Know Dallas?

My summary of history in Texas is that it’s mostly junk. But here’s a great exception:

Book Review:

“The WPA Dallas Guide and History” written and compiled from 1936 to 1942 by the workers of the Writers Program of the Works Projects Administration. Published in 1992 by the Dallas Library

houstonviaduct

In 1912, the Houston Viaduct was the longest concrete bridge in the world

Congressman Martin Dies, the Joseph McCarthy of his day, was able to kill the WPA Writers Project before this book was published. He said that the Writers Project was “doing more to spread Communist propaganda than the Communist Party itself.” Fortunately, he died. Scholars used the manuscript as a primary resource, but hardly anyone else saw this wonderful history book for decades.

Years later, the good people associated with the Administration in the City of Dallas were able to get it published by the Dallas Public Library Texas Center for the Book, University of North Texas Press in 1992. I believe the Dallas library owns five copies. I read it in 2010, but it’s such a compelling book that I read it again in September, 2018. All of these WPA Guides are terrific! I just ordered the “WPA Guide to Texas.”

WPA Guide to Dallas is the most comprehensive history of the city. It includes names, dates, and exact places (on a 1940 map) of everything of importance here.

The Writers Project wrote dozens of historical guides. They intended to bring them all together into a comprehensive history of the United States. Martin Dies and the bureaucrats of 1940 were able to stop a lot of the publications. Every one of the “Guides” that I have seen is better than anything else on their subject. This one is certainly no exception.

During the Great Depression:

“Mellon pulled the whistle,

Hoover rang the bell

Wall Street gave the signal

And the country went to hell.”

The Roosevelt administration, faced with much criticism, changed the name from Works Progress Administration to Work Projects Administration and cancelled the writers project. Dallasites had to find a sponsor that would contribute at least 25% of the cost of the program. The Bureau of Research in the Social Sciences at the UT of Austin sponsored the Texas project.

Here are some of my notes from the book:

John Neely Bryan settled, by himself, on the banks of the Trinity 1841. The Beeman family soon came from Mustang Branch (Farmers Branch) to join him and he married one of them. He eventually sold out to Alexander Cockrell, who got killed in a gun fight. Sarah Cockrell then played a big role in developing the town.

Page 50: Jane Elkins was hanged for murdering a man named Wisdom in Farmers’ Branch, May 27, 1853.

Page 50: April 26, 1854 came the advance guard of the La Reunion colonists. They were followers of Charles Francois Fourier. French and Belgians bought 1,200 acres of land on the western side of the Trinity. “The whole population of Dallas turned out to celebrate the arrival June 16, 1855, of the main body of these idealistic European immigrants, and they were welcomed by a committee headed by their fellow countryman, Maxime Guillot, who acted as interpreter. Guillot had remained in the area after the failure of an earlier utopian community. //This was probably the Icarians of 1846//

P54 Account of the downtown 1860 fire, hanging of 3 slaves, exile of 1. Flogging of all the others.

Back in those days, there were so few men in Dallas that they had to take turns on the jury condemning themselves for gambling. Each would defend himself, then return to the jury box after being found guilty.

Dallas was the center of the buffalo hide trade, then a central cotton factoring area.

Mayor Ervay was jailed in 1872 for refusing to leave office after being ordered by carpetbag governor EJ Davis. By 1875 Reconstruction was over in Dallas.

P67 Really good narrative on Belle Starr, who had a livery stable “somewhere near Camp Street” specializing in stolen horses. (1875). She was shot in Eufala area, Feb 1889.

P68 romantic tale of Sam Bass

P90 1918 effort to start fireman’s union failed. In 1919 a widespread sympathy strike involving inside electricians, then building trades, and garment workers. Resulted in a walkout by linemen.

P 97 “The early months of 1934 were marked by agitation among the unemployed, organized by the Workers Cooperative League for rent, fuel, and clothes allowances in addition to groceries. The fight of local initiative against the depression continued unabated, resulting in the launching of an extensive public works program including the $1,000,000 Triple Underpass at the foot of Elm, Main and Commerce Streets .By the end of the year the Works Progress Admministration had also given employment to 3,000 workers in the city.”

P98 “…wave of mob violence and labor disorders in the summer of 1937 which culminated in the sending of Rangers to Dallas by Governor James V Allred, despite protests of local officials.”

P103: list of Mayors

P157: comprehensive list of labor organizing and troubles. Knights of Labor were here before April 1882. Typographers were the first AFofL union: April 6, 1885.

Carpenters had a successful strike May 6, 1890, for a 9 hour working day. “By 1896 there were twenty labor unions with an aggregate membership of about 2,000. On Nov 20, 1899, a charter was granted by the AFofL to the trades assembly of Dallas, the original central organization in the local labor movement. This assembly lasted until 1910, when on January 8 a charter was issued to the Central labor council, which still functions.” (1940)

P158 in 1919 the linemen struck Dallas Power & Light. “On June 11 a pitched battle with clubs and shotguns occurred at Routh Street and Cedar Springs Road, in which AJ Fisher, a former deputy sheriff employed as a guard for a crew of nonunion workmen, was killed and four men wounded, three of them strikers. Seven union members were arrested and on June 24 the grand jury returned indictments for murder against four: Al Shrum, WT butcher, Robert Roy, and WF Bohannon. Al Shrum was convicted of manslaughter October 27 and sentenced to three years imprisonment.”

ILGWU struck early 1935. Strike abandoned Jan 1936.

Just about all the labor actions listed failed.

In 1940, there were 52 local AFofL unions. //The CIO was largely unsuccessful until 1941 when Ford was organized//

Labor Temple at Young & St Paul was formally dedicated by Governor James E Ferguson, Jan 8, 1916.

Dallas [anti-union] Open Shop Association started 1918.

Pgs 157-160 have the best possible coverage of early Dallas labor organizations.

But the book goes on and covers everything of interest in the city and county. It has sections on Negroes and Hispanics.

P286 good account of La Reunion, the socialist colony that contributed so much to Dallas culture, including a good account of its final days at the beginning of the Civil War. There was a standoff with authorities and one man was wounded.

P296 words to “deep ellum blues” Good account of Leadbelly and Blind Lemon Jefferson

P311 Jack Johnson worked as a dishwasher in a Dallas restaurant, Delgado’s at 248 Main. He held local fights against other Blacks. This apparently was before he became champion in 1910.

Buy a used copy from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0929398319/ref=sr_1_1_olp?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538072737&sr=1-1&keywords=WPA+guide+to+Dallas

–Gene Lantz

I am on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

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