This month’s reissue of my 1987 book on race in Dallas, Accommodation, is an abnormal event in the world of book publishing. Digging up a local history book that sold a modest number of copies a third of a century ago and giving it a second chance is just not something people do. And it was not my idea.
But I wish it was. Bringing the book back to life now as a literary Rip Van Winkle was the inspiration for Will Evans, founder and owner of Deep Vellum Publishing and Deep Vellum Books in Dallas. Evans envisions a whole series of books to explore national issues but on a hyper-local basis. His idea is in keeping with my own long career as a local journalist.
My experience is that every city, every village, every crossroads of countries is unique, with its own social footprint, because people are unique. If we understand our lives only as local instances of national narratives, then we forget ourselves in the saga. Our truths are unique, and so are our lies.
In the mid-1980s, while working on Accommodation, I was exploring a specific local lie. To anyone who would listen, Dallas insisted he had “no reason to exist” and almost no story worth mentioning. A 1985 political leaflet urging voters to support a bond issue began: “There is no real reason for a place called DALLAS. No port has attracted people here, no ocean, no mountains, no great natural beauty. From there, the story continued that the city only exists as a testament to the art of selling. That might sound like harmless Chamber of Commerce blah-blah, and Dallas has certainly always had a lot of barker in his character. But when I heard this story, I also heard a deliberate effort to cover up the bad things.
Since I wrote my book, a number of serious (real) historians have embraced this very idea and found two things. One, that’s not true. Dallas had all the same reasons for starting out – commerce, transportation, migration – that gave birth to all of the new American cities of the 19th century.
But more importantly, the origin myth without a raison d’être is the white man’s version, erasing a long and horrific past of oppression inflicted on citizens of color. I’ve always thought that erasing the city’s racial history was a big part of the myth of non-history. And Dallas, as I discovered, had a lot of racial histories to erase.
Dallas in the 1950s saw a wave of bombings against the homes of middle-class black families, organized by white churches. It was all in the newspapers at the time, confirmed by a grand jury investigation at the time, confirmed again later when I interviewed the late Henry Wade, who had been a Dallas County district attorney during the investigation of the grand jury on the bombings 30 years earlier.
We can wonder if Dallas was worse than other American cities. But perhaps the most important comparison is between Dallas in the early 1980s and Dallas today. Four things in this comparison seem striking. The first is how much everything has changed for the better, especially in our brand new suburban twilight. In both north and south, the suburban landscape flourishes with a racial and ethnic diversity that would have been unthinkable in Dallas 30 years ago.
The second comparison between Dallas 30 years ago and Dallas today is how little has changed in the southern Dallas neighborhoods most affected by extreme poverty, unemployment, crime, drugs. and incarceration. The numbers are especially cruel if you share my belief that all babies are born like miracles, but babies don’t decide where they are born.
According to research by the Dallas Independent School District, children born today in the city’s most dilapidated neighborhoods can expect to earn in their lifetime only 20% of what children born outside will earn. of these neighborhoods. They can expect to complete their college education at a quarter the rate of other children. All other statistics, from incarceration to life expectancy, fall under these same grim parameters.
These numbers were presented to the school board last year, along with a shocking comparison. The map of extreme poverty in today’s city was superimposed on a 1937 redlining map created by a now defunct federal agency that had the power to tell banks where they could grant mortgage loans. . The red card excluded loans in predominantly black neighborhoods in southern Dallas, regardless of a loan seeker’s creditworthiness. The two maps, the Red Map of 1937 and the current Map of Extreme Poverty in South Dallas, were almost the same map.
National research published by Maggie Jones and Sonya Porter of the Census Bureau, Raj Chetty at Stanford, and Nathaniel Hendren at Harvard shows that economically successful people of color, especially black men, always do so within a broader context of inequality. racial. Successful black Americans are always less successful than whites and have a much higher tendency to move down the ladder, almost as if they are sailing against an anchor.
If we bring attention back to the local level, what is the anchor? Where is it? Can we see it with our own eyes?
Yes. It’s in the cards. It’s in Jim Crow and Reconstruction and the KKK. It is in the history of the bombings in South Dallas. It’s in recent research released by Dallas County Attorney John Creuzot, which shows extremely disparate ways of enforcing drug laws in North and South Dallas.
Success is black. The anchor is white. Ever since these loan cards were established, since the bombs went off, whenever a black child is arrested on a “pretext stop” in South Dallas, parts of South Dallas still function as machines set up and designed by whites. to hinder, mutilate and extinguish the lives of blacks. The machine still does the job it was designed to do.
I promised two more comparisons between when Accommodation was first published and this time. In 1986, this book was literally pulled from the presses the day it was due to be printed, after Dallas business leaders learned of what it would say. The New York Times reported on how my Dallas publisher abandoned the book. A New Jersey publisher released it the following year.
Compare that with today. Will Evans tracked me and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price down because we shared the rights (long story), and told us about this book revival in Dallas by a Dallas publisher. That alone tells me everything I need to know about the difference between Dallas 34 years ago and Dallas today.
The truth is being told now. Courageous things are attempted. The school district is experimenting with a whole new approach to discipline designed to keep kids in school instead of sending them to jail. Under the leadership of former president Miguel Solis, the school board radically changed the most recent bond program to set aside money specifically intended to correct past inequalities.
The Dallas County District Attorney is making every effort to steer petty offenders into productive citizenship using rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Since the murder of George Floyd, business leaders like former Trammell Crow Company chairman Don Williams and others have spoken emphatically about the need for real change, not just talking.
By the way, there were big holes in my book, and one was my inability to focus on the role of Mexican Americans, now the city’s largest demographic. Solis’ accomplishments at the school board and elsewhere illustrate how the city’s Hispanics are now becoming a sort of solvent to help whites and blacks overcome our most intractable of differences.
But some things in my book were right then and unfortunately still are. We are still stuck with a system of legal corruption at City Hall. I’m not talking about the sad saga of board members serialized to jail for accepting bribes, but the bigger and more powerful plan I spoke of in the book, the one that isn’t illegal. I’m talking about the accommodation between the old white oligarchy and some elected leaders in South Dallas. It’s a not-in-heaven marriage, used to force all the old, old-fashioned bad ideas on the city, from building a bad highway along the river to refusing to tear down another one between the center. -ville and Deep Ellum.
This accommodation is still on the books.
Some things are missing from my book because they hadn’t happened yet. The influx of international immigrants to the region has occurred since the book’s publication. The whole social algorithm needs to be recalibrated to accommodate people whose roots and experiences lie outside the American ethnic formula – one of the many reasons we need a new book written by someone who is not like me.
Speaking of which, I said four things have changed. I’m so relieved that Evans didn’t put my 1986 author photo on the back of the new book. I’m fed up with people coming to me, asking if I’m Jim Schutze, then say, “God damn, man, what happened?
Write to [email protected]. This story originally appeared in the September issue of D Magazine with the title “Lethal weapon 2”.