Down on Sherman Street

The mimosa tree stands between two houses sheathed in aluminum. It grows in a yard on Sherman Street, in the waning heart of Dalworth, a predominantly black Grand Prairie neighborhood where drugs are sold in vacant lots amid boarded-up houses waiting to be torn down.

The tree's branches shade a round plastic table and several folding chairs. Beneath the mimosa, the older men, their lives ebbing along with this once-fine neighborhood, gather each day to play dominoes.

If life was not mean, Joe Lee Calloway would surely still come to the table, a baseball cap tugged down over his graying curls. The chilly November winds, the ones that numb a man's bones, would make Calloway's shattered right knee stiffen. He would put a sweater on his dog, Nose, and Nose would there too.

But the man they called Uncle Joe died on October 7, a Monday, shot at least twice by Grand Prairie police officer Blake Hubbard. The killing occurred not too far from the dominoes table. Calloway collapsed, blood spreading across the front of his neatly ironed shirt, in the backyard of the shotgun house his parents first bought when they moved to Dalworth some 40 years ago.

On the day Calloway was killed, his mind had been too jumbled for dominoes. He was wrestling with the turbulent visions brought on by paranoid schizophrenia, an illness that had haunted him for two decades. He spent the morning wandering up and down Sherman Street, which is why the police were called.

Within hours of the killing, a flock of reporters and camera crews descended upon the impoverished neighborhood. That night's news and the next morning's papers recounted the story in the accepted form--a homeless, mentally ill black man was shot because he wielded a knife, harassed motorists, and threatened one of the cops who came for him.

Since the killing, Officer Hubbard has been stripped of his badge and indicted for murder.

It now appears that Calloway's death may have resulted from what police call a bad shooting, one that never should have happened. Hubbard's actions were briefly the grist for talk radio, and the fired officer appeared on one call-in show to defend his name.

Some law enforcement organizations have since risen to Hubbard's defense, and the details of Calloway's death--exactly what happened, how many shots were fired--await a full examination by the courts.

The story of a dead crazy black man is now fading, just like Dalworth is fading, just like Calloway was fading before he died.

But one image should not be left to linger--the depiction of Calloway as a desperate lunatic, homeless and alone in the world.

That characterization is far too simple.
And it is not fair to Joe Lee Calloway.

The news reports kept saying that Joe Lee Calloway was homeless. In fact, he could not have been more at home the day Blake Hubbard killed him. Nearby were his friends, his family, his old school, the places he had worked, and property he had once owned.

Calloway and his twin sister, Deseree, had entered the world on February 29, 1944, the youngest of four children born to Joseph and Catherine Calloway. Joe Lee Sr. was retired when he and Catherine moved to Dalworth in the '50s and purchased a little home at 2013 Sherman Street in which to raise their family.

Up to the day he died in the backyard of his parents' first house--which had long since passed from the family--Calloway never strayed far from the neighborhood.

Born with a hole in her heart, Deseree Calloway died as a teenager. His twin's unexpected death was something Joe Lee Calloway never got over, his daughter Chandra Calloway says.

"We were walking around the apartments one day, and he told me how [he and Deseree] would find crickets, and he would rip their heads off and chase her around. Right then, a cricket jumped up on us," Chandra recalls, laughing. "I swear he went back 20 years. He chased me all around those apartments."

Calloway attended the neighborhood school, which then included kindergarten through high school. One year, he was named to the all-district football team as an offensive guard for the Dalworth Dragons. The schoolhouse he attended--now just an elementary school--still stands near Nance James Park, where an older Calloway would often sleep under a picnic table.

After graduating from high school, Calloway worked as a janitor at the J.C. Penney store on Main Street in Arlington. For about 25 years, he walked in and out of various maintenance jobs in the Grand Prairie area, never seeming to be concerned with climbing any career ladders.

Calloway was the father of three children, who also grew up in Grand Prairie and still live there. His ex-wife, Ruby, still lives there as well. Calloway was spared a trip to Vietnam in 1965 when son Charles was born on Thanksgiving day. Chandra Calloway was born two years later. Chandra says she recently discovered that she has a half-sister who also lives in Grand Prairie.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley