A Texas-born president's signature helped change life in Dallas in 1964

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by JOHN McCAA

Bio | Email | Follow: @johnmccaa

WFAA

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 11:42 PM

Texas still had a poll tax on state elections when the Civil Rights Act was signed.

In Dallas, the city council was all white, but changes were coming.

The day President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, Dallas schools and public life were still segregated.

Rev. Zan Holmes was a seminary student at SMU at the time.

“We had demonstrations, we had marches -- it was all here, the dissatisfaction with the way things were," he said. "We could have easily had a riot.”

All across Texas, segregation reigned supreme.

Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk grew up in Austin and rode his bike to the capitol, but he remembers he couldn't get water.

”The colored fountain was a well on the grounds of the capitol that had that horrible sulfur smell, and to this day, when I think about segregation, I think of that smell," he said.

However, unlike other places, organized opposition to integration was not violent. In Dallas, business leaders produced a film entitled “Dallas the Crossroads” urging residents to exercise calm.

Although the push for the new civil rights law started under President Kennedy, it would take the national shock over his death in Dallas and the unmatched political savvy of his southern successor to gather the necessary support for its passage.

Dallas schools would remain segregated for years to come. However, slowly but surely, many of the barriers once ingrained in city life started to come down.

Minority participation at every level of city government has expanded beyond what many imagined in 1964, and   all of it assisted by the stroke of pen wielded by a Texan who declared segregation had no place in American society.

E-mail jmccaa@wfaa.com

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