Photography by Corrie Aune

One thing the Bishop Arts District has in common with the Tenth Street Historic District: They are both part of the original town of Oak Cliff.

Interstate 35 took a chunk out of our neighborhood, all but eliminating its original business district and forever bisecting Oak Cliff in 1956. 

Before that, Patricia Cox remembers that she and her family could walk as far as Zang Boulevard without stepping out of the embrace of Tenth Street.

The white part of town began west of “Zangs,” as Cox, 78, and many Oak Cliff natives still call it. On the other side of what is now Cliff Street, residents used to call the police on Black kids who deigned to enter their vicinity, she says.

To the north of Tenth Street is The Bottom, where seasonal flooding of homes was part of life for generations.

Now plans for the $82-million Southern Gateway deck park are underway nearby, but the City of Dallas has never adopted a comprehensive plan for Tenth Street.

Neighborhood residents recently wrote their own plan with the help of the Inclusive Communities Project.

The 109-page document names discriminatory policies and financial disinvestment as unaddressed social injustices.

“Restorative justice is recognizing that residents should benefit from the improvements happening in the City of Dallas, especially those adjacent to the neighborhood,” the plan states. “The influx of capital happening near the neighborhood should benefit residents and not perpetuate displacement.”

Freedman’s towns called “Tenth Street” since the founding of Oak Cliff in 1887 once comprised an estimated 300 acres. The geographic boundaries of the Tenth Street Historic District encompass 69 acres. But this national treasure’s place in our city’s culture and history cannot be measured.

Oak Cliff’s beginnings

Some of the earliest Black residents of Dallas were brought to what is now Oak Cliff as chattel of European settlers. A family of three enslaved people, a father, mother and child, arrived with William and Mary Hord in 1845. Their settlement became known as Hord’s Ridge. 

An earlier settler, William S. Beaty, deeded the 10 acres that is now Oak Cliff Cemetery, where there are African American graves dating to 1844.

Grocery wholesaler Thomas L. Marsalis, the founder of Oak Cliff, purchased 2,000 acres, including Hord’s Ridge, to realize his dream of developing a suburban paradise in 1887. The 150-acre Marsalis Park, which is now the Dallas Zoo, had a lake and amphitheater for performances of theater and opera.

Marsalis and business partner John S. Armstrong, operating as the Dallas Land and Loan Co., brought the vision of an exclusive residential and resort community to our side of the Trinity River, but they had a falling out.

Armstrong went on to develop Highland Park. Marsalis invested about $1 million into Oak Cliff. Besides Marsalis Park, there was a steam-powered railway across the river, the luxury Park Hotel with its artesian wells, Lake Cliff Park and the homes of Rosemeade Place.

Marsalis wound up going broke in the Panic of 1893. He sold off a bunch of real estate and was never heard from again. Genealogists have since found that he died in Patterson, New Jersey, in 1919.