‘That house is my heart’

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Thomas Jefferson worked three jobs to purchase his family’s property in Hamilton Park during the mid-1950s.

Tucked between Central Expressway, Interstate 635 and Forest Lane, the historic neighborhood was developed as an African American subdivision. Five developers sold about 750 homes to middle-class black families, according to Dallas Morning News archives. In its heyday, residents ran errands at a Hamilton Park shopping center, attended one of three churches and sent their children to the neighborhood’s primary and high schools.

Jefferson and his wife, DaveElla, purchased their four-bedroom house on Rialto Drive for $10,000 in 1956. They raised eight children and planted a hackberry tree in the front yard. Later they converted the garage to a living room, added a laundry room and a master bathroom. 

As the school became a magnet, businesses shuttered and the neighborhood evolved, the house remained in the Jefferson family for four generations. 

And this June, for the first time since fourth grade, Taler Jefferson will call it home.

“Every Jefferson lived in the house at some point,” the 29-year-old says. “You walk in, you feel the spirit of them there. That house is my heart.”

After finishing high school, Taler left the neighborhood to attend Bennett College in North Carolina. She graduated three years later and earned a master’s degree at Life University before moving to Iowa with her mom, Nichole. They’ve since returned to revamp the family home and the neighborhood. 

Much to her extended family’s dismay, “the tree has to go,” because it’s dying, Taler says. The home’s foundation needs to be fixed. The bathrooms, bedrooms and floors need to be renovated. Eventually, they’ll redesign the kitchen. Taler also wants to repaint the exterior in its original white and sea-foam green. 

They’re not the only ones who have returned. Several neighborhood natives moved back to revamp Hamilton Park and prevent developers from razing its history. 

Taler is one of the residents that the old guard of the neighborhood are calling the “next generation leaders.” They advocate for the community’s needs and attend Hamilton Park Civic League meetings, spearheaded by Taler’s great-uncle and the “unofficial mayor,” Thomas Jefferson II. 

She remembers when the tennis courts and baseball field near Willie B. Johnson Recreation Center weren’t falling apart, and the grass between them was a public pool. The space is where Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet used to hold an annual party for sixth-graders, and where Taler had cheerleading practices. 

“There’s no reason for the tennis court to look like that,” she says. “There’s no reason for the baseball field to look like that.” 

In August she founded The Salome Foundation, and the nonprofit’s goal is to improve inner-city and low-income neighborhoods through “educating, building and serving.” Its creation stems from a church service she heard while visiting her uncle in Houston. The pastor’s sermon revolved around making change within minority communities, and it resonated with Taler. 

The nonprofit already has given away a $500 scholarship, organized a neighborhood clean-up event and distributed Christmas bags to the homeless. 

“In the next five years, Hamilton Park will definitely be back to what we know it as,” she says.

Learn more about The Salome Foundation here.