'Little Egypt,' A Nearly-Lost Freedmen's Town In Dallas, Resurfaces Thanks To College's Digging
Texas is dotted with Freedmen’s communities — African American neighborhoods that sprouted after the Civil War in the era of segregation. They range from Ellis Alley in San Antonio to the Fourth Ward in Houston to Deep Ellum in Dallas. Another one in Dallas that's been nearly forgotten, Little Egypt, is getting a renewed look thanks to Richland College.
Clive Siegle stands at the corner of Thurgood Lane and Shoreview Road, in Lake Highlands. He’s lived here for years, surrounded by houses, apartments and businesses. But something always puzzled him: a dirt and gravel road.
“Like, why didn’t they finish paving this place or what-not?” Siegle asks.
That gravel road leads to an old alley that also seemed out of place. "It just looks like it doesn’t belong there. It looks more like a country lane than it does a regular alley behind a suburban house around here.”
That’s because, Siegle discovered, it was once a country lane. The Richland College history professor was so curious, he dug around and found out this was once a small, African American neighborhood called Little Egypt.
The rural community was settled in the 1880s. Siegle tracked down the deed showing former slaves Jeff and Hanna Hill paid $300 for 35 acres. This community, named for its Egypt Chapel Baptist Church, thrived until the early 1960s.
Gloria McCoy grew up in Little Egypt.
“We had electricity but we had no running water,” she says. “We didn’t have any indoor plumbing. We had the outhouse. And we had butane gas. And we did have a telephone.”
This was the 1950s. The McCoy house actually had Little Egypt’s only telephone, says Gloria’s older sister, Joann.
“People in the neighborhood did not have phones but a lot of them got their calls there [her house], and we would run up the road and tell them, 'So-and-so! Telephone’s for you!'” Joann says.
That road she ran on was all dirt – Little Egypt never got paved. That didn’t bother the sisters.
“We did not feel like we were poor,” Gloria and Joann both say, echoing each others’ comments. “Because we did everything anybody else was doing here.”
The McCoys have shared stories of life in Little Egypt with Siegle and students at Richland College in Dallas. The professor and colleague Tim Sullivan teach a class about the old neighborhood. They do more than lecture. Sullivan, an anthropology professor, has conducted digs in Little Egypt.
“I had no idea what was on there. And we were going to do some surface collection so we laid out a whole grid,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan’s in a field near Thurgood and Shoreview, next to the Victorian-style Eastlake Cat Care Center. The lot has gone unpaved and unplowed for 57 years.
Perfect, the anthropologist thought, for a dig.
“We have our lines staked, you know, going back and forth, we have our shaker screen, we have our shovels and our trowels and our bags that are marked with each square,” Sullivan says.
They’ve found tiles and glass objects. Small orange spikes pounded in by students now dot the field. Richland College student Natalie Grundelman, 20, worked the dig.
“I never really thought something like that could be so close to home,” Grundelman says. “I always thought anything, any archeological dig would be in a different country or just wouldn’t be so close to you.”
The dig Grundelman worked is where the McCoy home once stood. In the early '60s, the McCoy sisters say their dad fought but failed to get running water into Little Egypt. He had seen city sprinklers watering nearby Flag Pole Hill.
“And we, this black neighborhood, could not get running water,” says Joann McCoy. "So from there he really kind of decided he could do better, and we could do better as a family.”
In 1961, the McCoys moved west to a small modern home near Love Field. The next year, as Lake Highlands was expanding, 200 Little Egypt residents agreed to a mass buyout. A few dozen trucks moved everyone out to new homes scattered across North Texas. Egypt Chapel Baptist Church moved, too.
After eight decades, Little Egypt was no more.
Gloria McCoy welcomes the new scholarly interest in her old neighborhood.
“It’s an honor to me for someone to research in the area that I grew up in, that I love,” she said. “And I think growing up in that area made us [who] we are today."
This April, the McCoys and others who once called Little Egypt home will gather to celebrate the 139th anniversary of the church that once anchored the community.
» View photos of Little Egypt from the air between the 1930s and 1960s (PDF).