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Council Member Adam Bazaldua is working to rename a section of R.L. Thornton Freeway after Juanita J. Craft.
Council Member Adam Bazaldua is working to rename a section of R.L. Thornton Freeway after Juanita J. Craft.
Kathy Tran

Council Member Adam Bazaldua Wants to Rename R.L. Thornton Freeway After Juanita J. Craft

Council Member Adam Bazaldua is working to rename a section of R.L. Thornton Freeway after a more deserving person – Juanita J. Craft. Even if you don't know who Craft is, her name probably still sounds familiar to you.

A recreation center at Baylor Scott Hospital bears her name, as does as a public pool in Dallas, and the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House, one of three house museums in the U.S. honoring major female figures in the modern civil rights movement.

Craft lived in the house for 35 years, according to the museum website. In that time, she organized nearly 200 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branches. She also led efforts to desegregate two area college campuses and the State Fair of Texas.

Last week, Bazaldua started a change.org petition and penned a letter to the Texas Department of Transporation to jump-start the formal process of renaming the section of freeway that runs through his district to honor Craft, a two-term Dallas City Council member and civil rights leader. It would be called Juanita J. Craft Freeway. Central Track broke the story.

"Ms. Craft devoted her entire life to civil rights and racial injustice of African Americans," Bazaldua wrote to TXDOT. "To name this freeway after Ms. Craft is to offer a sense of poetic justice in not only honoring her name and legacy but taking away from one of hate that worked directly against all of what Ms. Craft fought for."

Bazaldua says he is waiting for TXDOT to send him a cost estimate for the name change.

It's now well-known Thornton, a former mayor, was a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan and the sections of freeway named after him served to segregate Dallas. The freeway is just one of many things around the city that bare Thornton's name. Bazaldua wants them all gone.

This effort, the fight to rename a portion of Lamar Street after Botham Jean and the removal of Confederate monuments, are all parts of a nationwide push to make the landscape of the country represent the people who built it. Local author Edward Sebesta calls this "landscape reparations."

Sebesta says Bazaldua's efforts can't be understood without the historical context of the long fight to rename streets after civil rights leaders, which he has researched and written about extensively.

Some of the first efforts, Sebesta writes, date to the 1980s when then-Dallas City Council member Elsie Faye Heggins proposed name changes to Interstate 45 and State Highway 352 to memorialize civil rights leaders like Frederick Douglas and Ralph Bunche.

Sebesta says many people read street names more than they probably read religious texts. "[The street names] say who we are, who counts and who doesn't count," he says.

Some people will say changes like these are only symbolic and that reform is what's actually needed. While Sebesta agrees reform is required to make a more equitable state, he says symbolism matters. Crosses are symbols too, he says, and if you look around you'll notice most churches have them.

Additionally, he says, throughout history, opponents of changes like these have also tried to argue that symbolic change is not needed. "This should tell us that maybe it is important," he says.

Yafeuh Balogun, an activist behind the Botham Jean street name change, says he fully supports Bazaldua's efforts to implement street or highway renaming and landscape reform.

There are some restrictions when it comes to naming highways.

According to the Texas Transportation Code, "The commission may not designate a part of the highway system, including a bridge or street, by a name, including the name of a living individual or for an organization or event, or by a symbol other than the regular highway number." However, the code does allow local governments to assign a memorial "or other identifying designation to a part of the highway system."

The petition has surpassed 500 signatures.

Bazaldua is still waiting on a response from TXDOT but says he is confident he will get the support he needs to grace the freeway with Craft's name.

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