Freedom finally came to Fort Worth, but only 50 years ago.
Not until fall 1967 could African-American students attend any public high school.
“Ft. Worth Schools Achieve Full Integration,” the Star-Telegram headlined, 13 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregated schools illegal.
Five high schools — Arlington Heights, Carter-Riverside, North Side, Paschal and Polytechnic — enrolled African-American students as the last step of an intentionally slow desegregation plan.
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The commanding new superintendent, Julius Truelson, put the rule in writing: “Race or color, whim or dislike for a teacher or principal, and the like, will not be considered to be valid reasons for a transfer.”
“We’d never had white teachers before,” said Fort Worth attorney Glenn O. Lewis, now 62 but then an eighth-grader at Dunbar Junior High School, then still an entirely African-American school serving the Stop Six neighborhood.
He named off friends who chose to transfer to Polytechnic or to what is now Trimble Technical High School, which integrated in 1964.
“We were kids. We didn’t give it a whole lot of thought back then,” Lewis said.
Some white people had never seen a black person up close before.
Fort Worth attorney Glenn O. Lewis, an eighth-grader in 1967
That fall of 1967 was also the first year Fort Worth high school football teams played together in the same league. White and African-American schools had been separated in mostly segregated Texas sports leagues.
“We were all trying to blend in and figure how to make things work,” Lewis said.
“In the black community, the feeling was — OK, now you’re getting to show the white community what you’re like. Some white people had never seen a black person up close before.”
If you think freedom and liberty came to America in 1865, or with the Civil Rights Act in 1964, understand that it took more than the stroke of a pen.
In 1959, a U.S. Air Force sergeant at what is now Naval Air Station Fort Worth joined a janitor at what is now Lockheed Martin. They sued because their children were turned away from the nearest schools.
Civil rights attorney L. Clifford Davis and late former Superintendent Julius Truelson steered desegregation decisions.
Legendary civil rights lawyer L. Clifford Davis won the case in 1962, but change was slow.
By then, “white” and “colored” signs had come down from toilets and water fountains at the Leonards superstore downtown, but not other stores.
In that fall of 1967, the TCU Horned Frogs defeated the Texas Longhorns in Austin. But there was not one African-American player on either team.
The next year, the Fort Worth schools were back in court. Open doors didn’t achieve equal facilities, and the district wound up closing some high schools and busing elementary students.
Years later, a judge finally declared that segregation had legally ended in Fort Worth.
But Sept. 27, 1989, wasn’t really that long ago.