Unlike Tenth Street and Little Mexico, I felt I had a good understanding of the history of Fair Park in Dallas. Collin Yarbrough fills in the details.
I'm reading "Paved A Way: Infrastructure, Policy and Racism in an American City" by Collin Yarbrough. The city is Dallas, Texas. I'm blogging as I go, using whatever parts of the book catch my attention. Today, we look at how infrastructure development cut a path of destruction through south Dallas.
First, the State Fair of Texas and Fair Park are steeped in racism.
In 1936, when Dallas hosted the Texas Centennial Exposition, the racism had a softer tone. For the first time, the State Fair of Texas featured a "Hall of Negro Life." For one year only.In 1923, Dallas Klan No. 66 held a "Klan Day" at the Fair. Klan Day saw 160,000 Klan members from across the state and country pass through with over 5,000 men and women inducted as new members to the order in front of an audience of 25,000.Paved A Way
The Black neighborhood around Fair Park was always problematic for the City of Dallas. It became more so as more fairgoers arrived at Fair Park in automobiles. In 1966, a report was prepared for the State Fair of Texas. Interviews of fair-goers (presumably white) revealed that they felt uncomfortable around the park. The group who conducted the study had the solution.Four hundred thousand visitors are estimated to have visited the exhibit over the five-month exposition the Dallas Morning News billed as a "History of Negro from Jungles to Now to be Shown."
Success for the exhibit would be short-lived, though, as the Hall was demolished in 1937—just a year after its construction.
The Hall of Negro Life was the first and only Centennial building demolished.Paved A Way
"The solution for all of these conflict[s]...is simple," the Economic Research Association claimed. "All that is required is to eliminate the problem from sight. If the poor Negroes in their shacks [could not] be seen, all the guilt feelings...will disappear."Paved A Way
The houses surrounding the park had to go and give way to fenced-in parking lots. Eminent domain was the tool of choice to be used. A moratorium on permits for home improvements went into effect.
Residents hired Austin-based Urban Research Group...URG found City of Dallas Building Inspection Department documents revealing every map with a plat in the Fair Park neighborhood had "a penciled instruction dated August 7, 1968, ‘no permits be issued except those for wrecking and moving purposes.’" It appears the City of Dallas attempted to deflate home values, actively disinvesting in neighborhood improvements in order to obtain land at a lower price, expanding Fair Park for a lesser cost in the process.Paved A Way
Not only was eminent domain deployed to get Black families out of their homes, it was deployed in a selectively racist manner.
It was a pattern of discrimination based on race. For example, if a Black family was living at 1401 4th Street and had a 150-by-100-foot lot and a three bedroom, one bath wood-frame house, they may receive an appraisal of fifty cents per square foot. Next door at 1403 4th Street, there could be an identical lot and home with a Black family renting the home from a White landowner. The research showed that property received an appraisal of one dollar per square foot higher than the Black owned lot.Paved A Way
Yarbrough interviewed Jim Schutze, a long-time Dallas journalist who knows Dallas's racist past better than anyone. Yarbrough states Schutze's judgment.
Fair Park is one of the only parks in Dallas that has the opposite effect on the surrounding neighborhood: instead of the park bringing property values up, it brings them down.Paved A Way
Could the history of Fair Park be finally turning? Yarbrough doesn't cover recent history, but the park been part of a tug-of-war between the State Fair of Texas and the City of Dallas, and between activists and the City. A master plan update showing 52 acres of new or expanded parks (out of Fair Park's 277 acres) was approved by the City Council in 2020. These would be real parks, green parks, not parking lots. None of this is in Yarbrough's history. Perhaps he'll need to include some good news for Fair Park, finally, in a second edition. Of course, the tug of war isn't settled, and besides, much of the original immediate neighborhood is already long gone.
All excerpts of "Paved A Way":
Paved A Way: "Dallas Doesn't Give a Damn About its History"
Paved A Way: Extermination as Government Policy
Paved A Way: The Battle of Village Creek
Paved A Way: Redlining
Paved A Way: Boulevards and Parks
Paved A Way: Freedman's Cemetery
Paved A Way: Deep Ellum
Paved A Way: Little Mexico
Paved A Way: Tenth Street
Paved A Way: Shingle Mountain