and then I went back there to teach in 1962, and we had no black students at all. We might have had 10-15 percent Hispanic students, but in those days they weren’t Hispanic — someone whose name was Martinez would be MART-inez. They were more Anglo than Hispanic. When I left there in ’69, we had had a few black students enroll who lived in the attendance area, then in the ’70s, the black population grew, but now the population over there is about 90 percent Hispanic, so it’s kind of a microcosm of this district.
• • •
Years after the initial busing orders, the case continued to drag on in court, first being appealed by the defense attorneys, then finding its way to a new DISD attorney, then landing in the lap of a judge who refused to dismiss it until he felt justice had been done.
Thomas: I started in about 1980. The lawyer [before me] representing the Dallas Public Schools, his name was Warren Whitham, and he was a staunch segregationist. He wasn’t going to give up and let the judge tell his district what to do, and he just fought and fought and fought, and he had a heart attack, and his doctor told him, “Warren, you’ve got to get rid of this case. This case is going to kill you.”
I was president of the Dallas Bar Association in 1978, and we bought the Belo Mansion on 2101 Ross Avenue. It was an empty big home that had been a funeral home, but the lawyers of Dallas thought it would be neat to lease it as our headquarters. By 1980 it was finished, and one of my partners said, “Bud, you owe us a lot of time. You’ve had a lot of time off; you’ve really got to get to work on something.” And I said, “Anything you need done, I’m willing.” And about a month later he called me into his office and says, “Warren Whitham has had a heart attack, and they’ve asked our firm if we can furnish a lawyer to handle the case, and I think you’re the right guy for the job.” And I said, “Oh crap.”
I went to see Warren Whitham at his home, and I said, “Warren, I’m Bob Thomas, and I’m going to try to take your place in the desegregation case.” And he says, “Alright but let me tell you this: Fight, fight, fight (coughing), fight …” and his wife comes in, and says, “I’m sorry, Mr. Thomas, but you’ll have to leave.”
I had just met the superintendent of schools — his name was Linus Wright, the new superintendent from Houston — and I walked out of Warren Whitham’s home and went to the nearest 7-Eleven and used a pay phone to call the superintendent, and said, “I need to come talk to you.” And I told him the story of meeting with Mr. Whitham in his home, and said, “Is that what you want me to do? Do you want me to fight, fight, fight?” And he said, “I’m so glad you asked me this question. No. Desegregation is coming. It’s here. It’s 1980, and we were told in 1954 that it had to be done. We want it done, but we want it done with a degree of sensitivity. We don’t want to alienate our employees, and the constituents and taxpayers of Dallas. We have to do this in an orderly manner where we don’t lose students, we don’t lose teachers, and we build up a fine desegregated school system.”
And so that’s what I did for 23 years.
Sanders: The truth of it was that none of the judges wanted it. Barefoot was, I can’t say delighted, but I would say eager to take it on. He saw it as an opportunity and went after it. Barefoot was very proud of his role in this case because he was born and raised in Dallas and educated in the public schools and saw the importance of individual rights. He had served in Washington to pass the voting rights act of 1965; he was in the Department of Justice at the time.
Johnston: In many cities, they were just body mixing. All of our orders were educational orders. Black kids at that time had poor test scores as it related to the white kids, and the goal in getting them together was to provide a quality education for all and raise the test scores as a result. The feeling we tried to get across to the community was the education element was important and necessary; the body mixing was an effect.
Thomas: It finally dawned on the blacks, “We don’t want to ride the bus, either. Why don’t we just have better schools in our neighborhood? So slowly the idea began to crystallize that maybe it’s better to have good schools than integrated schools. They would rather have more money spent on those black schools and have good teachers than ride the bus to someplace where they were not welcome. So we created something called “learning centers” in 1984, and established three South Dallas learning centers that were approved by the court of appeals, and then established some West Dallas learning centers for the Hispanics. And see, the federal judge had control over the pocketbook. They could catch up education, if you will. They had computers before any of the white kids had computers.
Cloutman: We supported the notion to have busing dismissed when learning centers got created and schools got expanded to offer a choice of desegregating options to kids. The loss of public support in parts of town and the fact it took so damn long … nothing that takes that long can not have some wheels falling off the bus, and they did.
Thomas: Busing may have worked in Charlotte, N.C., and it might work in a little town like Mineola, Texas, but the problems are so much bigger in bigger cities.
Johnston: There were school board members at the time who grew to resent the extra amounts of money being spent in other parts of town, but Nolan Estes and [subsequent superintendent] Linus Wright, both of their attitudes were: “It’s a court order, we don’t have a choice, we’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it right.” Nolan was a positive person — still is to this day — and I never heard him say a negative word about it, and I was with him for 10 years.
Sanders: There was built, before [Barefoot] had the case, the Skyline magnet school, and there was not a counterpart in South Dallas. And that was the balance, that a second one should be built making it more equal for all the students to be able to opt into those magnets.
So that was the origin of Townview [talented and gifted magnet school], and again the DISD drug their feet, and he made clear that he wasn’t going to let go of the case until that was accomplished. He kept hoping he could finish the case and make a final ruling, and then the DISD would do something bad, like the way they would draw their school district lines that were designed to discriminate.
Thomas: If [Barefoot Sanders] wanted to talk to the superintendent, he would call me and say, “Get the superintendent in my office this afternoon. I read all of these quotes in the Dallas Morning News opposing things I have ordered.” And then the next time I met with my client, he would say, “Will you tell the judge to stop reading the Dallas Morning News?”
Sanders: Barefoot was in public life from the time we were married on. He was a state legislator, U.S. attorney. I grew up in my adulthood with the idea that we were subject to some hate calls. I just didn’t let it bother me. People would call the court and say, “Well, you just tell Judge Sanders that I’m never going to vote for him again,” not knowing that a federal judge was not elected. [Laughing] He took it as, “They’re going to be disappointed.” He always said, “I’ve got people mad at me on both sides. I guess I must be doing something right.”
Thomas: The lawsuit was filed against the school district and the superintendent and every member of the school board, so all of these individuals were subject to the court jurisdiction, and if you were elected to the school board or hired as the superintendent, you were part of the lawsuit. We brought in an African-American superintendent from Illinois, and he was a nice guy, and his name was Marvin Edwards. He lasted about two years, then he said, “I am going back to Illinois. This is the craziest damn city I’ve ever seen.” He was good, but he didn’t like all of this infighting. We had a reception over at the [Fair Park] Hall of State to say goodbye and farewell and thanks for being with us, and I went through the receiving line and said, “Thank you, Dr. Edwards. It was a pleasure working with you.” And he said, “Bob, the first thing I want you to do tomorrow is write to the court and tell them it’s no longer Tasby vs. Edwards. Get my name out of this case.”
• • •
When federal judge Barefoot Sanders dismissed the Tasby case in 2003, Dallas ISD had an entirely different demographic makeup — 6 percent white, 31 percent black and 61 percent Hispanic, compared to the respective 54-36-10 percent makeup in 1971.
Thomas: Did it work? That’s a good question. It complies with the law. The dismissal could have been appealed, but [Sanders] was very careful in writing his order of dismissal, and was very well respected and was a liberal judge, and everybody knew that it had been dismissed by Barefoot Sanders and therefore it was going to stay dismissed.
Cloutman: It worked moreso than not. Of that I’m pretty sure. I say that from the perspective of the children that we were representing. I don’t think it hurt any white kids any more than they had to get over the first hurdles, the bumps, and that probably did cause a distraction that was unnecessary, but what it did for black kids and brown kids, it required, in a whole lot of detail, the district to do things that otherwise it wouldn’t have done. We were the first district in the state to have bilingual education — not because the state required it, but the federal court did. [Desegregation] produced the magnet schools, which are some of the best we’ve ever had academic-wise and art-wise.
Black: We pretty much all want the same things, and it’s a shame that we spent so many years in our country on race. But if not for champions of the court like Barefoot Sanders, Texas would still be lagging and Dallas public schools would still have certain children locked in isolated communities, suffering from the lack of prosperity. Just a few months before Judge Sanders died, my wife and I decided to give a reception at our home. We didn’t think he was at the end of his life; we thought he was being overlooked for his greatness locally because it’s a conservative federal bench with these spigots of judges that were named by Democratic presidents. We invited principals, administrators, teachers, students and parents from that era to come and to let him hear how it all came out. He cried and his wife cried, and when it was over, he got up and said, “I’ve heard from you all. Almost every comment has been a lesson. Thank you for teaching me. I’ve spent all of these years not knowing the impact from people who were living everyday lives, only from those that were summoned by the court or intervened in the court. Thank you for the lesson. Thank you for a wonderful life.” And in three or four months, he died.
Thomas: Some people say we went too fast, some people say we went too slow, but we got to the destination, and desegregation got to be equal opportunity, equal education. It’s clearly the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever been involved in. To shepherd this thing to where it is today, and it ain’t perfect, but it’s peaceful and it’s quiet.
Black: I’ve never been to a reunion. I’ve been someone who has been very celebrated in our city over the years, and I always have classmates that contact me and ask me to be part of a reunion, but I’ve never been. The pain of returning someplace I didn’t like at all … I knew we deserved better. I knew we did.