50 years ago, doors opened for all in Fort Worth

Posted Friday, Jun. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy Juneteenth brought freedom for all Texans.

But not equality.

So this week’s most important anniversary is not from the Civil War, but from this day in June 1963, when Fort Worth formally banned segregation.

Fifty years ago today, a City Hall commission announced that stores, restaurants, theaters, hotels and sports events would be open to all.

Harold Odom, an African-American federal housing worker and floral shop owner, was among commission members. He discouraged sit-ins.

“There is no need to try to prove anything or test anything now,” he said.

“It is over.”

For 98 years, black Texans and Americans had been free on paper but not in practice.

Harold’s brother, former Arlington Mayor Elzie Odom, remembers that his parents were not free to vote in southeast Texas where the Newton County sheriff warned them away, or to stop in Vidor and change a tire without being ordered to get on down the road.

“I wondered if things would ever change,” Odom, now 84, said Thursday.

“It really doesn’t seem like that long ago.”

In June 1963, the federal Civil Rights Act was yet a year away, after the assassination of President Kennedy.

At the start of that summer, the Fort Worth school district agreed to accept African-American students in Anglo schools, beginning in night summer school at what is now Trimble Tech.

Throughout the year, the last “white” and “colored” signs had disappeared from restrooms and water fountains, following the lead of Leonard’s Department Store.

Birdville’s schools, Bedford and Hurst went along with the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission, according to archives. Mansfield did not.

Two days after Fort Worth opened restaurant doors, The Dallas Morning News found Willie Boyd, 68, on a downtown sidewalk deciding where to take his wife for dinner.

“Lot of places in this town we’ve never been,” he said, going in and out of restaurants just to look around.

“We’ve been waiting for a long time.”

So had we all.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy

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