Just before he started fourth grade, Gahlen Warren moved with his family into a newly developing area of Dallas called Hamilton Park. He didn’t realize it at the time, he says, but growing up in the all-black neighborhood, neatly organized around places of worship and a strong central school, shaped his personality, character and values.
Warren quickly made friends with Charles Bussey, a boy down the street, and says Charles’ mother, Mary, became a major force in his life.
Warren, ordained as a minister at First Baptist Church of Hamilton Park and later retired from Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Sherman, reconnected with both of them at a ceremony Saturday to dedicate a historical marker for the Hamilton Park Community.
“She had chicken fried steak on Wednesdays and another lady around the corner had fried chicken on Thursdays,” said Warren, side-hugging Busse. “Miss Capshaw down the street had pork chops and greens on Mondays. We made our way around.”
“If my mother would start fussing at me, I would go down to Miss Bussey’s house and she would finish the message. I wasn’t worried about being home at ten o’clock. Everybody was home at ten o’clock. We learned respect, because every other home in Hamilton Park had the same rules. Every family had a place they worshipped. Those were the most important things – faith, family and worship.”
“It was peaceful and it was friendly,” remembers Bussey, who still lives in her home on Willowdale. “Everybody was of one accord. You could tell your kids, ‘if I’m not home, go over to Miss so-and-so’s house.’”
“The police seldom had to come out here,” added Warren. “Our teachers got our attention, and every child was taught respect. Parents didn’t teach the lesson: how to respond to police. The lesson was: how to respond to adults – parents, teachers, preachers, police, the man at the store. If we messed up, the news would beat us home.”
The dedication ceremony was emceed by Dallas City Councilman Adam McGough, who collaborated with the Texas Historical Commission Undertold Marker Fund Program, the Dallas County Historical Commission, the Hamilton Park Civic League and Richardson ISD over several months to secure the official Texas Historical Marker designation. The marker now stands front-and-center on the grounds of Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet Elementary, originally the community’s segregated twelve-grade school.
The Texas Historical Marker reads:
The Hamilton Park Community
Located ten miles north of downtown Dallas, the African American community of Hamilton Park began as the White Rock farming settlement. In the 1940s and 1950s, racial violence in the south Dallas community of Queen City and the discriminatory displacement of African American residents for the new Love Field municipal airport resulted in the need for many of these families to move outside of the downtown area. In response, Jerome Crossman, a local oilman, compelled the Dallas Citizen’s Interracial Association (DCIA) to locate land in north Dallas for the project as well as consulted philanthropist Karl S.J. Hoblitzelle for funding. On February 13, 1953, the Hoblitzelle Foundation lent DCIA funds to purchase acreage to address the housing shortage for African Americans.
Named for Dr. Richard Theodore Hamilton, an influential voice in the African American equality movement in Dallas, the Hamilton Park community was the first African American suburban development in Dallas. Intentionally planned in two phases with the segregated twelve-grade school at the center and each street named for prominent African American individuals and institutions, the community officially opened in 1954. By 1958, many homes built near the school were complete and middle class families began to move in with the community complete by 1961 with 741 single-family homes. In addition to the school, the community included three churches, a shopping center, and park, complete with a swimming pool, tennis court, basketball court, pavilion and playground. Since the 1950s, the Hamilton Park Civic League has served the community residents, connecting them with City of Dallas resources, encouraging voter registration and turnout, and planning community events. This sense of community and pride among residents helps preserve the heritage and legacy of the original homeowners.