Bud Kennedy

Have you ever heard the term ‘the Fort Worth Way’? Here’s what it really means

The “Fort Worth Way” sign in Moncrief’s office, a term he used to describe the way things are done around the city.
The “Fort Worth Way” sign in Moncrief’s office, a term he used to describe the way things are done around the city. Star-Telegram/Paul Moseley

For 50 years, white Fort Worth business leaders have proudly bragged about dealing the “Fort Worth way.”

But for almost as many years, some African-American residents have asked whether everyone gets the same fair deal.

Gone is the postwar Fort Worth where many workers toiled side-by-side on the aircraft assembly line or in the meat packinghouses, opening conversations that bridged the color line.

Now, outlying neighborhoods like Alliance or Walsh Ranch sprout miles from any minority neighborhood, separating residents not only by income but also by time and traffic.

No wonder some question whether the much-ballyhooed “Fort Worth way” — handshake partnerships, negotiations and mutual respect — still gets results for all.

“The so-called ‘Fort Worth way’ is not working for our city anymore,” county Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples said Tuesday, announcing that she’ll challenge Mayor Betsy Price in the election April 22-May 4.

The complaint is not new.

In a 1991 interview, the late former County Commissioner Dionne Bagsby said: “I haven’t figured out why Fort Worth is like that. It must be something in the water. But we don’t believe in a lot of shouting.”

In the 1960s, when some Southern cities stewed over civil rights and desegregation, Fort Worth made progress slowly and more quietly.

The largest department store, Leonards, had taken down “white” and “colored” signs by February 1960. Lawyer Clifford Davis, now a retired judge, led phased school desegregation beginning in 1962.

By the time Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Fort Worth had its first African-American councilman, the late Edward Guinn; first African-American to play for the TCU Horned Frogs, basketball center and future Harvard Business dean James Cash; and that same month, the first African-American reporter for any major Texas newspaper, the Star-Telegram’s Cecil Johnson.

Rev. Nehemiah Davis, left, led the local NAACP for 20 years. The late former County Commissioner Dionne Bagsby also saw the “Fort Worth Way.”

In a 1991 profile of the late Rev. Nehemiah Davis, the 20-year NAACP president, he said there was a reason Fort Worth had no violence after King’s death.

“That was because the people downtown were anxious there be no violence,” he said.

“We were able to achieve some breakthroughs thanks to leadership.”

When the ‘Fort Worth way’ got loud

Over and over, NAACP leaders met quietly with business leaders and achieved incremental progress. Some younger leaders wanted a less stifling, more forceful approach.

Christopher Brosky was accused, tried and convicted in the 1991 murder of Donald Thomas. Brosky’s probated sentence sparked protests. (Star-Telegram archives) Star-Telegram archives

Then, in 1993, the year after riots in Los Angeles, two forceful Fort Worth protest marches upended the idea of a quiet “Fort Worth way.”

When an all-white jury mishandled trial paperwork and gave teenage skinhead accomplice Christopher Brosky probation in the hate-crime Arlington killing of an African-American man, Donald Thomas, 300 marchers gathered that day at the courthouse.

That was followed within days by a multiracial justice protest march the length of Main Street.

The crowd: 10,000.

Brosky was retried, convicted of engaging in organized crime and sentenced to 40 years. He served 16 years and was deported to Toronto, where he has lost campaigns for city council and mayor.

When the ‘Fort Worth way’ meant collaboration

In the 1970s, Mayor Woodie Woods, a plumber by trade, had talked often about a “Fort Worth way” of partnering easily and doing business on a handshake. His successor, Bob Bolen, swung one of the all-time “Fort Worth way” partnerships to land Alliance Airport.

In 2003, former Democratic county judge and state senator Mike Moncrief was elected mayor.

He elevated “the Fort Worth way” to a city mantra and became its chief enforcer, demanding collaboration and consensus in every decision..

He hung a “Fort Worth Way” street sign in his office, saying it meant “partnering for the common good.”

Whether he was praising the TCU football team for winning the Rose Bowl or a tollway agency for the Chisholm Trail Parkway, he credited it to “the Fort Worth way of taking care of business.”

Sometimes, the “Fort Worth way” seemed almost sacrosanct.

“There’s a Fort Worth way of doing business,” Moncrief said one night when residents complained sourly about a legal settlement over gas drilling. “It’s treating each other the way you want to be treated yourself.”

Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks and Mayor Mike Moncrief donned fire helmets in 2010 to break ground on a new fire station along the Evans Ave. corridor. (Star-Telegram/Ron T. Ennis) RON T. ENNIS STAR-TELEGRAM/RON T. ENNIS

Has something changed?

The mayor pro tem alongside Moncrief was council member Kathleen Hicks, representing Morningside Heights, Hallmark and much of south Fort Worth.

Deborah Peoples is her aunt.

“Under Moncrief, I really didn’t see the ‘Fort Worth way’ as negative,” Hicks said last week.

“We had the largest redevelopment ever in southeast Fort Worth. He was a good mayor. He genuinely did care.”

Hicks said she’s concerned that a growing city has lost the “way” of including minority and low-income residents as equal partners.

“The ‘Fort Worth way’ can’t be like a shadow government that decides everything,” she said.

“We’ve returned to this patriarchal way where people are not included.”

Moncrief did not return messages seeking comment.

‘Everyone knows their place’

In recent years, criticism of the “Fort Worth way” has spread to Latino activists.

In 2012, congressional candidate Domingo Garcia of Dallas said the “Fort Worth way” “appears to be that everyone knows their place. That has to change.”

The eventual winner that year was U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth. He grew up in the Lake Como neighborhood, predominantly African-American.

In that campaign, Veasey said the “Fort Worth way” is “something that folks in downtown use when they want to get everyone else to get along and not say anything.”

More recently, activists from United Fort Worth mocked the slogan after the city council voted to stay out of a lawsuit. Other Texas cities sued to overturn free-speech restrictions in the state’s new “sanctuary city” law.

United Fort Worth marchers wear T-shirts: “The Fort Worth Way: same [emoji], different day.”

‘It’s easy to do business with Fort Worth’

Former Mayor Pro Tem Jim Lane, now a water district director but for 12 years the city councilman for the north side and Stockyards, originated the idea for the daily Fort Worth Herd cattle drive.

More than anyone, Lane defends Fort Worth’s devotion to Western symbolism, but along with racial diversity.

“I never knew exactly what the ‘Fort Worth way’ meant,” Lane said.

“It was Mike’s way to get negotiations going, to mediate and get everybody moving.”

He remembered when speedway promoter Bruton Smith wanted to bring NASCAR racing here.

“Mr. Smith was asked why he chose Fort Worth over Dallas,” Lane said.

“His reply was, ‘That’s simple. It’s easy to do business with Fort Worth.’ “

It is no longer that easy to defend the “Fort Worth way.”

The Fort Worth Herd has a twice daily cattle drive at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Exchange Avenue in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Trail boss Kristin Jaworski explains the meaning behind the cattle drive and the reason why cattle stay on course. The fir

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.