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The history behind the racism that paved Dallas roads

Dallas, Texas, Highways

What started as a classroom assignment has turned into a book that dives deep into how racial biases shaped the roads in Dallas.

KERA's Justin Martin talked with SMU engineering graduate student and author Collin Yarbrough about his research.

On how racism influenced the building of highways in Dallas

For the most part, highways in Dallas — Central Expressway, Woodall Rodgers, I-35 — a lot of the major highways did predominately go through black and Mexican-American neighborhoods in Dallas.

There were some instances like I-30 cutting through kind of the Auburn Heights area, just north Fair Park and places like that where you had impacts to white households as well.

But the predominant factor was no matter what, those were lower income households, regardless of race.

On the development of Interstate 345 through Black and Jewish Deep Ellum

I think the area was already seeing some effects of desegregation affecting businesses moving elsewhere. But it was kind of the last nail in the coffin for Black Deep Ellum and Jewish development at the time, and it created that visible physical wall separating Deep Ellum from downtown.

There's this a great moment where the business owners in the area take a coffin, and they parade it down — I can't remember if it was Main, Elm or Commerce [streets] — but they essentially take it on a funeral dirge down the street signaling that they know this is the end and signaling to the outside community that this highway that you just put through is the end of our district. And it was. Deep Ellum kind of spiraled and went through, you know, kind of its third or fourth lives since then.

You know, it's changed many times since then. But that was kind of the end of the first true life of the neighborhood was 345 coming through.

On racial biases still influencing civil engineering in North Texas

We're still seeing the same development patterns. I think when you look around at the places that are receiving investment and the places that have received investment since 1960, the disparities are pretty stark.

And generally, the only time that any sort of development, money or infrastructure money comes into a neighborhood is usually a harbinger of gentrification. And neighborhoods are really sensitive to that because in the past, any time any sort of infrastructure development has come through, it's rarely been to benefit neighborhoods of color or low income neighborhoods anywhere.

And that's and that's not just a Dallas thing that's generally a feeling across the United States.

Collin Yarbrough is an SMU engineering graduate student and author of "Paved a Way:Infrastructure, Policy and Racism in an American City."

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

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Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.