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Three Decades Later, This Book About Dallas’ History Of Segregation Still Resonates


by Jerome Weeks 27 Sep 2021 9:58 PM

Four Dallasites share their views on ‘The Accommodation,’ re-released this week .

CTA TBD

The Accommodation is Jim Schutze’s landmark history of racial segregation in Dallas. A new edition comes out today from Deep Vellum. The book was first released in 1987, but the original publisher decided, at the last minute, not to bring it out, and when the book was finally made public, sales were poor. Despite being a pioneering treatment of racial politics in Dallas history, The Accommodation more or less disappeared.

As part of Banned Books Week, journalist Jim Schutze and journalist Bryan Burrough (Forget The Alamo) will be in conversation with Sanderia Faye, Sept. 29. It’s free but you register here.

Schutze lays out how the city’s powerful white establishment worked for decades to keep segregation in place, long after it was illegal — and long after the 1951 bombings of Black-owned homes in South Dallas had stopped. It was those bombings, Schutze argues, that led to other, less violent-but-still-effective methods to push Black homeowners into designated neighborhoods, to keep Black children out of the Dallas public school system. Such efforts continued as that same establishment made the occasional gesture toward advancing civil rights in an ‘accommodation’ with more conservative Black leaders.

Despite its bungled release, despite its poor sales, The Accommodation continued to be read. For years, people passed around photocopied versions. Eventually, someone created digital versions in Dropbox. You needed one of the links to download the book. The Accommodation had become, essentially, Dallas’ own samizdat book – the clandestine copies of banned literature that Russian citizens — and citizens of Eastern European dictatorships — passed around by hand.

Kendall Stafford. Photo courtesy of Kendall Stafford

KENDALL STAFFORD
Booker T. Washington High School Senior

That’s how Kendall Stafford read it — on a PDF file, as an assignment for her AP Language and Communication class at Booker  T.

It was so secret, so mysterious, honestly.

Stafford is a senior, was one of three students designated to pose questions to Schutze when he visited the class to talk about the book.

So what did you learn reading The Accommodation?

The book told me that Dallas has more secrets or more history than I thought.

Like, when I started reading it, it opened my eyes more to why specific races live in specific neighborhoods, you know? You believe the reason’s economics mostly, but there was more to it than that. It was deep-seated history with the Oak Cliff shift and the Trinity River boundary [the 1950 bombings were triggered when Blacks first bought homes in white neighborhoods in Oak Cliff. Later, the city drove out Black and Latino families from their housing on the Trinity River bottoms so the land could be cleared for the massive private development of the ‘industrial district’ along I-35].

Things like that, you wouldn’t really think of at first glance. But suddenly, they just came into the light. Honestly, it kind of made me feel relieved. Someone finally telling the truth, and I felt relieved that it was actually out there. It explained that kind of thing.

The NAACP Youth Council picketing the State Fair at Fair Park in 1955, protesting segregation. Photo: R. C. Hickman/Bullock Museum

Did you tell your friends or your parents about reading The Accommodation?

The first person I told was my dad who is such a big history junkie. I was, like, ‘Hey, you won’t guess what we read in AP today.’ And he was, like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘The Accommodation.’ And he said, ‘No way, I’ve been looking for a copy of that book forever. Can you please send me the link?’ 

And so we started discussing how the State Fair was originally segregated and it had separate days for races. And when it got integrated, it wasn’t really a stable environment for anybody. We talked about how there were bombings around Black neighborhoods and how they were pushed out of their living environment for economic greed and then were told that, like, ‘Oh well, that was just necessity.’

It was a really interesting conversation because we’re both history junkies. So that was my favorite part of finishing the book.

Emma Rodgers at the Dallas Civil Rights Museum. Photo: City of Dallas

EMMA RODGERS
Co-Founder, Dallas Civil Rights Museum

Rogers is the former owner of Black Images Bookstore, which was the leading African-American bookstore in North Texas in the ‘80s and ‘90s. When The Accommodation was published in 1987, Rodgers had Jim Schutze come to Black Images to sign copies.

But when the book didn’t sell, the publisher, Citadel Press, “remaindered” it, offering the last copies it had for pennies. Rodgers snapped up around 500 of them, she remembers — every copy she could.

I was counting on The Accommodation to let me go off sailing in the sunset in my retirement because I had that many copies, and everybody wanted the book.

What do you mean? It sold poorly. What made you gamble on buying all those copies?

Number one, the day Schutze signed the books, we sold something like nearly 200 copies. Then we had a lot of politicians, people who were running for office, who would come in and ask for the book. I can remember someone who ran for City Council asking for it.

Why?

When people move to Dallas, it’s a good way to know the lay of the land, what had happened previously to the communities involved in the city. And then, If they had political aspirations, this was the book to read.

Like, I’m not from Dallas. I moved here in 1970, OK? And so I knew some of this [the history in The Accommodation]. But I didn’t know about the bombings.

So I think for newcomers, for anybody who’s moved into the city — and you have new people being born every day — I think it’s a good resource to know about the city you’re living in.

Rodgers put her copies of The Accommodation in a rental storage unit because there wasn’t enough room for them in her bookstore.

When she went to retrieve them, she learned the storage unit had burned. All her copies were lost.

Jerry Hawkins, speaking at ‘The Accommodation: A Cause-Minded Conversation.’ Photo: Kim Leeson

JERRY HAWKINS
Executive director, Dallas Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation

Hawkins was one of the relatively small but ever-expanding number of Dallasites who, like Stafford, read The Accommodation as a PDF file. He’d come to Dallas from Chicago in 2011 —

And the city felt very different, like a time warp. I came from a segregated city but not like this. I had expected more of a Western city, you know? And I didn’t see any of that. I just saw this big, postmodern, almost dystopian business place.

And what I heard was kinda the myths that Dallas creates about itself — like the myths about Dallas being a pioneer place made from nowhere, and that there was no reason for Dallas to exist.

That the city supposedly ‘has no history.’ No presidents born here, no great battles fought.

Yeah, and that’s a very one-sided, very white view of history. Some of the most important things that happened in the country happened in Dallas. You know, Roe v. Wade. And Thelma Page Richardson, when she and [later Supreme Court justice] Thurgood Marshall won that case to equalize pay for white and Black teachers.

What I didn’t hear was anything of this history [the accounts of racial violence and segregation in The Accommodation]. I didn’t hear any of it. And there was nowhere to find it, other than the book itself — unless you were looking deeply, which I started to do after reading that book.

Jim Schutze. Photo: Marianna Greene

So having finally gotten hold of a copy of The Accommodation, what was your response?

It was actually kind of strange to me. This book was one of the first books written up about race in Dallas.

Any other city? Any other major city — and Dallas is a major city — there are dozens, maybe hundreds of books like this, written about race. In Dallas, there are maybe 5 to 10 books like that, and that’s a shame, you know?

I really believe having a one-story view of history is terrible for us. People come to cities for culture and to experience all of the rituals and traditions of different people, right? That’s why we go to New Orleans, New York, San Francisco. And Dallas essentially wiped that out and is still searching for its identity.

Dallas is like the fourth most diverse city in the country, but you wouldn’t know that. It still wants to envision itself as one thing, when it’s not. And a book like The Accommodation lets you see why a vision of Dallas that looks like everyone didn’t happen.

What relevance, if any, does it have now?

Actually, if the book had been out there [widely available for sale], I don’t think it would have been such a legendary kind of book. The fact that the stories you heard were that, you know, wealthy white North Dallas folks didn’t want people to read it — like that was a legend. Folks were doing something clandestine or illegal to either hide it or just read it.

So I think a lot of people haven’t read it. And it’s important. It is an important book for sure.

DR. HARRY ROBINSON
Founding Director, Museum of African-American Life and Culture

Harry Robinson came to Dallas in 1974 — having been raised in New Orleans, educated in Atlanta and Illinois, worked in Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi. He came to Texas to be the librarian and museum director for Bishop College — ultimately turning the college’s collections into the Museum of African-American Life and Culture, which opened in Fair Park in 1984.

So I’m an old man and I’m from the South. And to tell you the truth, Dallas really wasn’t that much different from other Southern cities I’d lived in. The kinds of things in that book, that’s what happened. So it’s a teaching tool.

Now, I have heard people say that ‘the civil rights movement passed over Dallas’ [which is one of the arguments in The Accommodation]. But that’s not true. Dallas and the African-Americans in Texas just dealt with those things differently. They went to court. 

Look at the poll tax [Texas charged people to vote as a method to discourage Blacks, Latinos and the poor from voting. Although the poll tax was made unconstitutional in 1964 by the 24th Amendment to the Constitution and the Texas legislature resolved to end it in 1966, Texas didn’t formally approve the amendment until 2009 — when Rep. Alma Hallen, a Black Democrat from Houston, pushed through its ratification.]

Or Thelma Page Richardson [the Dallas teacher who successfully sued for equal pay for Black and white teachers].

Or Maceo Smith [pioneering Dallas civil rights leader whose fight against ‘whites only primaries’ for political parties led to the Supreme Court decision to prohibit them in Smith v. Allwright in 1944]. He was a personal friend of Thurgood Marshall. Matter of fact, he was the one who brought Thurgood to town several times, and there were times when he had to push Thurgood into doing some action ’cause he was sort of dragging his feet and a little slow on things.

There’s something to be said about the prevailing philosophy, the philosophy of the NAACP, about taking them to court because the court rulings stood. But some of the temporary accommodations that people got into with city leadership in the South? After the leadership changed, the situation would change, too, and not for the better. [Some Black leaders settled for an ‘accommodation’ with the white establishment — which is much of Schutze’s argument].

And so some people say they were Uncle Toms, they were sellouts. Well, I don’t know about all that.

[It may be] they just took a different approach. Whether it was the right approach, I don’t know. But the civil rights movement did not pass over Dallas. It was done differently. That’s all.

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