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By Colleen O’Connor Dallas Traveling south toward Houston on Dallas’ South Central Expressway, you enter the northern end of the Wilmer-Hutchins Independent School District as soon as you cross the Trinity River bridge. It’s a particularly poor section of the district. An undisciplined zoning pattern and economic starvation of the once industrial area has left a patchwork of cheap motels, low-income houses, gas stations and industrial plants throughout the area. The Dallas city directory lists this area as the lowest .economic sector of the city. The area is officially in the Oak Cliff quadrant of Dallas. But the only thing that separates this part of the city from all-black, mostly-poor South Dallas is the dried up Trinity River bottoms. Most of the residents of this area are black, and a good portion are welfare recipients. As you proceed farther south on South Central Expressway, you’ll come upon a more respectable-looking showcase of residents. Past South Loop 12, past Simpson-Stuart Road, begins Federal housing development number 235. .. In 1967, the Department of Housing and Vi -assistance of the City Planning Commission aid the Dallas City Council, conspired with a few independent contractors and builders to give poor families in Dallas a sizable slice ot.the American Dream. For $100 down and $100 per month, mom, dad and all the kids could learn what it means to have a 30-year mortgage. The City of Dallas okayed the necessary zoning changes and building permits, HUD found the families and subsidized them, the trust companies got hold ,; of the mortgages, and soon, hundreds ‘of families spilled into the area from South Dallas and West Dallas. DURING the six-year period of 1967-73, ‘some 1,500 students whose parents had moved into the 235 developMents enrolled in the already overcrowded Wilmer-Hutchins school district. The district, which stretches to the rural seMi-agricultural communities in south Dallas County, wasn’t exactly cordial to these new black students. And the result is a classic racial battle that has been fought at school board meetings, in PTA meetings and in the classrooms. Trustees of the district traditionally had O’Connor editor of the is a free lance writer and Dallas Journalism Review. IF YOU ARE an occasional reader and would like to receive the Texas Observer regularly or if you are a subscriber and would like to have a free sample copy or a one year gift subscription sent to a friend here’s the order form: SEND THE OBSERVER TO name street city state zip this subscription is for myself gift subscription; send card in my name sample copy only; you may use my name School days in Wilmer-Hutchins been from the lower income white communities in the area. For the most part, they were willing to go on quietly providing inferior education for the 6,000 students in the district. Then parents began to complain. Because of the overcrowded conditions, it was learned, the schools did not meet City of Dallas health codes. In one school, students had to pass through the cafeteria kitchen to get from one part of the school to another. The restroom facilities at a second school were portable toilets outside the main building. The school board proposed two separate bond elections the first in 1970, the second in 1971 but voters turned each proposal down. The reason? The voting majority was from the predominantly white areas in Wilmer and Hutchins, both small towns south of Dallas city limits where the predominantly white schools were adequate. The newer residents of the district who needed the school improvements did not turn out the vote. One white teacher who was fired from the district in 1972 said, “The attitude of the white parents was blatantly racist and they would do anything, including punishing their own children, rather than provide better facilities and better education for the blacks. “Blacks in ‘their’ schools were foreigners, intruders, and all of us parents pull their kids out of school and keep them home rather than have them sit next to blacks.” She continued, “Perhaps the worst part of this whole mess was that many of the teachers and school administrators held the same attitude. And they would rather see the schools rot and the kids’ educational opportunities go to hell than to do what they were supposed to do.” There was so much tension in the district that the racial issue took precedence over the district’s half-hearted efforts to educate the growing black and shrinking white student populations. School superintendent J. M. Fendley, a man who can’t understand why his district was “overrun” by poor blacks, commented, “Thanks to the federal government and the city, our schools are in turmoil. Education is practically nil here and has been for some time.” As the situation went from awful to terrible, parents in the white communities within the district held closed meetings to discuss how to reverse the creeping black-white ratio. The whites who stayed in the district banned together to defeat three .fond, elections which would have upgraded the overflowing schools in and around the 235 housing development. Black parents met too and took their complaints to board meetings and PTA groups. At one such meeting, board members refused to call on blacks and adjourned the meeting before any business was conducted to prevent a showdown. The black “parent’s coalition” eventually fell apart because of internal bickering and continued frustration in their efforts. MEANWHILE, the school board devised a plan which was supposed to make both races happy: abolition of the district. In November, 1972, the board intervened in the case of United States v. Texas, a lawsuit which ultimately ordered the Texas July 5, 1974 19 $8.40 enclosed for a one year sub bill me for $8.40 MY NAME AND ADDRESS