Dallas Freedman’s Town: One Community’s Preservation Within a Gentrified Environment


The research project is designed to address elements of gentrification as process acting on a hierarchical scale of levels. Gentrification will be treated in this paper as a phenomenon of urban redevelopment and transformation, wherein a lower-class community is physically displaced from their residents and eventually replaced by upper-class residents. As gentrification takes place on a global scale, this paper will focus on the levels of the City of Dallas, the communities of the Dallas Freedman’s Town/North Dallas—established by freed slaves in the 1860’s—and the Saint Paul United Methodist Church congregation, located within the Arts District of Dallas, Texas. Through a collaborative approach, and from the perspective of the members of the Saint Paul UMC congregation, this paper documents the ongoing research to understand how the residents of Freedman’s Town/North Dallas communities had become established; the processes which forced physical displacement of the resident in Freedman’s Town and North Dallas, the role of Saint Paul within these communities, the role of Saint Paul within the Arts District, and the efforts made by the Saint Paul community to preserve and promote the understanding of their history as one of the last remaining vestiges of the Freedman’s Town and North Dallas communities within downtown Dallas, Texas.

Table of Contents: 

    Drive through Dallas Freedman’s Town with a Member of Saint Paul United Methodist Church

    Y – All this use to be a milk company…right here. (Pointing to an area just east of the Booker T.)

    Y– This street didn’t used to be this wide…. (Flora Street)

    Y – This street used to go straight through to the” Y”. (Through the area that is now the 1 Arts Plaza.)

    G – The “Y” should be just right behind here.

    Y – Now all of this used to be businesses…all businesses. Now I am going to turn in here. The new condominiums at the corner of Routh and Ross) Right in where the black dance studio is…through there…. (Looking back to a building next to the Black Dance studio.) Now this must be the YMCA….

    G – I think that is actually a church now.…

    Y – Oh yea, that’s that denominational church there. I don’t know where it’s gone.

    Y – It ain’t here.

    Y – [Sighing]…exasperated

    G – It seems like everything has changed.

    Y – Some of this stuff I hadn’t even noticed was gone…right along Side this church here (Paul), right along here this didn’t used to be a driveway, but a street. (What was once Munger Street passed next to the church) [**We are heading North under Woodall Rogers]

    Y – …yea that was Munger. And the next street over was Boll. Look to your left. And see those apartments there…next to it was a school….That’s Saint Peters. All this here was houses and churches and….all of this… (making directional motions with her arms). And they called it Center Track….It was a railroad track ran down through it….before they upgraded it to Central Expressway, and built Woodall Rogers.

    Y – Where we fixin’ to go now is under the underpass…which a road used to go through it…but not no more.

    Y – Because they tore it all down. They tore all of it down.


    I remember during my childhood wondering about how things around me, myself included, transform over time, or maybe not transform at all, whether it be my body, other people, my friends, my neighbors, and the place that I live. Now, after having grown into adulthood, I realize that some things will always be subject to transformation; however, in transformation, in what manner, in what direction, and to what degree will things transform is still a mystery until the very thing in question is viewed in that moment. Even further how the past is remembered may speak volumes to the direction of the present and future.

    The process of transformation that I am referring to is that of gentrification, a term coined by Ruth Glass in 1964 after her recognition of the transformation of physical, social, and economic elements within a community are transformed. Southern Methodist University Professor Robert Kemper, describes this transformation as gentrification, in his paper, From Freeman’s Town to Uptown: Community Transformation And Gentrification in Dallas, Texas, as: “Changes in a low-income neighborhood arising when higher-income residents move in” (Kemper 213) and can be applied to various states of social hierarchies, including individual, people, neighborhood, community, city; state, nation, and global. I apply this process of neighborhood and population transformation to a remaining vestige of history and heritage of a freed African-American community in Dallas, Texas. This community has remained active for 137 years in its original location, experiencing the gentrification of the entire community and series of surrounding neighborhoods around it. This community is known as the Freedman’s Town of Dallas, Texas. The process of gentrification will first be described as a phenomenon that is currently taking place in urban metropolises and rural areas all over the world. As such, it remains inherently coupled with the concept of globalization; however, this paper will focus primarily on the city and community levels. Secondly, I will explore the specifics of gentrification vis-à-vis the history of Dallas Texas, paying special attention to the influences of segregation and marginalization that have lead to the gentrification and demise of the physical community of Freedman’s Town, as well as to the displacement of almost the entire Freedman’s Town African-American population within the last century. Finally, at the level of the Dallas Arts District, a new name for a District that used to comprise Freedman’s Town, now 63 square acres within the Dallas downtown area. Within this area of the Art’s District can be found Saint Paul United Methodist Church (SPUMC), the oldest remaining vestige of an active community which still has its roots in the Arts District. The latter half of this paper will focus around my personal experience writing a preliminary ethnographic study of the Saint Paul congregation which still embodies elements of the Freedman’s Town heritage. Special attention will be paid to the experiences and perspectives of community transformation, present positioned in a completely gentrified neighborhood of the Arts District; the future of Saint Paul; and, lastly, the efforts to couple the preservation of their past legacy with the present and future of the incorporation of Saint Paul and the Arts District community.

    Gentrification as a Process

    Rowland Atkinson and Gary Bridge (1-255) describes gentrification as the processes of class colonialization in deprived neighborhoods which have consequences that are often secondary social problems that include the displacement of the urban poor and an increasing conflict over physical territory. Where the influence of gentrification can be seen in growing metropolises all over the world–Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Kyoto, Sydney, Bilbao–they can be further described as a wider set of power relations and connections that may operate at the scale of “local, urban, regional and international levels”(Atkinson and Bridge 7). It is important to recognize that this phenomenon is taking place at the level of community and neighborhood which may carry both positive and negative attributes. On one extreme, there is a history of events telling a story of how these derelict, inner-city areas have come to be in such a state of disarray and low habitation. For, the people and businesses that had once inhabited and potential thrived in these areas in the past experienced influences which have caused their flight from their neighborhoods and communities of the inner-city and out towards the suburbs. The focus of this paper will be the discussion of such histories, especially the Dallas, Texas area, as put by Professor Kemper, “Dallas, Texas demonstrates the best–or the worst–effects of gentrification on an urban community, since the spatial and residential reconfiguration of near North Dallas has been nothing short of spectacular” (Kemper 178). It is within the City of Dallas that the top-down positive consequences and the bottom-up consequences of gentrification will be explored, where the urban plan for the development, growth, and rejuvenation of the City of Dallas’ government and planners have not always corresponded with the needs and desires of the city’s lower-class residents. On the other side of the extreme gentrification, city leaders may deem an area within the city as in need of re-investment into residential facilities and infrastructure. This process may repair buildings and increase property taxes for generations. Through the spur of often private investments and public-private partnerships, local governments may be able to restore and improve infrastructure and reverse depopulation of city locales within areas that are struggling to maintain activity and vitality due to economic and market fluctuations and crises over time (Shaw 168). City governments and private developers may further negotiate the purchase of land covered by derelict buildings and under-maintained neighborhood amenities and services (sewers, power lives, streets, etc.) and then clear these regions in order to substitute depreciation for middle- to luxury apartments and new arts districts. The rationale here may be to promote tourism within a city’s downtown area, which may have beforehand felt heavy migration of the population and business from the city center towards suburban areas. The history of the Dallas Freedman’s town tells of both sides of the spectrum of gentrification, including the power relations and connections that are operating and controlling the processes of urban succession (Kemper, discussion) from the position of the gentrifier and the gentrified, while also unfolding the historical events leading up to gentrification processes in action, and the products that are left due to succession.

    History of Freedman’s Town

    This historical community was established in 1869, during the violent and turbulent times of post-war Reconstruction, in an area originally lying on the northern outskirts of the first permanent Dallas city perimeter. Freed slaves primarily from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas had settled this area in order to escape the Vagrancy Ordinances established in 1865, segregation, and racial violence that still loomed freshly within the minds of former plantation and slave owners entrenched within Dallas city proper (Prior and Schulte 61-62). It was in this location that freed slaves could begin to build self-sufficient communities which could address their necessity for goods and services, social order, and other needs (Prior and Kemper 179). Due to racial violence inflicted upon the newly freed African-American slaves and Unionists, Congress established the Freedman’s Bureau in 1865. By 1867, the Freedman’s Bureau finally implanted a representative in Dallas; the purpose the Freedman’s Bureau was to take care of matters associated with newly freed slaves: setting up public schools and providing an agency of protection against incursions of racial violence (Prior and Schulte 67). After three years of attempting to establish and sustain two separate public schools for freed children, the Bureau decided not to attempt an opening of another school for freed persons, leaving the duty of education up to the local Dallas freedman population (Prior and Schulte 68). Afterwards, members of Freedman’s Town quickly established church services, which held basic public education for freed children, and eventually established the Freedman’s Cemetery (Prior and Kemper 180).

    Through the ethnocentrism and racial acts such as segregation and vagrancy laws, African-Americans were prevented from taking full part in the activities of Dallas’s cultural, social, political, economic, educational, and religious programs and institutions. In response, as both a means of resistance and as self-empowerment, African-Americans began to build and govern their own institutions and infrastructures.

    By 1872, the Freedman’s Town experienced external threat of separation when the Houston & Texas Central tracks were laid down, separating the newly built cemetery and the first established homes settling Freedman’s Town. In 1873, the Texas and Pacific Railroad had built its tracks approximately one mile south of the current Freedman’s Town settlement (Prior and Kemper 180). Throughout the 1870’s the railroads stimulated an expansive influx of immigration and population boom among the Dallas and Freedman’s Town populations, turning Dallas from an agricultural region to a commercial town (Prior and Schulte 69-71). It was the development of these two railroads that carried immigrants, supplies and business to Freedman’s Town and the City of Dallas at large. The railroads had employed African-Americans.

    Because the railways were located one mile north of the Central Business District of Dallas, city planners had extended Elm, Commerce, and Main streets northward in order to shorten the distances between the railways and the business district. During this time the shotgun houses in Freedman’s Town extended southward, eventually creating a link, known as “string town,” between the current Freedman’s Town and the Dallas Business District. For a picture of a shotgun house, refer to Figure 1. From there, three African-American enclaves (known as Deep Ellum, Stringtown, and Freedman’s Town) began to thrive as the heartland of African American culture centers (Prior and Schulte 71, chap. 2) “Throughout the 1870’s and 1880’s, these enclaves began to provide indication that Freedman’s Town residents were now employed as laborers, teamsters, draymen, expressmen, porters, carpenters, plasterers, wood sawers, and brick makers” (Prior and Kemper, 71) within their own communities, as well as within the city limits of Dallas proper. The railroads also played a significant role in the development of job and social opportunities for African-Americans within the Dallas Freedman’s Town regions. This was noticeable by the 1880’s when the residents of Freedman’s Town, located on the East side of the H&TC railway, merged with another African-American community, North Dallas, located on the west side of H&TC railway.

    In 1889, the Dallas City Counsel created a new Ward (Ninth Ward), adding to the already existing Wards, entirely dropping the name “Freedman’s Town” and calling the ninth ward which includes Freedman’s Town and North Dallas, North Dallas (Prior and Kemper 181).

    From its inception, the North Dallas community experienced tremendous growth in population size and in economy, with members building their own thriving, self-sufficient community, including businesses like grocery stores, formal schools, meat markets, shoe repair shops, dress shops, a millinery, blacksmiths, and churches (Including Saint Paul African American Episcopal (est. 1873). This community attracted skilled and unskilled workers alike and allowed for the development of medical practices and dental offices; these professionals would eventually become prolific leaders within the African-American community (Prior and Kemper 181). At the same time, the community of North Dallas still suffered from the physical confines of segregation by the largely white Dallas community and had physical boundaries at McKinney, Pearl, Haskell, and Ross, which formed the north, west, east and southern boundaries. These physical boundaries were set by the influx of white homes surrounding the north, south, and eastern borders, and the Freedman’s (as well as three other) cemeteries forming the western border (Prior and Schulte, footnotes of chap. 2).

    By the 1920’s, the predominantly African American, North Dallas community began to notice the practices of segregation preventing African-Americans from moving into the adjacent white neighborhoods, despite a major period of economic and social growth within the community (owing primarily to the increase of businesses from 50 to 130 after WWI). This began to take a devastating toll on the future growth of the community (Prior and Kemper 182). Also at this time there was an increase in Ku Klux Klan membership in the area, from 5,000 to 25,000. The reaction by the North Dallas community was described by Prior and Kemper as follows: “The combination of need, determination, and even greater threat to the life and freedom combined to generate a renewed spirit of self-sufficiency and drive for equality in the North Dallas community” (183). Even in the midst of this influx of segregationist spirit within the Dallas area, the North Dallas community began to thrive as a diverse social, self-sustaining atmosphere which met their educational, social, religious, and commercial needs within the two communities of the Ninth Ward, while still providing labor and services to the Dallas community at large (Prior and Schulte 88, chap. 2; Prior and Kemper 184).

    In contrast to the success of self-sufficiency and social growth within the North Dallas social community, because of the external segregation practices, the physical community began to show signs of deterioration in public facilities and streets due to old age, as well as problems with overcrowding, inferior sanitation facilities, and poverty. Finally, in 1927, Dallas city officials became concerned over the image seen within the North Dallas community; in short, the appearance of a “slum” had caused Dallas officials and city leaders to carry out a survey to assess 1,245 African-American homes in the North Dallas area. The study concluded that the northern area of North Dallas was beginning to become more upscale, while the southern area of North Dallas continued to grow with most homes being shotgun houses. At this time in 1927, there was finally an impetus to allocate government funding to pave some of the community’s streets and have sewer lines installed (Prior and Kemper 185-186).

    After the Great Depression in the period of the 1930’s, the Dallas city government gained the motivation and funding to try and further combat the levels of deterioration taking place within the North Dallas area; in so doing, they decided to address two major problems visible to them, namely public transportation and residential housing deterioration. In response to this, city officials agreed upon two massive renewal projects–Roseland Town Homes and the Central Expressway–which would have everlasting and indelible social impacts on the North Dallas community at large (Prior and Kemper 177).

    Roseland Homes. During the period of 1940s, the Roseland Homes project plan was completed after the newly created Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) had enacted an investigative series of surveys which had also included parts of the North Dallas community. Their reports initiated a Public Housing Project–Roseland Homes–which was to administer some form of residential housing relief on a plot of land composed of 142 separate lots the Dallas Housing Authority purchased in some of the neighborhoods where the homes were beyond repair. The idea to was provide 650 units which could house low-income, qualifying families and, ideally, provide residences with modern amenities such as running water, heat, and electricity. The Negro Chamber of Commerce and most of the North Dallas residents approved of such a project; however, the cost to the community included the loss of at least 75 African-American and White property owners, as well as the loss of a long established African American Baptist Church, in the process (Prior and Kemper 189).

    Completed in mid-1942 the Roseland Town Homes boasted an administrative building and an auditorium, the latter of which was used to host social events from dances to boxing matches to business parties. However, as the purpose for the City of Dallas was to clear the “slums” and provide a modern place of living for some of the North Dallas residents, it had failed to capture and address the problem of displacement and overall housing inadequacy (Prior and Kemper 190). In fact, many African-Americans began to look for housing outside of North Dallas, in the white neighborhoods of South Dallas, only to be faced with violence and fire-bombings from white mobs (Prior and Kemper 191). At this time, African-Americans began to move into white neighborhoods; Whites began to move out of these neighborhoods in search of new areas, leading to the phenomena known as “white flight.”

    Central Expressway. The project which would permanently shape the physical and social landscape of the North Dallas community was the creation of the Central Expressway. Beginning in the 1930’s and through the early 1940’s, Dallas officials decided to replace the Houston & Texas Central railroad with a freeway (Highway 75/Central Expressway) in order to better handle the rapidly growing suburban development in areas such as the Highland Park on the west side of the Central Expressway and “M” streets off of Greenville on the east side of the Central Expressway. The recently administered Federal Transit Laws developed during the Roosevelt Administration provided little support for African American residents of North Dallas to halt the further development of this project. The project would require residential clearances within the North Dallas community, as well as the clearance of much of the land in the Freedman’s Cemetery and would only allow residents to challenge the under-appraised value of their homes, take their funds, and seek alternative housing. The Central Expressway was completed in 1949; its presence physically bisected the community and effectively strangled much of the social dynamic and economic connections which had been a focal point within the North Dallas community at large (Prior and Kemper 191-192; Prior and Schulte 85). The North Central Expressway was a wedge that was driven between the heart of the commercial district creating the feeling of ghetto in the neighborhood (Barentine and Gaba 13). In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, there was a marked decrease in populations of all ethnicities within the North Dallas community (Prior and Kemper 193).

    In the period of the 1950’s-1960’s, during the same time that housing stock of the North Dallas area began to decline in availability and safe livability, the desegregation of schools as a result of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education became a reality, effectively creating a “white flight” as white residents were fleeing the integrated school system and heading toward the suburbs with their independent school systems (Prior and Kemper 194-195). Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, members of the Freedman’s Town/North Dallas community had been pushed to move to South Dallas, Hamilton Park and Oak Cliff due to slum clearance, motivated by the destruction of homes and businesses for the building of the Woodall Rogers Freeway, which cut from the southwest to the northeast of the North Dallas community. Residents who were able to save up enough money to purchase property in peripheral, white neighborhoods had an additional impetus to move. The city was once more forcing African-Americans out into out-lying white neighborhoods, a practice thought to have been partially remedied by the construction of the Roseland Townhomes. Renowned city planner, Harland Bartholomew, hired by the City Planning Commission and Mayor Rodgers says of his assessment of North Dallas: “The consequences of the slum do not result from the inherent character of the people living in it, but from municipal neglect” (Schulte and Prior 196, chap. 5 epilogue). In 1968, the Federal Housing Act had cleared all remaining restrictions to segregated and racial housing practices. However, its timing would not be enough to help mitigate the struggles and hardships forced upon the North Dallas community; it was forced into the confines of its own neighborhoods, its houses and public infrastructure deteriorated, and remaining homes were bulldozed to make way for the freeways and public housing (Prior and Kemper 196).

    During the 1970s and1980s, most of the North Dallas/Freedman’s Town community had been demolished and residents of those areas had moved and been displaced to suburban regions all around the periphery of Dallas, especially to southern Dallas. It was to these regions that shopping centers, movie complexes, and other social amenities had been relocated. During the mid-1970s, Dallas became the tenth largest city in the United States, boasting a population of 2.5 million people. New wealth was coming into the area from high oil prices, rising real estate appraisals, and a growing tax base attributed to the profitable real estate and banking sectors. However, excessive speculation during the period of rising interest rates had caused the “bubble” of the real estate boom to explode. Small savings and loans and large banks all suffered heavy financial losses. By the late 1970s, the African-American community had been, as Professor Kemper states “disappeared.” The Census tracts of 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 show that most of the African-American community had been “disappeared” and replaced by mostly white affluent residents (Prior and Kemper 196-197; Kemper 139).

    This effective disappearing of the North Dallas African-American population is in part due to the previous slum clearings for replacement by public housing projects, freeway and expressway construction, spurred on by attitudes of segregation and neglect. It was during 1982 that the City of Dallas enacted a major planning effort called “Dallas 2000.” At his time, the North Dallas area was no longer demarcated on Trend and Land Use Maps as being an entity, which may have been a part of the process in which the City of Dallas approved (by private sector initiatives and public bond issue elections) for the development of the Arts District, located in the southern section of what was the previous North Dallas area. A second factor\ was the construction of City Place on the northeast border of North Dallas, followed by the designation of the State-Thomas neighborhood as a historic district on the western border. Dallas City officials sponsored and funded these projects by creating the Tax Increment Finance Districts (TIF) and the Uptown Public Improvement District, which would make millions of dollars accessible to fund the State-Thomas and City Place, as well as the Arts District. The 650 unit Roseland Homes project was also torn down by the Dallas Housing Authority and replaced by a modern 250 unit housing project which would fit the look of the upscale residential and commercial environment in what used to the North Dallas/Freedman’s Town community (Prior and Kemper 197). Here in the Arts District, the story of the present state and position of the Saint Paul Church, as well as its heritage from the previous Freedman’s Town, comes into focus. It is the transition from the inception of the Dallas Freedman’s Town through gentrification and the redevelopment of the physical area into the Arts District which provides the context of the next role of the church within an African-American community.

    From Gentrification to the Arts District

    The focus of the rest of this paper focuses on the development of the arts district and the Saint Paul United Methodist Church, which is the oldest vestige of the remaining community in this District. Plans for the Arts District date back to 1979, when the real estate and business boom was still present. The citizens of Dallas had approved a major bond issue to develop a new Arts District which would contain a new Dallas Museum of Art and the Myerson Symphony Hall, as well as the Nasher Sculpture Center, Center for the Performing Arts, and the renovation of the Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet High School located next to the Saint Paul United Methodist Church (Prior and Kemper 201-202). Additionally, there are multiple luxury apartments built in the area surrounding the Saint Paul Church, the area that was once a thriving African-American community with a heritage of more than 145 years.

    In this area, I will focus on the Saint Paul Church, and its role in the previous North Dallas/Freedman’s Town Community, as well as its current position within the Arts District. There is a particular significance intertwined with the Saint Paul United Methodist Church, in that there are efforts by the congregation to collaborate with preservationists, archaeologists, and other groups in order to find ways in which to capture and document a history of a community and a people that had originally developed this region, and furthermore, have done so under the auspice of the faith that can be found within the walls of the church.

    History of the African-American Church in Dallas

    Lawrence Jones, author of The African-American Churches: In History and Context, remarks that in order to understand the religious history of a people, one must attend to their founding; their history; the religious faith that caused them to be founded and sustained; and the social, political, economic, educational, and cultural context of the people involved in this process (Jones 165). The African American Church was an integral part in the social, political, and educational progression of freed African-American peoples who made the move from southern plantations, countryside, and cities to the Freedman’s Town and North Dallas area, especially because of the segregation and vagrancy ordinances imposed upon them from the external White Dallas attitudes (Prior and Schulte 88-89). After two failed attempts by the Freedman’s Bureau at creating public schools for freed persons, the African-American Church had become the center of basic education as well as political and social throughout the latter nineteenth century and into the civil rights era. The church tutored its congregations on living as free individuals, saving money to purchase property, educating themselves, behaving ethically and morally, developing enterprise, being thrifty, and having integrity in human relationships (Bailey and Morris 172-173; Prior and Schulte 93). While being a focus for the community, one of the few which could be controlled by the African American community, some churches were able to last in the Dallas area from the 1870s through the Civil Rights movement and beyond. Not only in Freedman’s Town and North Dallas were these African-American churches working toward the benefits of their own congregation and sustainability, but were also working with one another, almost regardless of denomination, in order to sponsor and build homes and to work with local educational authorities to improve the quality of life in their community at large (Bailey and Morris, 165, 178-179). In fact, the National Congress for Black Churches was organized in 1978 for the purpose of coordinating and inspiring its member churches to undertake common enterprises for the benefit of their members and communities across the nation (Bailey and Morris, 178). Saint Paul’s United Methodist Episcopal Church is one specific example of a church that has remained a focal asset to not only the Freedman’s Town and North Dallas Community, but also to the suburban African-American communities by establishing satellite churches in order to better provide a convenient and hospitable location for the purpose of serving God and bringing disciples into the church community (RS, conversation, St. Paul).

    Brick-by-Brick: St Paul Methodist Church

    This church was established originally as Saint Paul Methodist Episcopal, later to become Saint Paul United Methodist, on Juliette Street between Boll and Burford streets in August 1873. Leaders, Reverend H. Boliver and Dr. Williams Bush organized Saint Paul on a plot of land donated by Anthony B. Norton. Other benefactors and participants were L.H. Carhart, and Ed Finn, trustees of the M.E.C. and Philadelphia Board of Missions. “This land was to be used a place of Divine worship, school purposes, and may be subject to the discipline and ministerial appointments of the Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States” (Prior and Schulte 2000: 91; Saint Paul Story archives). In 1874, the church’s first building, a white-framed house, was erected; its basement was believed to have been used for both church and school (Andrews Normal School) until 1901 (Prior and Schulte 91; Saint Paul Story archives).

    Prior to 1885, Saint Paul was the original founder of the Samuel Huston College, an institution to train black youth, which eventually was relocated to Austin. By 1899, the Saint Paul community had created a two-story brick building, along with a two-story tower facing 260 Juliette Street. In 1905, the church had a third story added to the tower and also added electric lighting. The Saint Paul church applied in 1918 for a building permit to construct a new Black church. After the vendor’s lien was satisfied in 1920, Saint Paul was able to continue with construction of the church. Due to funding deficiencies throughout the building of the new church, the community members would bring a brick each to every service they could, eventually creating a hodgepodge of variously colored bricks—a symbol of the church’s history and legacy, of being built “Brick-by-brick” as stated by the current Reverend Elzie Odom, Jr.

    By 1922-1923 the Church construction was completed, housing a basement and a single above-ground story (Saint Paul archive). In stark contrast, by 1927, the church could seat 928; at its maximum capacity the church could accommodate a congregation of 1600 people (RS, conversation, Saint Paul). In 1948, Saint Paul’s most prolific pastor, Reverend Ira B. Loud, helped Saint Paul organize other Methodist Churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. By 1968 and throughout the previous civil Rights years, Reverend Loud had created a merge with the Evangelical United Brethren and Central Jurisdiction, which would eventually be termed the United Methodist Church (Saint Paul Archives). It was this merger into the larger United Methodist of Texas conference that would influence Saint Paul’s ability to help movements within a larger organized body, as well as be able to seek aid and support from the larger United Methodist Congregation at large.

    Throughout the planning of the Arts District in the 1980s through 2010, and the clearing of nearly every adjoining plot of land surrounding the church, with exception to Booker T. Washington High School, the Saint Paul Community received its designation as a Dallas Historic Landmark in March of 1982 (Saint Paul Archives), a saving grace within this gentrifying and transformative environment. In 1997, the Saint Paul Church became “a church with a vision”, ‘and created “Renaissance 2000, Incorporated”, a 501c (3) non-profit corporation designed to bring in funding that would help to support such programs as the Tuesday Nights Jazz Program, held in the sanctuary of Saint Paul United Methodist Church. The Jazz program is consistent with the significance of the Arts and Music within the African-American legacy.

    The year 2001 marked the beginning of the “Restore our Legacy” Project to restore and renovate the 1816 Routh Street edifice and place of Divine worship, initiated by the first African-American woman ordained into the North Texas region of United Methodist Church as pastor, Dr. Sheron C. Patterson (Saint Paul Archives). In order to preserve and restore the legacy of not only the church, but also of the original Freedman’s Town community in the late 19th century, the University of Texas at Austin and Saint Paul UMC formed a partnership to begin an historical and archaeological excavation of the original shotgun house which stood as the church edifice in 1874. As the Arts District continued to develop luxury-apartments and a multi-million dollar arts center, so also did Saint Paul church continue its campaign to help feed the homeless, who come from far and wide to dine on the fabulous cooking that Saint Paul offers.

    In 2005, under the leadership of Reverend Leonard Charles Stovall, Saint Paul became headquarters for “project Harambee.” With the aim of long-term community and housing development for survivors of the Katrina Hurricane, this coalition helped hundreds of peoples displaced by the natural disaster (Saint Paul Archive 4). In 2006, the Saint Paul congregation found itself under new leadership with Reverend Elzie Odom Jr., who took on the task of raising funds for the church building’s restoration and renovation.

    In conjunction with St. Paul’s renovation, the Roseland Town Homes also received a new look in the 1990s, one in keeping with the gentrifying neighborhood of luxury-apartments. However, Saint Paul wishes to rebuild its infrastructure and century old plumbing, and environmental control systems, as well as the addition of a wheelchair access ramp and elevator tower, in order to accommodate the growth of the church within the Arts District. Over the course of the next four years, the Arts District was the scene of the development of new luxury-living spaces and office buildings; the restoration of the Booker T. Washington High School, now the Booker T. School for Visual Arts to appeal to the theme of the District; and the Moorland YMCA building, now the headquarters of the Dallas Black Dance Theater. Saint Paul oversees all of these activities and continues its ministries within the Arts District, as well as with partnerships with other adjoining churches. In February of 2009, Saint Paul Church and the University of Texas Austin Ph.D. candidate , Jodi Skipper, opened the exhibit, “From Freedman’s Town to the Arts District” (Saint Paul Archive, 5; Conversation with Jodi Skipper).


    Several preliminary methods are employed within the scope of this in order to provide a holistic approach to ethnographic and field studies.

    Community Introductions

    I had spent the sum of 14 of the allotted 24 days of field work in Dallas at the Saint Paul UMC at 1816 Routh Street, at Bluff View Cochran Chapel UMC, and Southern Methodist University. Over the course of this time, I attended church services; participated in singing in the choir (after a request to join by members of the congregation due to a lack of men in the Chancel Choir); volunteered my services to help move furniture, files, and supplies from the administration building to the separate Saint Paul church building; and volunteered my services to the final preparations for the Ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating the re-entry of the Saint Paul congregation into their Routh Street home, after having spent 16 months at Cochran Chapel during the renovation/restoration work.

    I entered this church with uncertainty as to how members of the congregation would consider my position as an outsider. I believe that through shared experiences of working to bring the congregation of Saint Paul back to their 137 year home, and through the connections made between eventual friends, our discussions, our laughter, our empowerment of fellowship and solidarity, I was provided the richest ethnographic and humanistic experience to my research and to my own life, one that I would not have considered possible to attain in a matter of five weeks.

    Semi-Structured/Open-ended Interviews

    Although I had only two semi-formalized interviews in which I had a series of questions prepared to ask of my participants, I feel that these were the moments when the interviews had turned into discussions. Rather than putting the participant in the spotlight, or on the stand, these times of discussion were moments enriched with prescient candor, laughter, and shared experiences and memories. How better can you experience the camaraderie and trustfulness of another, hoping that they might find themselves willing to open up their own perspectives on a potentially vulnerable past and present, unless both participating parties have established a mutual comfort and trust for one another? These interviews consisted of 60 to 105 minute sessions in which there were 25 questions that I had previously prepared. However, one thing that can be said of a discussion, is that it is so beautiful to not act so robotic when conversing in favored company and, thus, my 25 prepared questions blurred into the background of non-linear conversation, which yielded not only mutual friendships, but also rich and thick descriptions of voices that deserve to be heard, and relationships that were formed.

    Literature Review

    In order to supply an appropriate background and general context of the history of gentrification, Freedman’s Town, segregation within Dallas, the African-American Church, the City of Dallas Plan, and the Arts District, I felt It necessary to bridge the gap of an objective historical analysis, a cadence of modern anthropology in which the researcher is often directly aloof from their subjects of study, in order to couple the older anthropological methodologies with those of the humanistic, post-modern, ethnographic anthropology. Moreover, I feel that by coupling the objective studies of the history of a people with my field experiences among the members of the Saint Paul congregation, there has now become a feedback loop, in which the voices and perspectives from those who have experienced the stories and history being written about them, may choose to share their perspective of how history should be written. It seems that this approach couples the benefits of the objective past and subjective future which is necessary for anthropology to employ when discussing the human experience by looking at the elements of the humans with whom they share experiences.


    My study has the following limitations. I had limited time to complete an in-depth ethnographic field study and analysis. I did not have available resources for transportation to and from home to Saint Paul Church. Also, the sample size provides a limitation although the analysis is thorough. Due to limited space, not all results and findings from field interactions between researcher and participants (otherwise considered members of shared experiences) are included in this report.


    I had come to UNT this summer with the intention to complete the preliminary work of a project that explores the perspectives of displaced members and their descendents of the Freedman’s Town that had once resided in downtown Dallas. The approach and methods originally proposed involve a visit to Saint Paul UMC in order to make contact with the Senior Pastor about the plans and overarching goals for my project. The goals are to understand the effects that the process of gentrification has had on members of the previous Freedman’s Town community, as it relates to changes in community structure and identity relationships over the past 50 years. Initially, I was under the impression that through redevelopment of the downtown area, especially since the 1960’s, there had been a massive displacement of Freedman’s Town residents to regions on the periphery of downtown Dallas. Moreover, if there was displacement, was it involuntary? Were there any reparations to the displaced residences? Who were the players involved as primary and secondary movers of such a displacement, and what are their roles?

    In order to create a foundational and trustworthy working environment with the displaced members of the Freedman’s Town community, it seemed obvious that I must approach members of the church who might be willing to share with me their thoughts on the benefits of undertaking such a project, and why they would or would not be willing to participate in its cultivation. Because these topics that I had wished to address are not attached to my personal relationships or history with of this community directly, I decided that a collaborative approach where the Saint Paul Members could describe their thoughts about significant aspects relating to these topics could be established so as to provide benefits to/for the members of the Saint Paul Church and the Freedman’s Town community, as well as for myself as an aspiring researcher, interested in their history and perspectives. The first field objective was then to visit Saint Paul UMC and speak with the Pastor and any interested members about my research and to see how they had wished to progress with this research, if they would at all. This would require establishing rapport and a sense of trust with Saint Paul members, in order that a working relationship might be able to develop out of a personal relationship. First, I set out to Saint Paul with these thoughts about the first stage of field work; the project would be an oral perspective of the history of Freedman’s Town, it’s redevelopment into the Arts District, the position of the church in Freedman’s Town, and the present and future position of the church in the Arts District. In relation to the methodologies used to undertake this project, it seems that my primary motives for conducting such research should be an aggregation of literature research, which should provide the reader a series of contexts to spot-light the interactions between the researcher and their participants. It is by this means that measurements can be made that will satisfy the academic constrictions placed upon an ethnographic anthropologist to apply scientific methodology that should be testable and reproducible. However, in order to be able to describe the intricate and humanistic elements of the senses shared amongst the researcher, participants, and reader alike, it has been necessary and a privilege to have entered the field and have shared experiences, stories, and emotional productions with the members of the Saint Paul United Methodist church. As has been previously described, this church is primarily African-American, and has remained so since its inception. I will share my story of entering this church, and eventually becoming as I feel “accepted” as a member of the congregation and the Chancel Choir. Moreover, this field work will be referred to from here on as a shared experience between me and the members of the Saint Paul UMC congregation, as we discuss their perspectives of history, present, and future at this church, and share the experiences of five weeks together in the Dallas Arts District of Saint Paul UMC.

    Works Cited

    • Atkinson, Rowland, and Gary Bridge. Gentrification in a Global Context: the New Urban Colonialism. London: Routledge, 2005. Print.
    • Bailey, Lorenzo and Ura Jean Morris One-Third of a Nation: African American Perspectives. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 2002. Print.
    • Barentine, Joseph Powell and Geoffry Gaba. State-Thomas Special Purpose District: Planned Development District #225: Its Evolution from the Freedman’s Town of North Dallas (circa 1861) and the Thomas-Colby Neighborhood (circa 1880) through the Passage of the Ordinance March 19, 1986 and Some Subsequent Events. Dallas, TX: S.n., 1986. Print.
    • Jones, Lawrence N. “The African American Churches: In History and Context.” One-Third of a Nation: African American Perspectives. Washington D.C.: Howard UP, 2001. 165-85. Print.
    • Kemper, Robert V. “Dallas-Fort Worth: Toward New Models of Urbanization, Community Transformation, and Immigration.” Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 2-3 34. Summer-fall (2005): 125-49. Print.
    • Prior, Marsha, and Robert V. Kemper. “From Freedman’s Town to Uptown: Community Transformation and Gentrification in Dallas, Texas.” The Institute, Inc. (2005): 177-216. Print.
    • Prior, Marsha, and Terry Schulte. A City within a City: The Rise of Freedman’s Town/North Dallas in the Face of Segregation. Dallas: History Conference, 1999. Print.
    • Saint Paul Archives. Published by Saint Paul United Methodist Church. 2010.
    • Shaw, Kate. “Gentrification in a Global Context: the New Urban Colonialism.” Local Limits to Gentrification: Implications for a New Urban Policy. London Routledge, 2005. Print.

    Figure 1: Classic “shotgun” style house on Rampart Street, Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans

    SOURCE: Infrogmation, May 2007