Memories of a segregated Dallas

Posted on 01 Feb 2010 at 1:42pm
The Rev. Gil Caldwell and Marilyn Bennett of Truth in Progress
The Rev. Gil Caldwell and Marilyn Bennett of Truth in Progress

Last week, I posted this blog about the Truth in Progress project, a three-year, multi-media project examining the intersection of racism and homophobia and how the black civil rights movement and the LGBT rights movement are alike, and how they differ. Marilyn Bennett and the Rev. Gil Caldwell are the forces behind Truth in Progress, and they are bringing the conversation to Dallas on Thursday.

The project grew out of a series of e-mails, and later a blog, between Marilyn, an old friend of mine, and Rev. Caldwell. So when Marilyn sent the link to the post to Rev. Caldwell, he responded with this letter, reprinted below (just FYI, Marilyn and Rev. Caldwell refer to each other in their e-mails as Younger Sister and Elder Brother, or YS and EB):

YS Marilyn,

Thanks for sharing the Dallas Voice announcement of “Truth in Progress coming to Dallas.” What a beautiful announcement of our visit to Dallas.

You spent time there at SMU/Perkins, and I  spent time there at St. Paul United Methodist Church where my dad was minister, and Booker T. Washington High School, across the street from where I lived, where I spent my freshman year in HIgh School. I arrived in Dallas in 1946 from North Carolina and left Dallas in 1950 to go with my preacher-father to Galveston. YS, you have your memories of Dallas (some good, some not-so-good) and I, your EB, have the same.

My family and I arrived in Dallas amidst the racial segregation of the day. I remember “Negro Day” at the Texas State Fair, but I also remember being introduced to classical musical by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (Antal Dorati was the Conductor). There was a “day” when Negro students, left their Negro schools, to attend a racially segregated open rehearsal of the Dallas Symphony.

There were stores where my mother could not shop, and some where she could not “try on” dresses before making a purchase. I remember the backs seats of buses, the balconies of movie theaters, where black folk sat, and the restaurants where we could not eat.

I remember that the Trinity River used to overflow. It seems to me that there was a stadium called the Sportatorium that I remember being flooded. I remember going to a baseball stadium with my dad to see Jackie Robinson who racially integrated baseball in 1947. We sat in the racially segregated section and cheered him on while many folk booed him.

Dallas, as Bob Hope used to say and sing, “Thanks for the Memories.”

How amazingly strange it is that now Dallas is racially integrated, and I as an African-American have access to most places. But, you as a lesbian, although you are white, know that there are churches, schools, maybe even schools of theology, where you are not welcome because of your sexual orientation. “What fools we mortals be.”

Martin Luther King said it well: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” How foolish it is that the newly-elected mayor of Houston is denied some civil rights simply because she is same-gender-loving. How utterly strange it is that with all of the rhetoric about the Constitution, American equality and equal access, patriotism, flag lapel pins, the beauty of the American flag, etc., you, because of your sexual orientation and all LGBT persons have limits on how much “American liberty” you/they can experience.

I used to flinch when I sang some of the words of “My Country, Tis of Thee.” But now I don’t because my race is no longer a barrier to my liberty.

But you as you sing, “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’  pride, from every mountain  side, let freedom ring!,” you know that in society and too many religious institutions, your “liberty” as a lesbian, is limited.

That is why you and I go to Dallas. We go as ebony and ivory, straight and gay, churched and non-churched, to bear witness that, “None of us are free, until all of us are free.”

It is my hope that a good slice of Dallas will be present with us in our fundraiser, and if not present, they will express through their giving that they believe in the possibilities of our project, Truth in Progress.

Your Elder Brother, Gil Caldwell

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