Juneteenth is a complicated holiday here in Texas. While it is a national celebration of emancipation, it is too a solemn reminder not only of one of the most shameful periods of American history, but also the fact that slavery did not end in Texas when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, but more than two years later when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to enforce its mandate. Celebrated since 1890, Juneteenth festivities - like those at Fair Park last Saturday - emphasize cultural, educational and artistic achievement, and you can celebrate today from noon to 5:00 p.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center during the city's annual free festival.
In the spirit of Juneteeth's focus and passion, we've started a list of some of the most influential African American Dallasites who forever changed the face of arts and culture in Big D.
William "Bill" McGhee (1930-2007) A local stage actor and eventual film performer, McGhee was among the first African American actors from Dallas to join the SAG. According to his obituary, McGhee lived most of his life in Dallas where he began tap dancing at 12, and after service in the Korean War, he began acting for local theater companies, most notably Theater Three, where he landed a number of lead roles. He acted in more than 15 films, and owned and operated the retail shop, Sam's Records #2. Here's 1966's Curse of the Swamp Creature - where Bill McGhee plays the Tracker.
William "Bill" Blair (b. 1921) According to this biography, Blair was born in Dallas in 1921 and graduated from Booker T. Washington before becoming the youngest African-American to serve as first sergeant in the US Army during World War II. Upon his return, Blair pitched for the Negro Leagues for the Detroit Stars and the Cincinnati Clowns from 1946-1951 before founding Dallas newspaper the Southwest Sports News, later renamed Elite News. In 1986, he launched the city's first Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade.
Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929) The Texas State Historical Association says that there is little known about Jefferson's early life or the details of his ocular impairment or his musical training, but Jefferson's musical vision could not have been more crystal clear. Known as a founding father of the Blues, Jefferson hit Dallas around 1912, where he began performing in Deep Ellum and Central Track, and where he partnered with iconic Louisiana-born bluesman, Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter. Jefferson moved to Chicago around 1925 to make studio recordings where he spent the rest of his life, and where he was buried in an unmarked grave until a Texas state memorial was placed there in 1967. Today, the cemetery has been renamed "Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery," and a granite marker with the inscription "Lord, it's one kind favor I'll ask of you. See that my grave is kept clean" honors the lines of one of his most famous tunes.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Arthello Beck, Jr. (1941-2004) Beck was born in Dallas and he attended Lincoln High School where, according to this biography, he "received his only formal art training." A longtime resident of Oak Cliff, he founded the Arthello Beck Gallery, the first African American owned and operated art gallery in Dallas, in 1972. Today, a gallery in the South Dallas Cultural Center is named in his honor and his work is in the permanent collection at the African American Museum. His Cypress Trees, a "20 foot circular floor medallion" was installed posthumously at DFW airport in 2005.
By no means a comprehensive list, you can learn more by checking out this timeline by Dallas ISD online. Let us know your favorites in the comments below (especially if you can help us get some ladies in the mix).