Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual birth date is January 15th and this year a visit to the African American Museum in Dallas seemed appropriate. After a hefty soul food lunch at Sweet Georgia Brown’s, we decided to also explore the area for signs of MLK’s influence and presence as well as the history of Dallas’ historical black community.
|Newspaper photograph from 1963|
Also in the community outreach center was a traveling exhibit called “the Pathway to Freedom”. Last year, a Freedom Ride Tour took 60 students and chaperones to Little Rock, Memphis, Montgomery and Selma in an effort to relive history and continue the legacy of Dr. King. As with any movement, it’s easy to become complacent and unappreciative of rights bought with blood. I’m sure Dr. King would be disappointed and sad to learn of the low turnout of African American voters in most elections. The Freedom Ride Tour is meant not only to educate participants of their heritage but also to encourage involvement in the ongoing need to protect civil rights. Outside the MLK Center, a larger-than-life bronze statue of King stands, depicting him in motion with his suit coat folded over one arm, the other arm upraised as if he were talking, convincing others of his cause.
A local cause realized was the African American Museum on the State Fairgrounds. It is a beautiful structure with window and floor design taken from an Ethiopian church. Opened in 1993, its mission is to preserve visual art forms and historical documents that relate to the African American community. .The entry area drew in light from windows on two levels, lifting our eyes to the wooden circular roof, reminiscent of an African thatched hut. As a small time collector of folk art, I enjoyed the museum’s folk art collection that included works by Clementine Hunter. In the fine arts section, artist John Biggers is represented with a work I thought paled in comparison to his piece at the Paris Public Library. Most intriguing was the Freedmen Cemetery Exhibit that detailed a thriving black community near downtown from the Civil War to the 1970s.
|Artist LaToya M. Hobbs with her exhibit|
at African American Museum in Dallas
The day ended as we explored surviving buildings near downtown that once housed parts of the prior African American community – The Grand Lodge of the Colored Knights of Pythia where George Washington Carver demonstrated his sweet potato products in 1923 to a crowd of 800, Booker T. Washington High School, for years the only black high school in Dallas but now a formidable arts magnet school, and St. Paul United Methodist church, long a political, cultural and social center. We could just detect the outline of the past African American community, now bisected by a freeway. It was a part of Dallas new to us and worth the time to explore. I just wish there were guided tours available. Maybe next time.