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Over 50 Years, A Changing Neighborhood Reshapes Dallas' Kimball High School

Lara Solt
KERA News special contributor
Margie Horton, a 1961 graduate, wearing the hat from her drill team uniform, in the gymnasium at Kimball High in Dallas.

Kimball High School in Dallas has endured a demographic earthquake over the past 50 years. First came integration, then busing and white flight, followed by waves of immigration, economic troubles and competition from charter and private schools. Again and again, the educational landscape has been reshaped — and so has the Oak Cliff neighborhood of southern Dallas.

The Early Days Of Kimball

It was 1961, just three years since Kimball High School in Dallas opened. Margie Horton was among the first students to walk Kimball’s halls. She was Margie Holman at the time — and part of the school’s second graduating class.

“It was wonderful, it was exciting. It was brand new,” she recalls. “We got to choose the mascot, the name of the drill team. So we had lots of activities going on.”

When Horton graduated, Kimball had 1,400 students, about the same number as today. Back then, Kimball included seventh and eighth grades because the middle school wasn’t built yet.

Nearly every student was white. Horton’s classmates called themselves the Knights.

“Because it was Justin F. Kimball and so we thought J.F.K. and “K” would be the Knights.”

Credit Lara Solt / KERA News special contributor
KERA News special contributor
A knight, given to the school by the first graduating class, stands in the lobby at Kimball High in Dallas.

Even in those early years, race rippled through this Oak Cliff Camelot, recalls Steve Bartlett, class of ‘66. Bartlett, who would become a Congressman and the mayor of Dallas, was prepping for a debate tournament.

“We got the word from the school district that the Jesuit team from North Dallas had been disinvited because the team had an African-American debater,” Bartlett said. “I made probably the most passionate speech of my high school career on the debate squad to convince the Kimball debate squad to boycott the tournament.”

Bartlett, offended by the racism, says the district didn’t go for his boycott, and only he stayed behind.

“So those were the kind of times we were in,” he recalled. “There was this constant struggle. The adults knew that they needed to integrate and didn’t know how … [they] were trying to avoid it.”

Explore the full story of Kimball High in KERA's American Graduate series, "Race, Poverty and the Changing Face of Schools."

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.