Kress and the merry morons

Dallas' political rabble takes after minority students' best friend

So Joe called school board member Kathlyn Gilliam. Joe's husband Arthur had been Gilliam's campaign manager when Gilliam first ran for the school board in 1974. "I said, `Look, I want you to be aware of something because you're going to have problems with this man on the school board,'" Joe says. "She seemed interested, but it was like a sense of bewilderment. Like she really couldn't do anything about it.

"She knew about Peavy," says Joe, who is the director of an organization her husband founded in 1969 called Black Citizens for Justice, Law and Order. "So did Yvonne Ewell. So did Thomas Jones," Joe says, referring to other black board members. "Jones even tried to get me to run against Peavy. They all knew. They just chose to close their eyes all these years and go along."

Gilliam says she doesn't remember whether Joe or somebody else told her about the lawn ornament-- "I'd heard he had some statues in his yard," she told me last week, "but I never went around to look at them."

"Everyone knew what Peavy was like," says Ewell, who actually saw the lawn statue once. "He didn't use the N-word in front of us--we didn't let him do that. But everyone who attended a board meeting knew what he was, including the media." The tapes, in short, just introduced Peavy to the rest of the world.

But Peavy's resignation wasn't enough for everybody. Some people wanted all the board members who were aware that Peavy was a racist to resign too--and they said as much at the October 10 board meeting. Presumably that group included Gilliam and Ewell, right? Well, no. Only white board members were being asked to resign--most pointedly, Sandy Kress.

And the folks that wanted Kress' head minced no words about it that night.
Marvin Crenshaw, well-known chronic Dallas City Council candidate, said at the microphone: "My position is this--is that when everybody, the next board meeting, if the board president has not stepped down, then there can be no peace at the school board meeting."

Roy Williams, Crenshaw's running buddy, spoke too, of course. "Mr. President, I'm amazed that you're supposed to be a friend of the African-American community. You sat on your hands as this went on. But it's not surprising to me because I knew who you were, you know. I've known all along who you were, you know...You're not a friend of the black community. You're not a friend of the humanity, man."

Former councilwoman Diane Ragsdale also came out of political mothballs for this one. "Let me make a few comments regarding my concern regarding the president of the board because I think that it's very important certainly that you serve as an example, and you failed to do that."

Even Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb joined in. Specifically, he told Kress: "Now, if you want to have some harmony and peace and education, please step aside, sir."

Sitting at home that night, flipping from one news station to another, I recall being absolutely flabbergasted at what I was watching.

For one thing, the noise was coming from the usual bomb-throwers--the folks who always show up for their piece of TV time when an explosive issue rocks the city--but are completely absent when the hard, thankless, low-profile work of, say, building better schools is taking place. They're too busy to do such mundane work--too busy looking for the next public hearing or news conference.

For another thing, I was tired of the local media offering up, as usual, these unfiltered, histrionic slices of "Life in Dallas--The Racial Hellhole." Ragsdale & Co. know darn well that whoever says the most asinine, off-the-wall thing when the reporters are around will get the most TV and radio airtime and the most inches in the The Dallas Morning News. True to form, Roy Williams' over-the-top performance on October 10 (I only gave you a slice of it) made him the media star of the moment.

When is the Dallas media going to stop making heroes out of these fringe players whose major agenda consists of inflating their own egos? What has Roy Williams done lately for blacks in this city except get thrown off the Dallas Plan Commission? What has Marvin Crenshaw done besides try and beat up Dallas Councilman Bob Stimson at a public meeting? What has Ragsdale done, period?

But there was a bigger issue here. Kress simply hadn't done anything wrong. I mean, everybody who worked with Peavy down at DISD, Kress included, knew what Peavy was like, but there was nothing you could actually stick under his nose and threaten him with--not even tasteless lawn ornaments, right, Ms. Gilliam?

What galls me most about what I saw on TV that night was that blacks were calling for the head of a white man who has spent the past five years of his life focused on one thing: raising the quality of education for black and brown kids.

While most people in this town spend a few weeks or months-- at the most--on a good cause, Kress has spent the length of his marriage on this mission. He was married in January 1990. The school board appointed him six months later to chair a citizens panel, the Commission for Educational Excellence, to come up with a blueprint for improving Dallas' public schools. He did just that. Then he kept going--running for the school board a year later in hope of implementing the changes he was recommending.

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