Excerpts from Dallas Morning News Article
Back in the day
They once called her “Readin’, ’Ritin’ Ruth.”
Ruth Sanders grew up in Oak Cliff and took the bus to the city’s only black high school, Booker T. Washington, in the old Freedman’s Town. Lined with dirt and cobblestone roads, the capital of black Dallas stretched from the high school up to Lemmon Avenue, where “Keep This Neighborhood White” yard signs began.
In the 1970s, Ruth got a degree from Southern Methodist University and campaigned for the Dallas school board with the “readin’, ’ritin’” slogan. In the early ’80s, as a member of the City Plan Commission, she help fight against encroachment on the worn-down remains of Freedman’s Town.
As downtown towers pushed closer to that community, investors began to scoop up black properties and flip them for huge profits. Brokers fanned out and rang doorbells on shotgun shacks and rooming houses, chauffeuring longtime residents to neighborhoods with tempting brick homes.
Those who stayed saw their tax bills rise, or worse. Many remember the day in 1984 when the First Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, across the street from Griggs Park, went up in flames. Investigators never solved the arson, but the pastor said the congregation had refused to sell.
It was during the black exodus that Ruth moved in. When she took over her late husband’s family home, neat rows of pecan and oak trees marked the places where other houses had stood.
Ruth worked mostly secretarial jobs, but in her spare time helped organize meetings to protect black homeowners from pushy developers.
“We wanted to make sure that some of the older people weren’t being pressured,” Ruth said in 1985, when she told The Dallas Morning News that only 30 neighborhood homes remained occupied by black heirs.
In Uptown today, the Nodding Donkey bar thumps where a black barbershop once stood.
Luxury apartments loom where wooden boardinghouses lined the streets years ago.
Labradors and Goldendoodles romp in Griggs Park, where Ernie Banks perfected his game before finding fame as the Chicago Cubs’ first black player.
But the century-old home on the corner of Thomas Avenue and Allen Street stubbornly remains.
“There’s lots of reconstruction going on now. You see these things going up in the air. Over on McKinney Avenue, what’s that new store called? It takes up several blocks,” Ruth says, referring to a Whole Foods Market.
Ruth’s skin crinkles like tissue paper when she laughs — a polite chuckle that bubbles up when her memory fades. Her mother-in-law once told fortunes in this house, and in 1985 Ruth moved in, after her husband died.