Black Theater: Survival Through the Black Community © Pt. 2
Understanding the History Elucidates the Present
W.E.B. Dubois’ holistic approach to Black businesses allowed Black communities to thrive during the Post Civil War Era. This symbiotic relationship between the thriving Black community and thriving Black businesses are evident. Unfortunately, Jim Crow, a series of laws in the South, was established to oppress African Americans. Terrorist groups in the form of the Ku Klux Klan caused actual destruction to these Black Owned businesses and laid waste to many of these communities. Local governments and White owned businesses actively engaged in practices to disable Black businesses and their communities. The Encyclopedia of African American Business History (Walker 1999:629), quotes an 1896 publication where a White insurance proprietor states, “Because of social diseases, living conditions, and other undesirable circumstances, companies would be unwise to insure Negroes.”
While this actually initiated the establishment and increased support of more Black insurance companies, it is only one example of how much resistance these business owners experienced.
10th Street District, Dallas, TX
A great challenge to Black neighborhoods was that they were on finite parcels of land. As each community grew more successful so did their populations. Yet laws did not permit the Black communities to expand beyond their boundaries. Naturally, they began to become overpopulated. Post World War I and II, soldiers came home in droves into the only communities permitted to them which exacerbated the housing shortage and so began the project housing initiatives (bcWorkshop 2013). One such community is the 10th Street District in Dallas, TX. This community, established in 1866, is a prime example of the thriving life of a Black community from post Civil War era to the post World War II one. This community was established by freed slaves who were each given 10 acres. They developed three neighborhoods - Tenth Street, the Bottom, and the Heights; which all together were nicknamed the Trinity. Over the next 60 years, the Trinity founded churches, schools, and businesses that thrived and sustained their community with little to no assistance from their white neighbors or government. A hub of the Trinity was Show Hill, where many businesses and The Star cinema theater, were located. This is where the cultural center of the Trinity lay. It is unknown exactly how many African Americans settled the Trinity in 1866, but in the 100 years of growth, the allotment of land provided for the Trinity was no longer sufficient to support the Population.
Between 1920 and 1950, the government took notice of the Trinity after frequent flooding and overpopulation began to affect neighboring communities. The cities resolution to the problem of flooding included building a freeway through the town. This cut the townspeople off from not only each other, but the few businesses they were allowed to frequent in white part of Dallas. It was also during this time; the first housing project was established in the Bottom. Around 1964, as the Civil Rights Act was passed, wealthier residents left the Trinity neighborhoods and older residents passed away. Show Hill closed and was converted into apartments. As the population decreased due to Black flight, so did the economic prosperity. Tenth Street district had 476 occupied units in the 1950’s and by 1970, 43% of the units lay vacant.
This is just one example of how the system of racism towards the Black community has contributed to the current declination of the community. Blacks are regulated to one area of the county for the development of their community. This community grows and becomes overpopulated. Blacks are not allowed to branch out to other communities. Governmental agencies institute some infrastructural change that benefits the White community and disadvantages the Black community. The community begins to fail. Those who can eventually move, do so. Those who can’t, stay. W.E.B. Dubois’ tenants on what makes a good business, fails as does the community.
Next essay in this series will travel up through the Civil Rights Movement. (May 6) Followed by the State of Black Theater (June 7) and ending with possible action steps toward healthy solutions (July 10).
Adaptation of Tanesha M. Ford thesis research for MS in Arts Administration.
Tanesha is the Co-Founder of Artistic Pride Productions, Founder and Executive Director of For de Arts. With a MS in Arts Administration, focusing on digital marketing and audience development, Tanesha is available for speaking engagements and developing strategic plans for developing arts organizations. Constructive feedback on this series is welcomed as I continue to develop content. More on Tanesha M. Ford