Hamilton Park agents didn’t approve Dymris McGregor and her then-husband Jimmy Johnson’s application to buy a home the first time they applied in 1959. At only 20 years old, McGregor didn’t meet the minimum age requirement.
“I was so worried they were going to build them all, and I wasn’t going to get any,” she says.
The day of her 21st birthday, the couple drove to a small office at the intersection of Schroeder Road and Campanella Drive. They perused five floorplans before choosing a three-bedroom model on the last available lot on Glen Regal Drive.
“For most of us, this was the first house we ever owned,” she says. “We were so proud. We worked so hard and saved our own money. To be able to buy your own house was a dream come true.”
Named after Dr. Richard T. Hamilton, a prominent African American physician, the neighborhood was Dallas’ first planned black subdivision. The Dallas Interracial Committee and the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce (now the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce) created a joint committee to establish the neighborhood.
Hamilton Park second graders.
The growing African American population in the 1940s was squeezed into a handful of residential developments, including Bonton in South Dallas, a predominately white neighborhood at the time. The white residents were hostile to their new neighbors, and a bomb campaign targeting blacks soon emerged — with projectiles thrown from cars and porches and onto roofs of black family homes. The neighborhood often was referred to as “Bombtown.”
Hamilton Park’s creation was two-fold. It solved the black housing crisis, but it also kept families from moving into white neighborhoods.
For Hamilton Park’s residents, the subdivision was a piece of the American Dream, historian William H. Wilson wrote in “Hamilton Park: A Planned Black Community in Dallas.”
The neighborhood marked “the dawn of a new day in Dallas,” former Mayor R.L. Thornton announced at its 1954 dedication, according to Dallas Morning News archives. Five developers sold about 750 houses. The 179-acre neighborhood also featured a shopping center with a grocery store, radio shop, drugstore and beauty salon, as well as three churches.
Hamilton Park’s primary source of pride was its school, which served elementary, junior high and high school students.
Hamilton Park’s new school building in the 50’s.
Although the school had fewer resources than its white counterparts, the school felt like a family. Students didn’t call teachers Mr. or Mrs.; they called them “Aunty” or “Uncle.”
But the lifespan of the school at Hamilton Park was short. The same year Dallas applauded its own efforts to provide black families with segregated housing, the United States Supreme Court ruled segregation in schools was unconstitutional.
Richardson ISD ignored the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) guidelines were put into action. Racial attendance zones were banned entirely. Because Hamilton Park was the only black school within the district, students were separated, even within their own families, and sent to schools throughout RISD.
The district considered shuttering Hamilton Park entirely, but neighbors fought back, Curtis Smith says. He served on a biracial committee tasked with desegregation.
“Being in it and being more or less neutral, my job was to desegregate the school district and have a school district at the same time,” he says.
Instead, in 1969, the high school closed, and students were sent to Richardson and Lake Highlands high schools. The junior high shuttered the following year. In 1975, Hamilton Park transformed into Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet, a school whose student body was required to be 50 percent white and 50 percent black.
“They moved all the black teachers out of the black school. … They made it a school that has everything so white people would drive over and bring their kids here,” longtime neighbor Ladell Jernigan says.
“They did enough to pacify the federal government.”
A girl scout troop attends a 1970 worship service at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
As Hamilton Park residents reflect on the school’s closure, they recognize that, in some ways, desegregation’s effects contradicted its intent to treat all students equally. The plan not only curtailed the school but unraveled the tight-knit neighborhood. Families stopped attending football games and activities together. Children weren’t close to their neighbors because they no longer went to school together.
Now, 50 years later, Hamilton Park is once again at the center of discussions about race and education. Former school board member David Tyson filed a 2018 lawsuit stating RISD’s at-large school board violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
RISD settled the lawsuit with Tyson in January, and now two minority-majority districts will elect a representative from Hamilton Park for the first time in the district’s history.
“We’ve had ups, and we’ve had downs. … This is the best ‘up’ that I could ever see, and I’m so glad to be a part of it,” Hamilton Park civic leader Thomas Jefferson said during January’s community meeting.
As the effects of desegregation linger, we asked longtime neighbors to reflect on the process — what was lost, what was gained, and what could’ve been done differently.