Fort Worth museum holds small reminders of life before Civil Rights Act

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by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 8:50 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 10 at 8:50 PM

FORT WORTH -- The wooden sign reads “for colored.” It’s from a Fort Worth store.

"I remember these signs well,” Bob Ray Sanders said, “and we were taught to fear those signs."

It's just an artifact now; one of many reminders in a small museum on Humbolt Street chronicling black life in Fort Worth called The Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum.

"At the time I was growing up, I could only go to the zoo one day a year,” Sanders said. “One day out of the year!"

So the Star-Telegram columnist remembers crying when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in July of 1964. Sanders was entering his senior year at Fort Worth's only black high school, I.M. Terrell.

"I got up the next morning and went to the Hollywood Theater in downtown Fort Worth - where I had never been because I was not allowed - and I bought a ticket to see a movie," he recalled. He suddenly felt empowered to integrate what had been one of many forbidden spots for blacks in Fort Worth.

"We could only go to Forest Park pool one day a year,” said museum curator Brenda Sanders-Wise.

She’s Bob Ray Sanders’ niece. It’s a large family, with oak-like roots more than a century deep in Tarrant County. Sanders-Wise is executive director of the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. She remembers a little brother grabbing a seat on a Fort Worth bus.

"He sits on the front seat and my mother jerks him up," she remembered, "and says, 'Don't ever do that again.'"

The Civil Rights Act made race discrimination illegal. By the time it was signed, many “colored only” signs were already coming down in Fort Worth.

"I could go and drink water at the fountain -- not the colored fountain," Marjorie Crenshaw said.

She’s 86, and still lives in the same south side house she's always lived in. She remembers a nearby home getting bombed when she was a girl.

“Across Evans on Maddox, the porch was blown away,” she said. "My mother slept with a .45[-caliber handgun] my daddy told her to keep under her pillow."

Crenshaw said the Civil Rights Act made life better for her and her children -- sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

But better, and worth remembering, 50 years later.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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