In The Cut

Dear Bill Minutaglio,

As a writer, you specialized in telling stories from niche African American communities throughout Texas. I currently live in the Hamilton Park neighborhood of north Dallas and I chose to live here for a few different reasons. Primarily, it is because the neighborhood is accessible to the whole city yet still very affordable. Why is it still affordable in a city where the real estate market is bursting at the seams? That’s because it is and always has been a black community. I’ve been reading about the history and establishment of this planned black community and the transitions it has gone through. I’m trying to understand this place. I live here because it is interesting to me and a different world from where I grew up, which ironically is only about 2 miles away.

Your illuminating stories about pockets of black culture are an inspiration to me. I first came across In Search of the Blues through a family friend who knew Louis Canelakes. I was a student at UT and he recommended I look you up. Unfortunately I never had the chance to meet Louie but I understand he was universally loved and is dearly missed. My favorite piece from the book is Congo Street Blues. I found and drove down the street after I read it just to get a first hand point of view.

Do you have any experience with or opinion on Hamilton Park? I hope to write a piece about the area and would love to hear your insight.

Thank you.

RESPONSE:

Dear Hayden — anyone who invokes the name of Louie Canelakes, one of the greatest, smartest men I’ve ever known, will receive a reply from me. It’s quite sad he passed away because 30 minutes spent in an audience with him would have illuminated Hamilton Park and many other things, places, people in Dallas. Dallas is/was a malleable city subject to the whims of wealthy city “sculptors.” That doesn’t make it any different from any other major city. But the point is that things in Dallas don’t  happen by accident. As Hamilton Park was planned, so were many other things that “set Hamilton Park in motion.” There is at least one book out there about the history of Hamilton Park — I have it in my stored archives, so I can’t recall the name right now. But I’m sure you can find it. It is, if I remember right, a good, clinical study of the history and evolution of Hamilton Park. The folks at the Dallas History division at the downtown Dallas Public Library will also steer you to many things in their collection about Hamilton Park — perhaps some archival material that not many people have seen. I wrote a book about Oak Cliff, called The Hidden City, and I was surprised to see how much unread, unseen, local history was in the Dallas History division. My biggest recommendation? Seek out a man named Donald Payton in Dallas. He is the leading historian of “black Dallas” – a wonderful, generous, smart man. He used to be the lone black person at the Dallas Historical Society at Fair Park, and had accumulated pieces of Dallas history that would blow your mind. It blew my mind. Documents, posters, bits of history, letters, that pointed to a city in the grip of unyielding racism.
Dallas was once the headquarters of the national Ku Klux Klan. The Magnolia Building – the one with the Pegasus, the city symbol, on top — was built by a Grand Dragon of the KKK. R.L. Thornton, the former mayor and for whom the highway was named, was a Klansman. A Confederate general was mayor. The Confederate Reunion was held in Dallas. Some of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Dallas, including the one where former President George W. Bush now lives, once had restrictions prohibiting blacks from living there. There were bombings in South Dallas when blacks moved there in the 1950s.  When Dr. King came to visit, a bomb threat was issued. There was white flight in Oak Cliff beginning in the 1950s. What was once called “North Dallas” – and is now the apartment-and-office-complex area immediately north of Woodall Rogers — was a poor black neighborhood that was often visited by arsonists trying to chase black residents out. This was only 20-30 years ago. I would recommend, too, that you read a book called “The Accommodation” by Jim Schutze that explains much of the racial history of Dallas. It is a complex city, for sure — find Donald Payton and he will explain Hamilton Park and many other things to you. 
All the best, 
Bill Minutaglio
Clinical Professor, University of Texas at Austin
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