By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In the early 1970s, spurred by an alliance of grassroots community leaders and white progressives, the city created the Crossroads Community Center, now the Martin Luther King Jr. Center on MLK Boulevard. Paul Ragsdale led a group that fought to put genuine grassroots African-American community leaders in control of the board of this clearly African-American institution.
But white leaders, who didn't want black people in charge of money, moved quickly to dilute the board, so that the black community would not be able to control even its own community center. The impression of black people who participated in that battle is that the white liberals who had helped create the center dropped out of sight when the going got rough.
Both of these fights--the LEAD movement and the Crossroads Community Center--were learning experiences for Lipscomb and people like him, precursors of the coming battle for an all-single-member district city council. In the 1980s, a new generation of white liberals, associated mainly with the neighborhood movement, were puzzled and frustrated by the cold shoulder they got from people like Lipscomb. But of course nothing in Lipscomb's personal history would have taught him to put a lot of heavy trust in liberals.
In the 1970s, while the black middle class reviled them and the white liberals faded under fire, the people who brought the groceries down to South Dallas were always there. By the mid-70s, when Peter Johnson returned to Dallas--his movement days behind him, Johnson was looking for work--he noticed that his old friend, Albert Lipscomb, had a new set of friends.
Johnson peels off names of the CEOs of the city's major locally owned grocery chains: "Buddy Minyard, Robert Cullum, Pete Schenkel, Jack Evans--he was close to them all. Albert called Cullum 'Uncle Bob.'"
Black people had to eat. Sooner or later, one way or another, they had to gather up what money they possessed and go buy groceries. As such, they were a lucrative market to the grocers. But the city's one glimpse of true black power--the SCLC boycott of Safeway--had taught the people who owned grocery stores a chilling counter-lesson: Black people could decide where to buy their groceries. They needed to be mollified, within limits. Perhaps this is why the history of race relations in Dallas is a trail of groceries.
Lipscomb made no secret to anyone of the fact that the grocery crowd was supporting him. Johnson says now there was a certain rudimentary logic in Lipscomb's connection with them.
"There were two groups of business people in Dallas then, and the Cullums and the Minyards and people like that were the moderates. They were even liberals next to John Stemmons, who would call you a nigger to your face. The group Albert was allied with were much more sensitive to the misery of the black community than the Citizens Charter people were.
"But they were no agents of change, either, by any means. They wanted to make things a little better. But they didn't want to make things different. They still wanted control."
There is broad agreement among Lipscomb's contemporaries--including both his most ardent defenders and the people who won't shed a tear if he dies in jail--that the game in Dallas was always for control.
Ole Anthony, now a liberal religious reformer, was a young white conservative politician in the early 1970s. "The Dallas royalty then," he says, "was always willing to shift a little, to cloak it in new garb, but the nature of the beast was a lust for control."
Alphonso Jackson, former head of public housing in Dallas, now a private-sector executive, says, "Dallas has always been a city that prides itself on control, whether it's the Dallas Citizens Council of 40 years ago or the Dallas Citizens Council of today. Control is a big factor."
Charles Stovall of SCLC says he thinks the determination of the white business establishment to control the entire community is unbroken and undiminished since the 1950s.
"I'm really concerned," he says, "that whites and especially the business community want to control the politics of money at both DISD and City Hall as much as they ever did."
Comer Cottrell adds, "Big money still owns Dallas."
Cottrell sees Ron Kirk as a tool of the downtown business establishment and interprets his election as proof that the same old game is alive and well.
"If you ever saw a tool and a toy, that's it," Cottrell says of Kirk.
In 1995 there was a wave of support for Cottrell to run against Kirk. But Cottrell, many times a millionaire, says he made it plain to the people asking him that he wouldn't consider the job, given the strings he sees attached to it by a small cadre of downtown business leaders.
"There was a whole lot of support for me to run against him," Cottrell says, "including support in the white and Hispanic communities. But I told people I would have no interest in that.
"I don't want to be running for mayor. I want to own me a mayor, like Ray Hunt."
Cottrell eventually resigned his position on the Dallas Citizens Council. "I told them I don't need a job, I don't need your money, and I damn sure don't want your charitable appointments. I said it's time for you people to listen to a free nigger for a change."