Reading about history is entirely different than living it while it happens around you. This is another day where anyone alive and old enough to remember, remembers where they were and the events of the day. But to be living in Dallas — Oak Cliff — the events seemed so surreal, unbelievable.
Living in Oak Cliff was quiet. The police actually patrolled the streets because that’s what the police did back then; there wasn’t much else to do. It just wasn’t usual to have a murder in the city each month, much less three in one weekend. Maybe it was because we were young, but we watched two real murders replayed on TV over and again, and told of the third. That was beyond anything most people had ever witnessed. That was the stuff of movies and fiction.
Harry and I were in school that day. I attended T. W. Browne and Harry was at Adamson. Once the school informed us of what had happened, the atmosphere was very quiet. Of course teachers and some students were upset, but there was no chaos. All normal activity ceased. At Browne, they piped the radio events over the P.A. system. Then we heard a police officer was shot and killed. Someone saw a suspicious acting man enter a theater and alerted the police. The police then descended on the Texas Theater — no stranger to most young people in Oak Cliff. Oswald had been walking loose on the streets we walked and he was now sitting in the theater we all knew. We were glued to the events unfolding over the P.A. We knew exactly where the police were as the events unfolded off the radio. At Adamson, sirens could be heard everywhere. Officer Tippitt had been shot about a block away on the next street. Adamson students were informed about the President being killed, but they weren’t getting the step by step events unfolding like we were hearing.
Oswald was captured inside the Texas Theater and taken to the city jail at Main and Harwood. LBJ was sworn in as President at Love Field and they left for Washington. Could it get any worse?
On Sunday morning, police were transporting Oswald to the county jail when Jack Ruby stepped out of the crowd and shot Oswald front and center. It all happened just as church was being dismissed. And that’s how we found out about another murder within our city in three days.
Officer J. D. Tippitt lived in my neighborhood. His son and my brother were friends. What a week.
Emotionally, the people were not near as friendly with strangers after that. As I mentioned before, Oak Cliff was like a small town in the shadows of Dallas. And like small towns, the crime eventually comes to them.
Politically, I think the crime increased the more Dallas neglected city services in the Oak Cliff area, and it was especially noticable in the older neighborhoods that were composed of elderly homeowners and renters. The more the city neglected its responsibilities and older homeowners moved out, the more the area decreased and crime increased.
New development seemed to stop prior to 1967. The last residential neighborhoods developed were near what is now known as Executive Airport near the Oak Cliff Country Club and some new homes around Kimball. There might have been a few new homes built in the next 30 years, but most new development was in the suburbs of Duncanville, DeSoto, and beyond. It’s only been in recent years that new homes toward Joe Pool Lake, S. Hampton, and around Mountain View College were built. This was probably due to the federal court order on forced busing.
Young families began to discover Kessler and the neighborhoods around it in the early 1970’s. Gas was escalating — I think it was around 50 cents a gallon. Most people still worked downtown, a vibrant area of retail, entertainment, and office back then, with public transportation. People were moving back into the inner city to save money. They also found they could find large houses in the area for less than was offered farther south in DeSoto and Duncanville. During the next 25 years, I believe the people in Winnetka Heights, alone, paid to build a Home Depot closer to the area. There was no Lowe’s back then.
The assination of JFK was bad enough. Having Lee Harvey Oswald associated with Oak Cliff — even though he only rented for a very short time — put a negative reputation of crime on the area.
It was strong leadership and perseverance that sometimes took small steps along with a few giant steps to make North Oak Cliff what you see today, a place of incredible opportunties and beauty when people have a vision.