Call to Action

All Exhibits

Role of Dallas

Civil rights demonstration
Dallas County Sheriff's Department Collection

When compared with cities such as Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, Dallas was not known as a major front during the civil rights movement. However, dedicated Dallasites organized in their own ways to become part of this national initiative. Many did so as a response to the new social consciousness developed under President Kennedy's policies and presidency. Local chapters of organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) remained active. One of the longest and most prominent civil rights demonstrations in Dallas occurred at the downtown Piccadilly Cafeteria from May 30 to July 2, 1964. Despite the presence of peaceful protestors for 28 consecutive days, cafeteria management would not permit African-American customers to order food until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.

Negro Achievement Day

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, African-Americans were allowed to visit the State Fair of Texas on one day only. In the early 1950s, the board of directors named the one-day event "Negro Achievement Day." On that one day, any and all African-Americans, including school children, could attend the fair and promote their community organizations.

In May 1953, the board of directors decided to admit African-Americans for any day during the full run of the State Fair. However, once admitted, the African-American visitors were not allowed to participate fully. Certain rides on the Midway remained segregated—particularly those that involved physical contact among the riders. Some concessions, restaurants and other public facilities also remained partially segregated. African-Americans enjoyed full access only on the annual Negro Achievement Day.

On Negro Achievement Day in 1955, almost two dozen members of the Youth Council of the NAACP picketed at the entrance. Led by Dallas civil rights activist Juanita Craft, the peaceful protesters carried signs that read: "This Is Negro Appeasement Day at the Fair—Keep Out," "Racial Segregation Is Un-Clean, Un-American, and Un-Moral—Stay Out," and "Don’t Sell Your Pride for a Segregated Ride—Stay Out."

The steady parade of organizations and schools heading toward the Grand Avenue entrance to the State Fair refused to cross the picket line. Their action brought about change. Mayor R.L. Thornton, who also served as president of the State Fair of Texas, declared that, for the remainder of the 1955 fair, all previously restricted Midway rides would be open to everyone.

This 1955 event remains significant because Juanita Craft and the NAACP Youth Council led the first picket line in Dallas in direct action against racial segregation. In later years, adults took over annual African-American picketing of the State Fair for full integration, which finally came about in 1963.

March of the 3,000

In March 1965, the NAACP called for mass demonstrations in more than 50 cities—including Dallas—to draw attention to the quest for voting rights for African-Americans. The call was intended to show solidarity with protestors in Selma. Local NAACP leaders organized a march in compliance with Dallas city ordinances and staged a peaceful demonstration on March 25, 1965. Some 3,000 people, many of whom were whites, marched through downtown. The "March of the 3,000" was the city's largest racial justice demonstration to date.