Elm Thicket-Northpark, once a Dallas-area freedmen’s town, cements its history with marker

Under the shade of a tree on Saturday, neighbors Alma Ayers, 88, and Joe Hearne, 82, stood and chatted with one another among the crowd. They were two of about 90 people gathered at the corner of Thedford and Lockheed avenues for the Elm Thicket-Northpark historical marker dedication.

Ayers and Hearne, both decadeslong residents of the area, can look around and point out physical changes of the neighborhood without moving from their spot.

“I guess ‘drastically’ is a good enough word, isn’t it?” Hearne said. “It has changed drastically.”

Elm Thicket-Northpark, first founded as a freedmen’s town in the late 19th century, is a historically Black neighborhood east of dallas Love Field Airport. On Saturday morning, the Elm Thicket-Northpark Neighborhood Association and the Dallas County Historical Commission honored the area with a historical marker and statue dedication before a Juneteenth celebration at the K.B. Polk recreation center.

Members of the dance group "Dallas Dollz" prepare to walk in the parade during a Juneteenth celebration in the Elm Thicket neighborhood in Dallas, Texas on June 15, 2024. (Azul Sordo / Special Contributor)

“When man went to the moon, or in wartime situations, we had to plant our flag,” Jonathan Maples, president of the neighborhood association, said. “So that’s … what we were doing with the historical marker and the art piece. It’s a way of us planting our flag to make sure everyone knows that we were here.”

The neighborhood was first established in 1881 as one of several freedmen’s towns in the Dallas area, the historical marker says. At the time, Elm Thicket had numerous churches, an elementary school, restaurants and family-owned businesses.

Related:Where notable Dallas freedman’s towns built by former slaves stand 150 years later

When Dallas annexed Elm Thicket in 1929, it failed to connect it to the city’s water system or to the public transportation system. The Federal Housing Administration also redlined the neighborhood, according to the marker.

Hilliard Golf Course, which opened in 1950, was one of the first Southern courses where Black Americans were allowed to play. However, it closed four years later when Love Field announced its expansion, the marker says. The project demolished the golf course and 300 Black-owned homes and businesses.

During the 1970s, the two regions on either side of Roper Street — individually known as “Elm Thicket” and “Northpark” — combined to form one neighborhood.

During the dedication ceremony, Dallas City Council member Jesse Moreno spoke of different projects he has supported within the neighborhood, and the offices of U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas) and State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) presented resolutions.

Toward the end of the ceremony, the crowd sang “Lift Every Voice I See” — often referred to as “The Black National Anthem” — while the historical marker was unveiled. The fixture features a statue of two young children reading on a bench and a plaque recounting the neighborhood’s history.

Both the association and the historical commission believed it was important to acquire the marker and statue as the neighborhood deals with gentrification, Kemeshia Richardson, treasurer of the Elm Thicket-Northpark Neighborhood Association, said.

Related:The work to remember Little Egypt, a Dallas freedman’s town flattened 6 decades agoAttendees bow their heads in prayer as the new historical marker is unveiled during a Juneteenth celebration in the Elm Thicket neighborhood in Dallas, Texas on June 15, 2024. (Azul Sordo / Special Contributor)

In 2022, the Dallas City Council approved zoning changes to the neighborhood that reduced home sizes. The council vote was the culmination of a nearly decadelong process to address concerns from residents and homeowners over newer construction and rising property values, issues that have forced out families who’ve lived there for generations.

“A lot of the neighborhood’s being gentrified now,” Richardson said. “We thought it was really important to be able to preserve or at least let people know that the neighborhood was here, and that it has been a historically Black neighborhood. We just want to be able to preserve it and also to pay tribute to the seniors that are still here.”

Even as the neighborhood deals with new developers, residents — and former residents — say they take pride in Elm Thicket-Northpark. Lynn Maples-Edgerson, 59, said she moved out of the neighborhood after living there for over 30 years. However, she made sure to return for the historical marker dedication because the majority of her family is from the neighborhood.

“I always come back,” she said. “I’m going to always come back.”

Related:New Soul Rep play ‘Elm Thicket’ sets love story in gentrifying Dallas neighborhood


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