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New exhibit at Fair Park tells a story of racism and resilience in the neighborhood surrounding it

Jerome Weeks
"South Dallas Stories: Fair Park Uprooted" is a new exhibition about the history of the Fair Park neighborhood -- in the lobby of the Music Hall. Lucy Cain, one of the longtime residents in the show, is second from left.

"South Dallas Stories: Fair Park Uprooted" just opened at the Music Hall in Fair Park.

Explore more stories from Arts Access.

Lucy Cain is one of the longtime South Dallas residents interviewed for a new public exhibition in the Fair Park Music Hall, "South Dallas Stories: Fair Park Uprooted." Lucy Cain grew up in the Fair Park neighborhood in the '50s and '60s. She could only attend the State Fair once a year -- on what was then called "Negro Achievement Day."

Cain shared her memories for the exhibition "South Dallas Stories: Fair Park Uprooted." Today, she is an independent claims adjustor, and she's aware of how the city gave Black homeowners in the area less than fair-market value for their homes — homes that were later bulldozed so Fair Park could expand its parking lot.

South Dallas Stories: Fair Park Uprooted: Lucy Cain

The new exhibition in the Music Hall lobby showcases such personal histories of racial injustice. But, Cain said, the exhibition also highlights local families and businesses that survived such mistreatment.

"It's just overjoyed me to see this," she said. "People need to know that there's still people, like myself, I've been here 75 years, and everything hasn't been bad."

"South Dallas Stories" is a project from Broadway Dallas. It's part of the musical presenter's efforts at connecting with the immediate community.

Ken Novice, the group's president, said diversity, equity, inclusion and access have been main goals of the group since he took charge six years ago.

Ken Novice, Broadway Dallas (2).jpg
Jerome Weeks
Ken Novice, CEO of Broadway Dallas, in the Music Hall lobby.

"We set out to create partnerships with community groups," he said. "Early on in one of our meetings in South Dallas, some people said, 'We're kind of surprised that you're here.' And I said, 'That's really too bad. Because we are here and we want to connect.'"

In particular, he said, he was inspired by Jerry Hawkins, executive director of Dallas Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation — who convinced him that by just preserving and telling such stories, the community could make a step forward — together.

"We can't make progress," Novice said, "until we understand what happened before — to reclaim what was lost, the spirit, the vitality of the community."

The history of Dallas' efforts at redlining, at pushing Black residents away from Fair Park, are related in Jim Schutze's book, "The Accommodation." The book also inspired the off-Broadway drama, "Travisville," by former Dallasite William Jackson Harper. Sunday is the last day of Soul Rep Theatre's production of the play, running in the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park.

South Dallas Stories: Fair Park Uprooted Pt.1: Stuart Williams

The Fair Park exhibition's opening on Thursday was timed to mark the 60th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King speaking at the Music Hall in 1963 -- which he did, despite racial protests and a phoned-in bomb threat.

Cain said that "South Dallas Stories" will be “an education for all of Dallas” because it shows not even segregation stopped the Fair Park neighborhood from being real community.

Or as South Dallas landscaper Stuart Williams says in his interview that appears in the exhibition: The area was certainly working-class, but "the thing about this neighborhood, the people that lived here? There was a lot of pride in this neighborhood."

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.