I enjoyed Henry Tatum’s column regarding the ultimate location of Juanita Craft’s house. He stated, “As long as people believe that an important civil rights leader can only be honored by pulling out her roots and moving them elsewhere, Dallas will always be considered a divided city.” Juanita Craft spent her entire life giving to this city. Even in death, she wanted to give, as reflected by the donation of her home to the city. In her will, she mentioned Old City Park as the preferred location of her home. However, Juanita Craft never intended for her house to be viewed as a relic but as a place where vital decisions could be discussed and considered, as when she was alive. If the house is to lose this purpose, perhaps we should re-examine our goals.
If we intend to enshrine the home, let’s put it next to the Wendy Reves collection at the Dallas Museum of Art. If we intend for the house to become a tourist attraction, we should put it next to John Neely Bryan’s cabin at Courthouse Square. If we want to make a commemorative gesture, the city can move the house to the State Thomas Historic District, where she told me she made her social debut.
With people concerned that City Hall Plaza has not been used enough, a Juanita Craft community house adjacent to City Hall would provide a great tribute to the first black woman City Council member and stand as a symbol of the black community’s contribution to the development of Dallas. Why would the city want Old City Park to lose its museum status by adding a non-conforming structure to be used as an administrative building?
As a preservationist, I am embarrassed to admit that I have visited Old City Park less than the many times I visited Juanita Craft in her home. We spent many days together, reminiscing about her accomplishments, the history of Dallas and her methods for provoking change. There are many parks that would benefit from having a small community house for public meetings. However, at its present site, the community remembers more, learns more, shares more and can nostalgically reminisce about the evolution of Dallas and Juanita Craft’s great part in this. Juanita Craft embodied the spirit of productive change. She would be both sad and furious that a graceful solution could not be achieved regarding her home.
I would immensely enjoy the chance to once again visit the home on her tranquil street of bungalows. But outside of the texture and tradition of her neighborhood, why would I go and visit a non-conforming structure in an architectural park?