DALLAS—The 1930 Craftsman-style bungalow looks like any other on the block of this Fair Park neighborhood.
Its white clapboard is perhaps brighter, more intact, its yard more manicured, but it is no less humble than any other home along Warren Avenue. Architecturally unimportant, its significance stems from what happened inside.
The Dallas Morning News reports a woman named Juanita Craft lived here from 1950 until her death in August of 1985, when she was 83. During that time, and well before, Craft reshaped Dallas like few others before or since, gathering in this house a flock that became a family that became an army of makers of good trouble. It was a destination for foot soldiers and world leaders.
Her name adorns this house—and a rec center, a clinic, a post office.
This is why: She was the first black woman to vote in Dallas County. She organized local and state chapters of the NAACP. She fought to integrate the Dallas Independent School District, the University of Texas Law School and North Texas State College, now the University of North Texas. In 1955 she led protests at the State Fair of Texas, which allowed blacks only during Negro Achievement Day—what Craft called Negro Appeasement Day.
She picketed segregated downtown movie theaters and organized sit-ins at lunch counters that didn’t allow blacks to eat with whites. She served on the Dallas City Council.
For more than two decades, her residence has served as a city-run civil rights museum. But it’s more a scattershot assortment of photos, plaques, placards, knickknacks. Signs point to the house along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but its doors are usually locked. A memorial garden planted 14 years ago by local dignitaries has withered; a sign bearing a history lesson and a photo of a young, wide-smiling Craft has vanished.
And now the house is deteriorating: Its roof rots; its foundation, too, among countless desperately needed fixes.
“For many years, the house has been off the radar,” David Fisher, assistant director in the Office of Cultural Affairs, said last month while sitting in what used to be Craft’s living room, along with a dozen men and women—historians, educators, city employees—who have taken on the chore of raising the estimated $100,000 needed for repairs, though it could be twice that. Cannon Flowers, a cultural affairs commissioner, leads the charge.
“After all the talk about Confederate memorials,” Flowers said, “maybe we can begin the healing process by restoring her home.”
This house on Warren, a local and state landmark, served as the headquarters for Craft’s insurgency, and a refuge from it, too. It was meeting place, office space, community kitchen, late-night hang-out. Legends unable to shelter in whites-only hotels stayed here, among them Duke Ellington and opera immortal Marian Anderson, who sang for her breakfast one long-ago morning. Lyndon B. Johnson visited Craft here; so did Martin Luther King Jr.
Chandler Vaughn, Craft’s executor, told the group Thurgood Marshall wrote a speech at the breakfast table, and that Ann Richards decided to run for governor during a visit with Craft. Vaughn said President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn had once hoped to spend the night but were told no by Secret Service, a legend the Carters’ reps cannot confirm or refute.
In remarks penned for her funeral, Carter called Craft “a national treasure.”
The house falls under the purview of the Office of Cultural Affairs, which gives tours upon request, and the Park and Recreation Department, which maintains the grounds. Yet not a cent out of the city’s $3.1 billion budget is dedicated for the home.
It’s remarkable the house survives at all in a city whose history fills suburban landfills. Craft willed Dallas her abode with the wish it be moved to Old City Park, which rejected the offer because the house wasn’t old enough. The city considered other alternatives, among them Fair Park, which the park board vetoed, and the South Dallas Cultural Center on Second Avenue. But, as David Dillon wrote in these pages 30 springs ago, moving the house there “would dishonor her memory. She’d be outside the Fair Park gates again.”
And so it remained in place—in the heart of a neighborhood that endured 11 bombings between February 1950 and July 1951 meant to chase off Craft and the African-Americans migrating to what had been a historically all-white neighborhood.
Already some $12,500 has been raised for repairs, before fundraising efforts have even begun in earnest; Kevin Felder, the council member for Fair Park, said he hopes to get it wrapped by August. But Robert Edison, the Dallas Independent School District history teacher who served as a curator, asked what happens after that.
“Because to keep it locked up defeats the purpose,” he said. “We will just repeat history: We fix it up, we close it up, we fix it up, we close it up.”
He was told that would be a task for another group, but that there are plans for the garden and aspirations for expanded exhibits culled from her voluminous archives and audio clips from interviews Craft gave during her extraordinary life. Chandler Vaughn played such an excerpt.
“I have been left here to do something for somebody,” Craft said.