Dallas’ original black high school site erased from history will now become a taxpayer-funded Kroger – DW
Story by Amber Sims
When I visited Marilyn Clark, now retired but a former education and outreach coordinator at the South Dallas Cultural Center, she handed me a little children’s book.
Entitled “The Freedman Memorial: A Memorial, A Legacy,” the book was originally intended for distribution to ISD Dallas students to teach them the history of Freedman’s greater city of Dallas. It was rediscovered when the Central Expressway expansion project led to a startling discovery: the highway was built on top of the final resting place of hundreds of members of the black community.
Their community, destroyed almost 40 years earlier, was no longer hidden. Thanks to the tireless work of community members such as Mamie McKnight, Julia Jordan and many others, the site was adorned with a historical marker as well as a memorial to those whose remains had been disturbed.
It is not certain, however, that the children’s book ever made its way into the ISD Dallas classrooms.
In attempts to never forget again, this is exactly what could have happened.
The book opens with a dazzling and colorful illustrated map on the inside cover meant to recreate Freedman’s Town, a vibrant community that ran along the Central Railroad, before it was replaced by Central Expressway. The map represents such a large community that it almost spills over from the page. The community is estimated to cover nearly 276 acres of land located in what is today one of Dallas’ most expensive neighborhoods. Most people know it today as Uptown.
Also known as the Short North Dallas or State and Allen Community, Freedman’s Town was a “self-sufficient” black community that housed the families of newly freed Dallas slaves. They worked diligently to build their lives and create a community they could be proud of, despite the cruel racism and discrimination that surrounded them.
A writer for the WPA Dallas Guide and History proclaims: “Here, as in other major American cities, black sections have grown up because of these people’s natural tendency to live among their fellows.
This rhetoric turns out to be false. Records indicate that as early as November 1865, the city of Dallas had enacted vagrancy laws that severely restricted the movement of blacks throughout the city. Thus, creating a black community was as much a method of survival as it was a practical one due to legal segregation, both written and unwritten in state and city charters. At the time of writing the guide in 1940, the city of Dallas had already, in 1916, “passed a law providing for segregation in residential areas, thus triggering a chain of events which culminated in a state law giving to cities the power to establish residential segregation ordinances.
Seeing the community represented so completely on the pages, it’s hard to believe that only a few coveted historic structures remain, such as the legendary Booker T. Washington High School, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, the Pythian Temple and the Moorland YMCA building, which became the Dallas Black Dance Theater after the Moorland branch moved to Oak Cliff.
Little remains of what was traced on the east side of the railroad, now the Central Expressway. The little shotgun houses, businesses, and sanatoriums (what we now call sanatoriums) are gone, along with the school listed on the map as the BF Darrell School, near the train tracks. at the intersection of Hall and Flora Street.
Today, there is nothing to indicate that the school ever existed there, nor any trace of the homes of the children who would have faithfully attended the school. What happened to BF Darrell and when did he disappear?
Well, that hasn’t completely gone away, because before it became the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, the Oak Cliff Magnetic School was named after Benjamin Franklin Darrell. Darrell came to Dallas in 1899 as one of the first black ISD Dallas educators to teach at Colored School No. 1, which later became Wright Cuney School before becoming Frederick Douglas School. Noteworthy Color School No.1 was not located in this area and rather near what is now called the Cedars. Darrell himself lived not far from the school in ______.
Today, a drive-thru Starbucks with a small seating area can be found on North Hall Street, just off the Central Expressway, with the line of cars that normally crowd the road. Just south of this Starbucks, along Hall and across from one of the many ubiquitous apartment complexes that take over the neighborhood now known as Uptown, is an unmarked empty lot. As recently as 2020, the land BF Darrell once occupied is slated to become a Kroger grocery store. The grocery chain bought the land in 2015 from an apartment company that originally bought the land from the Dallas Housing Authority.
Being able to stand on BF Darrell’s wasteland can really dig deep into the size and scope of the neighborhood and what has been lost. The students would have attended school at the Hall and Cochran site from ___ to ____, long before Booker T. Washington was built. Even after the new high school opened, BF Darrell was still used to educate young black students in Dallas until it closed in 1969.
Although the nearby community of Roseland and its historically black church now seem out of place in a part of town dotted with dense apartments and posh new townhouses, longtime residents here know best. There was a time when little cabins dotted the plots of land, kids came and went from schools, to Griggs Park, to local cinemas and to the Paul Lawrence Dunbar. It was all leveled out to make room for “progress” and development that would reshape the community forever.
I remember the convenience stores, now demolished, that served customers who lived in the small shacks. I remember the pride that swelled with each anniversary year celebrated in our church – heralded as one of the oldest churches in town – and a story my mother told about where the church was located. before moving to the new shiny red brick building which was the only one I knew of. The church was a pillar of the community, but growing up, it was difficult for me to imagine that the wasteland was anything but empty.
Yet Mrs. Clark’s little book, a tangible pledge of black resistance and commitment to storytelling – proof that we existed – made real the richness of what was once known as Freedman’s Town. A treasured keepsake to ensure community members don’t forget and, when ready, those like me could once again unearth stories about the thriving black community that preceded Uptown. The thriving black community has bulldozed in the name of progress, highways and high-priced townhouses – and at the center of this once-black community, a school.
In some ways, I find it heartwarming that the grocery store was not built, even though I know Dallas well enough to assume that something else will eventually fill that lot. In my search to learn more about BF Darrell, I spoke with caring community elders who shared their wisdom and resources and told me to “keep going”. I spent time at the African American Museum with Dr. Marvin Dulaney before the pandemic shattered our normality and my archival research (although now I’m ready to return to it). I connected with members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority beaming with pride to share the Fredrica Chase Dodd story, and one of the women sent me a copy of the book the Dallas Chapter published to tell the story. Ms. Dodd’s story and, by extension, the stories of many other Dallas greats such as Fredrica’s mother, Fannie C. Harris, and Dallas ISD’s first black woman principal, Julia Caldwell Frazier.
These three amazing women taught BF Darrell. In fact, many other Dallas ISD legends whose names now adorn our school buildings, such as JW Ray, Leslie Patton Jr., NW Harlee and countless others have also taught and led at BF Darrell.
This land is sacred ground in Black Dallas education and in the history of Dallas ISD education. This is why seeing it empty, without a historical marker, without any means of proclaiming its importance, seems unresolved. This is the reason why I had no idea that a few feet from my church and less than a mile from my current house was once the Color School # ??. Before being renamed BF Darrell for the late educator in 1922, it was simply labeled “The Colorful High School,” meaning it predated Booker T. Washington High School, which opened in 1923.
While trying to find records on the school and its history, I came across a story from the first black Dallas Morning News columnist Julia Scott Reed who realized the importance of the school’s closure in 1969. Then-superintendent Nolan Estes closed the school citing “failing ceilings, outside toilets, overcrowded classrooms and lack of parking space”. The old multi-storey school building became a non-profit space before being completely demolished in 1971 (1973).
“BF Darrell is a landmark in Dallas,” proclaimed Reed Scott’s column, shortly before the building was demolished.
Now, walking past the parking lot and seeing the multitude of people waiting daily for their coffee, I marvel at how unfortunate it is that they don’t know how close they are to our history. city - and what that says about the history of our city.
How do you visualize a story that has been so intensely erased.
This piece is part of a project to explore, chronicle and retrieve the history of Dallas black schools. It is reported through a partnership of Dallas Free Press and the Imagining Freedom Institute, with the support of Press On’s Southern Movement Media Fund. For more information, send an email [email protected] Where [email protected].
Recently, the city council approved the construction of new residences (with some affordable housing) and
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 the emergence of jim crow in texas bruce a. glasrud
 Daniel J. Nabors, “Darrell, Benjamin Franklin”, Texas Manual Online, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/darrell-benjamin-franklin.
 Records indicate that the first black private schools were opened at New Bethel Church and that the earth established its first schools for blacks. and what the establishment of the city’s first schools to educate former slaves and their offspring would tell us about our city.