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Led By Zan Holmes, Black Churches Across Texas United Two Decades Ago To Build A Dallas Community

Unity Estates sign.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA News
Unity Estates, a housing project in Dallas, was launched by the African American Pastors Coalition. The project brought new businesses and churches to the area.

Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr. reflects on the Dallas housing development he helped create, and the legacy of a project that brought together an interdenominational group of churches, a rarity at the time.

This month, KERA is exploring the impact and legacy of Black churches in North Texas. KERA's Sam Baker spoke with Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr., longtime pastor and activist in Dallas.

Holmes served at the St. Luke "Community" United Methodist Church in Dallas for 28 years, and also was an adjunct professor at the Perkins School of Theology at SMU for 24 years. He was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1968 to 1972 and has been a longtime activist in the community.

In the first of a two-part interview, Baker asked Holmes about Unity Estates, a housing development the pastor helped spearhead as the head of the African American Pastors Coalition, and about the significance of the two-decades-old, 285 single-family home project in helping unite churches of different denominations.

Zan Holmes
Courtesy of Zan Holmes
Zan Wesley Holmes, Jr., longtime pastor and activist in Dallas.

Q: The title, Unity Estates, where’s that title come from?

A: The unity that we were seeking, we felt that's what we wanted to do. We were bringing together an inter-denominational group of pastors. Unity, being united, is the whole idea of the concept that we had in mind.

Q: What brought about this project to begin with?

A: I was pastoring, my church then was St. Luke "Community" United Methodist Church. I had a pastor friend in Houston, William Lawson, who was building some homes, affordable housing. In fact, a couple of churches were doing that in Houston, along with Chase Bank and Ryland Homes. So they invited me down to look at what they were doing. And I went down and I was impressed with what they were doing.

So they said they wanted to come, Chase Bank and Ryland Homes, but liked to do something in Dallas. They came and they were offering to help us build some homes. That was my church, St. Luke Church at that time.

I had also been named the president of the African American coalition. So I decided that instead of taking that on as St. Luke's Church on its own, that we would give that project to the African American Pastors Coalition.

Q: The coalition represented a group of people that were Methodist, Baptist?

A: All denominations, and also included women pastors, along with male pastors, because that was an issue. We started out with a group of over 50, maybe 60 pastors representing that many churches that were large and small churches, everybody could participate.

North Texas Pastor Shares How Black Churches Created Dallas Community

Q: How did the project turn out?

A: It was a success in more ways than one. Not only that, when we built those homes, there were businesses that came to that community. There was the other churches that came and built individual churches in that general area. And so it was a boom for the whole area. In fact, there are two churches right across the street from Unity Estates.

So it's been a good thing for the community and for the church. We said, we need to do more than deal with spiritual issues on Sunday, but we also need to deal with social justice issues. This was one of our social justice issues that we did.

Houses in Unity Estates
Keren Carrión | KERA News
The land where Unity Estates is located was previously zoned for multifamily and office use, but was abandoned during the real estate crunch in the late 1980s, according to the Dallas Business Journal.

Q: So it was not unusual then at that point, or really in general, for Black churches to get involved in the community in that way beyond spiritual leadership?

A: Not doing it together. We have very few examples of churches coming together across denominational lines to help make things happen because we were doing stuff in our individual churches, but coming together was a major issue with us and that we had in mind, as we did this.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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Illustration that imitates stained glass with Black figures standing outside a small church.
This month, KERA is exploring the impact and legacy of Black churches on life in North Texas. Immerse yourself in stories, history and memories from across the region.