State Fair of Texas: a philanthropic force with a troubling past


Photo taken in March 2021, hence the lack of greenery. Christina hughes babb

As most moderately informed neighborhood residents know, the State Fair of Texas hasn’t always been the outstanding, philanthropic force we now know. He has a strange and often worrying past.

But first, let’s focus on the really great place where the fair is being held today.

Not only is the fair an iconic event for the city of Dallas, drawing some two million visitors each October, but it is also a champion of year-round agriculture in the state with an urban farm that has has donated some 764,000 servings of produce to non-profit organizations serving surrounding neighborhoods. The show’s community affairs and strategic alliances department has partnered with more than 70 local foundations tackling problems created by poverty such as food scarcity.

The fair has invested over $ 1.8 million in operating expenses and assets for Big Tex Urban Farms since 2016 – that money comes from our Corn Dog and Ferris Wheel coupon purchases. I learned much of this while researching an article last spring for Dallas Free Press.

Drew Demler, resident of Lake Highlands, horticultural director of the fair and co-founder of Big Texas Urban Farms, is an extraordinary ambassador – he is the face and voice of the farm. Just search for his name on YouTube, IG, Google and you’ll see. He came to the State Fair via the Dallas Arboretum, which brought him to Texas in the first place. He was new to the fair in 2015 when his farm co-founder Jason Hayes pitched the idea of ​​a community garden that would support all other community gardens in the area.

They were excited, although neither of them predicted that Big Tex Urban Farms would become such a productive powerhouse.

“If I had told you in 2016 where I thought we would now be with the farm, I would have largely undersold,” he told me last spring.

One hundred percent of the harvest goes to nonprofits, including the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Institute at Juanita J. Craft Community Center, Jubilee Park Community Center, CitySquare, and TR Hoover.

Brussels sprout plant and Drew Demler tattoo. Christina hughes babb

You can visit the Errol McKoy greenhouse where all the magic happens near the Texas Star base.

The darkest story

Everyone I have met who works at State Fair today has recognized their employer’s racist past and its role in creating problems that in some ways persist today. In fact, that’s what drives a lot of them. The fair’s vice president of community affairs and alliances, Froswa ‘Booker-Drew, said she “would be remiss to ignore the story of the state fair … which prompts us to do the job differently” .

A reminder on this well-documented history – the Texas State Fair of the past played a role in dismantle the surrounding community, seize homes and displace people of color. First, there were these straightforward racist things:

“Day of the Colored People” fell once a year, from 1900 to 1910. Ku Klux Klan Day in 1923 drew some 160,000 Klan members to the scene of the initiation of the “largest class in the world. ‘history of the Klandum,’ according to a leaflet that included a membership application on the back. 1936 saw the start of Negro Achievement Day, after which black Fairgoers were allowed to participate fully in this day. Juanita Craft helped put an end to this in the 1960s.

KKK Day flyer from the UNT collection, more here.

An investigation conducted in 1966 did more damage than any of the above. The economic research survey determined that the park’s poor neighbors, mostly black, generated “intense emotional unease” among white, middle-class respondents. The sight of “the other side of town” dulled the pleasure of the white fairgrounds. The researchers recommended “to eliminate the problem of sight. If the poor negroes in their shacks cannot be seen, all the feelings of guilt revealed above will disappear, or at least will be taken out of primary consideration.

Yes, the city took that idea and by the late 1960s had used eminent estate ordinances to purchase and demolish over 200 homes around Fair Park, along South Fitzhugh and Second avenues, paving the way for the Fair parking lot and Dallas Cowboys (Cotton Bowl). .

The first black man to run for mayor of Dallas, the late Al Lipscomb, who served seven terms on city council, said in an oral history held by the Dallas Public Library that he campaigned primarily to raise issues of Fair Park in the foreground.

“Iran [for mayor] just to get the problems out of Fair Park, ”he said. While Lipscomb and the owners were able to raise the prices the town would pay, they were unable to stop the land grabbing.

State Fair Board Chair Gina Norris spoke with me last spring for information on the aforementioned story, and she offered a glimpse into this era in our city’s history and d ‘other factors added “insult to injury”.

While the Fair Park community suffered “from the city’s use of a prominent estate to create parking by moving families,” Norris says, it also faced several additional obstacles to growth – the closure of the Ford Motor factory (which collectively cost the people of Dallas 1,900 jobs), the departure of the Dallas Cowboys and EMS football teams from Cotton Bowl Stadium (Lipscomb laughs at the irony in his interview), a crisis energy and the relocation of museums in the Fair Park district, including the Museum of Fine Arts (now Dallas Museum of Art) and the Dallas Museum of Natural History & the Science Place (now Perot Museum of Nature & Science).

“This parking lot is a reminder of our past and a symbol of our promise.”

The Texas State Fair during World War II

One more thing, and then you can get the rest of your State Fair story from a documentary or something like that, is that captured German soldiers worked at the Centennial Building from November 1944 to October 1945. .

Many of us interested in the history of Dallas knew that about 400 Germans captured in North Africa were imprisoned in barracks at White Rock Lake. Well, every afternoon these prisoners of war would get on a bus to the fairgrounds and work at night in the army quartermaster’s workshop where they repaired uniforms, shoes, helmets, clothes. tents and other equipment.

Recently, author and Dallas historian Sally Rodriguez told us about the propensity of these veterans of the Afrika Korps to art and gardening. It is documented that the men built their own enclosure by the lake and decorated the camp with stenciled designs – we’ll get more on that in the December story. Lakewood Lawyer – but Rodriguez thinks there might be some unattributed artwork somewhere in the Centennial Building.

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