The Oral History of Mollie Belt
Josh: It’s easy to pass by the unassuming building at 4510 Malcolm X without realizing it houses a Dallas institution. But once inside, you immediately get a sense of its rich history.
On the walls of it’s long central hallway are images of Dallas’ past. At the end is a beautiful little library, and a woman whose knowledge runs deeper than the entire collection of books.
Ms. Belt: I can talk about a whole lot of things.
J: Mollie Belt, among many other things, is the editor-in-chief of the Dallas Examiner, which has provided a “closer look at your world” for over thirty years under her leadership. She can tell you a great deal about how the city has evolved in that time. But before she does…
B: Well, can I tell you something first about myself?
B: I grew up in Dallas. Well I lived several places before with my family, I lived in Tuskegee, Alabama first and second grade. And then we moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and I lived there for three years and then we moved to Dallas. Dallas was a segregated city. So I always tell people I lived in a segregated society, and I am 74 years old now so, when I left high school Dallas schools were some of the last schools to integrate, so the schools were still segregated when I graduated from high school, and integration occurred after I left Dallas. And I graduated from Lincoln high school, right down the street, and I feel like I did get a good education there. I had some of the best teachers because they didn’t have a lot of places they could go to work, so you can just imagine the kind of math teachers I had, the kind of chemistry teachers I had. Basically if you were a college graduate and you were black then, you taught school or you worked in the school system.
My father was a lawyer in private practice, he was in this same building and my mother taught school in the public school system. My mother did not take any education courses when she was in college. She was a straight math major, she wanted to major in chemistry but she said she didn't have a lot of clothes so she she couldn’t afford to get her clothes messed up in college in the labs and stuff, so anyway... She, when we lived in Tuskegee, she taught at Tuskegee Institute there, she taught math, and that was a completely segregated, really really segregated, I didn't see any white people. And then we moved to Cambridge and all the sudden I was in a different kind of situation completely, because of course it was integrated. My father went to Harvard. I went to school in the third, fourth and fifth grade in Cambridge. And then my father was originally from Dallas so we moved back to Dallas where he started his private practice of law.
I went to school here in Dallas. Dallas, I guess it may have been the last school system in the United States to really integrate. And, let me tell you, when I was in high school, there were limited things, living in a segregated society, that we could do. So as a high school student for recreation, my best friend and I would go to the public library downtown, it was integrated, they had built the new library. And so our parents would drop us off, because my father didn't like me riding the bus because at that time, you ride the bus, blacks had to sit in the back. So our parents would take turns, dropping us up at the public library on Saturdays. We would stay down there about three hours just reading books. I love books, and they would pick us up, because we didn’t have anywhere to go eat lunch. There was a dimestore, HL Green’s, and it was like a- like a five and dime store, called HL Green’s, and it had a basement and there was a counter in the basement where black people could go and eat, and my father did not want me subjected to that kind of stuff, so I didn't- they would come pick us up.
By the same token I never went to the movies a lot, because- we had some black theaters, but the kind of movies that they played, my parents didn't want me to see, so... The Majestic Theater had good movies, downtown, however, black people had to sit in the balcony so my father didn’t... Now when I would go to visit my grandmother in Marshall, Texas, the movie theater there had the blacks up in the balcony, and my grandfather was a Methodist minister there Marshall, he would take my cousin and I to go to the movie and we would go in, it was a side entrance, we would go in and go up to the balcony, and if you wanted popcorn or whatever, you would order it, and she would go to the concession in the back and bring it to you. My mother's oldest sister was a missionary in Africa, and she would come home every three years on furlough. So when she would come home on furlough, you know it's like she could put on her African attire and she could go in the front door of the theatre. Isn’t that funny? But as a Negro in Texas, we couldn’t…
J: Because she was seen as exotic and exciting…?
B: No, she was seen as somebody, she had a country. Africa. She came from another country, and so she had rights that we did not have here. In terms of the segregated high school, like I said we had limited things we could do, I do feel like I got a good education, because when I graduated from high school, from Lincoln, I had a scholarship to go to Spelman, an all-girls school in Atlanta, I went there for one year, didn't like it and then I transferred to the University of Denver. University of Denver is equivalent to SMU, it’s a Methodist school, you know private owned and a lot of people in the South may not know as much about it as people in the West or the North because, you know, a lot of people came to University of Denver from New York and people that liked- students that liked to ski because we had easy access to the ski slopes. And so when I left there I came back to Texas and worked, but getting back to high school, segregated, I think that's what you wanted to know a lot about. We were- it was kind of funny. Things were dictated to us, I remember, like as a child.
We had a joint commencement, there were only three black high schools, and the district office on Ross made us all graduate together at, they had a new convention center. The seniors at Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, and Madison, we all graduated together. They also made us have a joint prom even though we did not want to have- we wanted to have our own, you know, proms and stuff. They made us have it together. I do remember us protesting at Lincoln. They charged us for the prom, if you were going, and so our parents had given us money to pay, but we decided that we weren’t going to pay the money because, you know, we were rebelling, we wanted to have our own prom. And you must realize, like we were rivals, because, you know, we played each other, we didn’t want to have everything together. And I remember the principal was Mr. Holland, and he called us in. They called our parents, and our parents said “Oh, no!” My mother said “Mollie’s had her money for the prom,” you know everybody had had their money. And so the president of the student body said, I’ll never forget, Gerald Adams, he said, you know he said “this is taxation without representation, you all just gon’ make us pay for the prom and we have nothing to do with it.” Anyway, we ended up paying for the prom, it went on downtown. They let us have our own baccalaureate at the high school, they let us do that separately. And I think a lot of it probably had to do with, it was a new convention center, and utilizing that facility, that’s what I think, but I don’t know.
J: At the same time, these are all big schools, though.
B: Yeah but that's what they, they made us do it. And I guess it’s something that just you know lives with me. I mean I remember. Integration in Dallas, it was kind of a slow process. My father wrote a paper called “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down,” and he talked about all the meetings, you know, that they had leading up to integration. Dallas never really had the bad protests and things that you had in the other cities in the South. Now you know, Houston had some, and of course the deep South had a lot. And so basically, Dallas’ fathers-that-be, when they figured “okay this is what we’re gonna have to do” it’s like, the next day, they saw this pressure coming, they just kind of opened everything.
But you still had, you know, remnants of segregation, for example: the Y was a very integral part of our community, the YMCA and the YWCA. I took ballet lessons at the YWCA. I mean, the YMCA was the only indoor pool that blacks could go to and swim in. It was just, you know, it had lots of activities, and they had these little youth groups, Tri-Hi-Y and Hi-Y, the Tri-Hi-Y were the girls and the Hi-Y were the boys, and I belonged to that, and I remember at one point, we would have meetings, like downtown, where they would have white students and black students, you know, we would kind of meet together and talk about stuff. They were getting ready to go to Austin for- I’ve forgotten exactly what day they called it, but it was like a, you know, experiencing legislative day. But we couldn't go because we were black. So the white kids walked out at the end, they were going to Austin, we couldn't go. And my father was so hurt, he sent me to a Quaker camp in New England, and I’ll never forget, that’s the first time I flew in a plane and he put me on that plane by myself, and when I got to Chicago, I will never forget, I had to fly a helicopter from one airport to the next. I went on up there to the Quaker camp, because, you know, he didn't want me, I mean, you can just imagine what kind of effect that has on kids.
And one of my classmates, James Gray, he’s an ophthalmologist and he recently retired, closed his practice, but he did move to be the head of the ophthalmology department at Baylor. And one day, we were talking and he said “you know, Mollie,” he said, I will never forget, they had, they called it boy’s state or something, and he said that they let them go, and he never will forget, he was also an artist, and he had drawn the logo for boy’s state, and it won first place, but he could not stay on the campus of University of Texas with the rest of the kids. He said he had to stay at a little motel off on the east side. So it’s just a lot of things, you know, and I tell people, a lot of times I say the wounds of there and I will go to my grave with a lot of these wounds, even though I look forward, you know, to what can I do now, what can we do to make things better, how can we change people's perceptions, you know, of black people.
We had, as I said we were close to the kids that- my mother taught at Madison when she moved back- and so we were close to the students there and we had, oh my goodness- I know of three students at Madison who went on to medical school, one went on to become an ambassador to some wonderful countries, Belize or somewhere. But when I say we got a good education, in spite of the fact that we had hand-me-down textbooks, textbooks that were outdated, and did not have the same lab equipment and stuff that the students had, but we had excellent teachers. I know that one of the students- we did a supplement on him, oh several years ago because I kind of wanted the Dallas community to know, you know, some of the graduates of Madison high school and what they were doing, because you know Madison has really been in trouble lately.
So, one of them, his name is Kip Lenore and he's a doctor, he practices in LA now, and he finished Madison. When he first finished he went to Howard University - it’s a black college. Then he got this Zales jewelry, they had the Zales foundation, they were giving scholarships, and he applied and he got a scholarship to go to medical school, so he came back to Texas and he had to go to the University of Texas, and then he left there and went on to medical school, UT in Galveston. He said when he went to Howard, he said they had to learn like the whole book, everything. See, at that time, when you had segregation, blacks, we over-learned, you know? And so he said, like, you know, they had a book, they had to learn it all. So when he transferred to University of Texas he said it was actually easy for him because, you know, they would just have tests, over, you know, just certain chapters and stuff, and he was accustomed to, you know, knowing more, so it was easy.
And also, a friend of mine who's female, she finished Madison too, a couple years behind Kip, she got that same Zales scholarship and she went to the University of Texas and of course at that time, the girls could not stay in the dormitory at the University of Texas so they had a little house in the community on the east side they let the black girls stay in. And that house- they didn’t integrate the dorms at Texas until Lyndon Johnson was elected president and his daughter was going to school there, so they didn’t want that bad publicity, that here it is, the state school, and you know, even though blacks could go to the University of Texas, you know, the girls couldn’t live on campus. So she’s a doctor too. My mother taught her math, and she said that one of her instructors at UT asked her one day “where did you learn this math?” She said my math teacher in high school taught it to me. She was really more advanced than the other students. When integration occurred in Dallas, when they integrated the schools, see, the supervisors were all white. When I say supervisors, the ones who like, they had, you know, supervised all the math teachers in high school, and the social studies teachers... and so when they integrated the schools they took the best teachers- the supervisors knew who were the good teachers, so they took the good teachers and sent them immediately to the white schools. That's how they integrated, they took the best counselors and they sent them to the white schools, because they knew who they were.
So in terms of an education, in spite of the outdated textbooks, in spite of not having, you know… and it’s like, Anetha, that's the one I told you was, she's a doctor now, she said, you know what, she said I really didn't know at that time, I didn't feel that I was living, you know, a substandard life, she said she didn't really- she did not feel the discrimination because our parents basically, we were, you know, what you don't know about, you don't miss. And when I went to college, my father did not want me to go to school in the south, he did not want me to go to an HBCU, he wanted me to go to school in the North, because he felt like if you grew up in the South, you needed to go be educated up North and vice versa, kids in the North, he said, needed to come experience the HBCU.
J: So that’s why you left Spelman then?
B: I left Spelman because Spelman was an all girls school and they were very very strict, and they- you know, I look back on it now as an adult, and I know they were very protective, because, at that time, when I went to Spelman it was 1961, right in the heart of the civil rights movement, in Atlanta, Mississippi, Alabama, you know. And so it was not safe, so they did things to try to protect us like, when we went to the movies we always went with an adult chaperone. They would walk us down the street to the movie, sit with us the whole time and come back. We were not allowed to just go off campus, at that time there was a fence around Spelman with three rows of barbed at the top, and basically even when you- when we went, then mode of transportation was primarily by train, and so Spelman would meet the girls, you had to fill out a form to say when you were coming in, but that was all really trying to protect us ‘cause I mean the Ku Klux Klan, all that, that was all very active then, and so we would have to let them know when we we’re coming in, what time our train arrived. And when we got off the train, it was people, adults, from Spelman there to meet us and take us to the campus. And we used to laugh and say “oh God, we’re going back to the prison,” you know.
But, and so I didn’t want to live that kind of life, I felt like, well, I was at home, I was sheltered, I was an only child, I wanted to experience things, I wanted to learn, and so I decided- you know, I just got tired of- I made very good grades at Spelman, but I just decided that that's not what I wanted to do for four years. And at Spelman we had chapel every morning at 8 o'clock, and you had assigned seats, and the Dean would be up in the balcony, and she would check you off so you had to be present at 8 o'clock in the morning, and before you left to go to chapel you had to make your bed up, and so the house mothers would go around and inspect the rooms while we were at chapel.
And chapel, they would- oh they would bring some very very well-known people to come and speak to us, and they would talk to us about how they met challenges, how they got to where they are, and you know, listening to that every morning, I’m like, do I really want to be here, you know, I really want to experience the world, I really don't want to be sheltered like this, and my father rebelled against it, because he didn’t want me to go anyway, and when it was time to come home that Christmas- because I only stayed one year- my house mother called me downstairs and she said “Mollie, your father hadn’t, or your mother, they hadn't sent permission for you to go home for Christmas!” I said “well, I don’t know why, Ms. Hardin because I have my ticket to go.” So anyway, she said “well call your father on the phone right now, so you know, I can talk to him so you can go home for Christmas!” So I called my father, he was very angry, I mean he’s like “this is just ridiculous.” I mean that’s just how strict it was, you know? Because we had lived in Tuskegee, and one of my parents good friends still lived in Tuskegee, she was a librarian at Tuskegee Institute, and her husband had died, and she wanted me to come visit her during the Easter break. I couldn’t just go visit her.
I mean they actually- my parents had to send a letter saying that I could go, but before that Ms. Barnes had to send a letter inviting me to come to her house for Easter. That's just how strict it was, that’s why I left Spelman. I later, in fact, several years ago I bought the book, it was used, called “The Spelman Story.” Very interesting book, it’s an old book. They said even before I got there that they used to tell the girls when to put their long underwear on and when they could take them off. When the season is cold enough, you put your long underwear on now, and when to take them off. I mean, it was just really strict.
So that’s why I left Spelman, and I went to DU because when I told my father, you know, I wanted to transfer, I just don’t want to come back here, and he was just elated, and it was like he's getting ready to go to college, he started, you know, started looking up schools and stuff, so he found the University of Denver, and they had a late cut off for admission. DU was on a quarter system, so I went to University of Denver, and it was a different experience. There were very few Blacks there when I went, and they actually called me the other year and I wrote an article for them for their DU newsletter, but I, you know, it was... so what else you want me to talk about?
J: I asked her about her mom’s teaching career in the pre-desegregation era… while starting a new track.
She was, like I said, I started out and I told you this, she never took an education course- and then in Dallas, the black community was very very close-knit. Everybody, we basically lived around each other, went to church together, it’s not like it is now. And so the way you got on with DISD was if you knew somebody, I mean it wasn’t just you go down to the personnel office and apply for a job like it is now. And so when we moved here, she was not from here, my father was, and his old coach was a principal at Lincoln, and he helped her get on. In other words, my father went to him and, you know, introduced him to my mother and said she, you know, she was a teacher. They didn't have any colleges here at that time. So he helped her get on, so she got on teaching, but she had to take courses, you know, to get certified, because she was not certified in elementary or secondary education, and so she started teaching in West Dallas at George Washington Carver and then they opened Madison High School because all of the people, there was a lot of Jewish people that lived in Oak Cliff then around South Blvd and that area.
Everybody, you know, it was like white flight, everybody moved out, so here was this big school, so they gave that school to Blacks, and when they did, they took some students from Lincoln and some from Booker T, and then they had the students from West Dallas, they bused them all the way from West Dallas to Madison, and they would have fights everyday. But anyway, she taught math there, and she was a very good math teacher, I told you about those students that she taught and they did real well. And they would always win, like, number one prize at the science fair they’d have at Fair Park. And then when they opened up, she was the first black teacher at El Centro, and she was hired as a math teacher. When she was at Booker T, of course, she was really, you know, just think, I mean George Washington Carver, an elementary school, that wasn’t her thing at all, because she’d been teaching calculus and stuff, but anyway, she was a good teacher, and then, she was there maybe a year or so and then they opened Madison, and the principal at Madison, his name was Thomas Tolbert, and he was like a dictator.
And then, you know, the black society was just kinda, you know, strict, that's what, we didn’t have a lot of that riffraff like goes on today. I mean, they would never have this, you know, kids walking around with their shirts out and their pants hanging down. See the whole concept then was like: just like you were over-educated, you also were, in terms of your behavior, it's like, you have to do this because, see, integration was getting ready to happen, so you know, you have to be ready. And so, a lot of times and I heard this at a funeral, and I repeat it a lot and it is true. This black teacher, they were talking about him and he said, you know, he said “we were preparing students to live in a world that we had never lived in.” Because most of the teachers had never been around white people, they had never been to a white institution, they finished school and they went to an HBCU like Wiley or Texas Southern or Prairie View, you know they even got their masters degrees at Texas Southern or Prairie View, because you couldn’t go to the Universities here then, so they had no contact with white people, so they basically were preparing us to live in a world that they had not lived in. They were anticipating something, you know.
My English teacher, I never will forget, Gladys Mayo at Lincoln, she would not let us write with a pencil, I don’t write with a pencil right now, you probably can’t find a pencil around this place, because she made us write with, they had those pens with ink, you know, with the ink cartridges, that’s what she made us write with, so I learned how to write with an ink pen, a ballpoint pen, without making errors, just write complete sentences, and so that's what I mean what I say “over,” you know, ‘cause you know what, when you go to the white school, this is what, and then it wasn’t of course like that, but that's the way they brought us up, you know? So in terms of the teachers, my mother at Madison, Thomas Tolbert was very strict, he was a little short man and he would have, like, faculty meetings at 7 o'clock in the morning, I remember, my mother hated it, she’s like “Oh, god.”
J: It’s like chapel!
B: Yeah, he’d have the faculty meetings and he kept the teachers all on their toes and he ran a tight ship at Madison, but he didn't have all that stuff that’s going on now. And it was very difficult because remember I told you where the students came from, so you take students from those kind of neighborhoods and put them together, you know, you can imagine it took a while for them to stop fighting, stop having fights. But then, my mother, when they opened El Centro, boy that was her chance to teach at a college level and she taught math. Before- my parents were murdered, but before she was murdered- she was getting ready to retire, because she was very very disappointed because she said that the students were just not prepared for college calculus and college math courses. And that's why there's a learning lab on the second floor at El Centro, I guess it’s still there they named it after her, Mildred Finch learning lab, because she would stay after with, you know, it was more like tutoring the kids because they weren’t ready and she was very disturbed by that. But, she was a teacher, and like I say, we had different kinds of teachers back then.
I can remember my mother sitting at the dining room table every night, grading papers. I can remember her grading the math papers, and when the- if the problem was wrong, she didn’t just put an X, wrong, she would actually work out the problem for the student in red ink to show them how it was supposed to be. I mean, she worked every night Monday through Friday, doing that, you know, for our students, whereas, you know, today, I know when my kids were in high school- oh my goodness, they had those Scantron, you know, tests and everything and I'm like “How can kids learn how to write when you got all these questions and you just put in through a Scantron.” But that's what I remember about her teaching experience, I remember those meetings and they were very frequent 7 o'clock meetings before school starts, but that’s kind of how he kept everything together. And she always said “you know, kids,” she said “it’s what expect them to do, you know? If you expect them to be able to do this and that’s the way you treat them then they'll do it” and that's the way she approached. And all her students, you know, they say she was a good teacher, she liked teaching. But today, a lot of teachers- she wanted to be a, what do you call it, an actuarial, they work for insurance companies, that's what she wanted to do, but they weren’t hiring blacks then to do that, so, like I said, we had the best teachers, because they were teachers that were very skilled, very knowledgeable. Yvonne Ewell was my English teacher too.
J: Wow, how was that?
B: Oh my goodness, you know, she was very articulate, and she loved literature, and I hated literature. You know, Shakespeare and all that stuff. She was a good teacher. We had the best. And then as job opportunities startled opening up people started leaving the public schools. And you know the history of Bishop College.
J: Somewhat, but by all means.
Well, my grandparents lived in Marshall Texas, so I’d go down there every summer. And then my mother's sister taught math at Bishop, in Marshall. She she got a divorce from her husband and she lived with her parents in Marshall. So she went over to Bishop, sometimes the lights would be turned off, they were having horrible financial problems, and sometimes the gas would be off, I mean they were struggling. It was a Baptist school. And she- because she lived with my grandfather at the parsonage, it didn't affect her like she was living in an apartment, had to pay rent, you know, stuff like that, she didn't even have a car, he would drive her over to the campus every morning, go back, pick her up when the class was over.
So, it was during the civil rights era, and Dallas didn't have a black college, so black students were, you know, making attempts to go to SMU. And, the father's-that-be in Dallas decided, let's go find us a black college, it would be easier to move a black college here then to start one. So they looked to Marshall, Marshall had two black colleges, Wiley’s a Methodist college, and then Bishop. And so, because of the financial problems Bishop was having they basically gave them a lot incentives and stuff to move the college to Dallas, and they bought the land out there, I just say the fathers-that-be. They built the campus all at one time, they built the chapel, they built the library, they built the student center, they built dormitories, they built the gym, all at one time.
And I don’t know if those streets are still named after them but the streets used to be named after, like, RL Thornton, you know, those, I can’t think of all the names now, but you know, those famous, popular, well-known ones, and then they moved the college up here. Of course it went along well, you know, for a while, and then it went into financial problems and you know the rest, Connor Cottrell bought it and moved Paul Quinn up there and Paul Quinn is an African Methodist school and Sorrells is doing a good job there, but that's how the school got here, because they didn't want- you know, Dallas was very protective and they didn't want blacks trying to go to SMU.
J: So, you were in Alabama for first and second you said.
B: From the time I was a baby.
J: And then Cambridge third through fifth.
B: Third, fourth, and fifth.
J: So, when you came back to Dallas…
B: I had been exposed to more. When I came back to Dallas, I went to KB Polk elementary school, and I knew things, and I had been doing things that the students in Dallas at KB Polk had not been doing, and got a little lazy, like, you know, because I can remember, a lot of stuff was easy because I’d had in Cambridge.
J: Yeah, I'm curious, you know, because like you mentioned your friend saying, you know, you don't know the things you don't know, so if you're not aware…
B: Yeah, she didn’t feel like, oh, you know, that was a terrible life.
J: Right, but so with you coming in having had experienced both something that's even more rigidly segregated in Alabama and then something that's way more integrated in Cambridge, coming to Dallas, what was it that was unique to this city, and then even, you know, once you go then to Atlanta, and then to Denver, then back to Dallas…
B: Dallas was, as I say, still segregated when we came, when we moved here. I went to KB Polk, didn't find it very challenging at all, because I had had a lot of the multiplications, a lot of stuff they were just beginning to do, I had been, so it was easy. In Cambridge, I wasn’t really… there wasn’t a lot of social life. My father was in law school. And so we lived in the graduate student apartment of an apartment building, Gibson Terrace. And there weren't any Blacks in that neighborhood. I played with little white girls, we played, I mean I was unconscious, you know. And then there was one little girl in my class, and I met her, Hazel, and one day when her parents came to pick her up and my parents came to pick me up, and they met, and then we would go over there to see her, that was the only other black family that we knew in Cambridge.
But mostly my father was studying, and my mother loved to read, and so we would go to a library every Saturday and check out books, she would check out books and I- see she didn’t work in Cambridge. She was accepted at Radcliffe to get her Masters in math but my parents couldn't afford the tuition, she did get a scholarship, so my father went on the G.I. Bill to Harvard, so she didn't work. And that's why later, when we moved here, he always promised her, you know, he would let her go get her Masters, and she went to Reed College in Oregon that’s where she got her master’s. But we would go to library, she’d check out a whole stack of books, I’d check out a whole stack of books, and we’d go home and read them, and go back the next Saturday and get some more, that was a social life, you know?
And then, I know one day, we had a big chair in the living room and I would sit there with her and I’d read to her. I never will forget she made me read all the books, biographies about black- you know, George Washington Carver, Booker T Washington, all of them. All of them ended good except Phyllis Wheatley, I will never forget that, and I was reading about, the Phyllis Wheatley book and it was so sad the way she died, and I just started crying and crying. And my father said “Don’t make her read that book,” and my- I never will forget, my mother said “That's life. She has to learn how to face life.” So I didn’t have a lot of social, I mean it wasn’t like going swimming or going to play tennis- it wasn't, you know, belonging to clubs or anything like that. I remember my father taking me skating up the street one time and I was horrible, I was never an athlete. Then we had another family who, the guy was getting his PhD in some medical field, and he was a friend of my father's, he was in Boston because that’s where the medical school was, and I remember that we would go over there and visit them, you know, and then they would come over and visit us. But not a lot of, you know, social activities.
And that’s why, I guess, I missed Tuskegee, you know, because Tuskegee was, like, lots of stuff to do, at the university, you know, my father was personnel director at the VA hospital, I mean it was like, the whole community that we lived in was all black, we just had a good time, you know my friends and all, I missed it. We went to Atlanta twice a year, we’d go in the wintertime to buy winter clothes and we’d go in the spring to buy spring and summer clothes. And we didn’t grocery shop in Tuskegee, we would go to Columbus, Georgia to grocery shop, and my father would go once a month. But like I said I had a lot of friends, I didn't have that many friends, like, close, you know, stuff, in Cambridge.
J: And of course you were in Tuskegee because he had been…
B: He was in Tuskegee Air Force. I have a picture out there I’ll show you before you leave that I found up in the attic where he was in officer’s training school, and it’s a picture of about 100 or more people, he's only black on that picture. It was taken and has written at the bottom 1943 in Miami. He never talked about that experience. I had it framed. I can imagine what he probably went through in Miami. Because what happened, see when he graduated from college, you know, the war was going on, so he had to join the service, there wasn’t any decent jobs, and he joined the Air Force, and he was a smart man, and so he took the test and he passed the test in the Air Force for the officers training school, and he went down there to Miami and then they sent him to Tuskegee, the segregated airbase. And I was going to tell you, too, like years ago: graduate schools, universities in Texas didn't accept blacks, they would actually pay blacks, did you know that, to go to schools out of the state.
My aunt, my mother's baby sister, she was a social worker, and so she couldn’t go to any school in Texas, so actually Texas paid her to go to AU school of social work. She went over there with my mother, when he was still in the Air Force, but they paid them. I mean, you just- some of the things, I told this study group I went to, I said “you know what? I guess I have scars that will always be there. I will be buried with my scars okay? What I try to do is do what I can to make this community a better place to live in, and I do it through the paper, I try to educate, to make people aware of issues, it really bothers me that students don't read as much as they need. We're going to start program in August with the students at Lincoln where you take I think they said 3 or 5 would come down here and they would spend like a class period, and basically what we would do is produce a page that they have with other students, electronically writing, you know, to them, and edited and all. We feel like maybe if you have something that they have generated, they've written, that they will read it more, and then maybe they'll move on over and read other parts of the paper
J: That sounds awesome.
B: Well, I am a professional government service employee. I graduated from school, didn't want to go get my Masters, and I took the state exam, that was whole fiasco in itself. I’m just gonna tell you what happened: my father had a friend who was the first black to work for the Texas employment commission, that’s what they called it then, here in Dallas, downtown. And he asked her, he said “Mollie doesn’t want to go to grad school, you know anything about any openings?” Well I had been out there to apply for social work, caseworker out there on Harry Hines, because I majored in sociology, minored in psychology.
And so her name was Miss Jeffrey, she actually slipped an application out to give my father for me to apply for this program that they had started, it was doing the war on poverty, and he brought it home and I filled it out and I was accepted, it was called a CAUSE, and I can't remember, C-A-U-S-E, I can't remember what all it stood for, but it was part of the comprehensive employment act, you know, that they created as part of the war on poverty, to get more people employed. And so, the government paid for me to go to Tulane in New Orleans to train for that, and then I finished that. I checked the little block on the state exam to said I would work anywhere in Texas, and so they sent me to Harlingen, Texas.
So I worked for 9 1/2 years as an employment counselor in Harlingen, that was another segregated experience down there, because they were not accustomed to Blacks being in professional positions, things were not- they were not segregated but they just weren’t, you know... I mean, when I walked into the office they had no blacks working in office and the first thing the manager said was “Well, this ain’t gon’ work out.” So this the kind of thing that I'm against all time. And then I married a man from down there, he's deceased now, he died 2 years ago, he had pancreatic cancer, he was a lawyer too.
And then, I moved to Houston, I was assistant manpower director of the manpower program for Harris County for three years, and then I came to Dallas and I worked for the City of Dallas, I managed the title VI program for about six months, and then I saw they had postings of federal employment. My father did not want me working for the federal government because, you know, he had worked for them at the VA hospital and he said federal employees were lazy. He said they’d go to break in the morning, lunch, break in the afternoon, you know? But anyway, I applied and I got on and I moved on up, I was branch chief over the office for civil rights, for a little over 20 years, and I supervised people who were doing compliance, discrimination compliance. And I loved my work, and so…
J: And that was in the city of Dallas?
B: Yeah, it was Dallas region, what was it, five or six and was for Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Louisiana, five states. And so we did-
J: That’s a big group of states!
B: Yeah, and we traveled- we had some experiences with that stuff. I mean, like, certain places that we went to investigate, we didn't drive government cars, you know, ‘cause people, some of the places were not... and a lot of hospitals, we used to go in some of the hospitals in New Orleans, they were still segregating patients in the wards. I mean, you know- and they’d know we will coming, they would put people in, pull the sheet back, that was an experience. But anyway, I went there. And then, my father always believed that a newspaper was important to the African American community, and to the whole community, and a lot of lawyers had newspapers, and he owned a third of the Dallas Post Tribune, but he had two other partners, so the things that he wanted to do to move the paper forward, they didn’t want to do. And he was tired of looking at the front page, seeing who killed who, and all this kind of stuff. So he started the Dallas Examiner from scratch.
And he and my mother were murdered in 1986 about two months after he started printing the paper. And so I tried to manage the paper from my government office, it did not work. So by that time, my kids were away from home, they were in college, and I just- I took a leave of absence first, and I just couldn't go back, so I didn’t go back, I started working here at the paper. Now, the paper, you know, I used to tell people when they come in here and I was trying to make sales pitches and things, and I’d talk to them, and they said, you know, they said “don't say your father’s vision, because it's become your vision.” So that's what happened in a period of time, it just kinda became my vision. And I have special interest in education and in health issues, and so you see that in the paper and what I do.
I don't make a salary here, I live off my retirement, because the paper doesn't really make that much money. We have a very difficult time getting advertising, I call it institutional racism. I mean I have to fight the city for advertising, I get nothing from the county, and then private industries, they feel like, “well, black people,” even though we spend a lot of money buying groceries, we don't get not one grocery ad every week. So it's very difficult. And it’s like I was telling Rob when they were here, I said, you know, if I had just basic advertising, I wouldn’t need sponsorships for an education page and all this, I would have all that in the paper and I would cover it, because I know that it's a void, and it’s something community needs, and you know, when we have healthy people, Dallas is healthy.
When we have educated people, Dallas is an educated city, and then it’s a better place for us. And that's one thing that the fathers-that-be, I think they thought about when they brought Bishop here, they felt like, they wanted Dallas to kind of be like Atlanta, because Atlanta, I don’t know if you've ever been there, but it’s like a Mecca for black people, because of all the colleges, at one time, they had five, and they have the graduate school, AU, and so in Atlanta, oh my goodness, a high percentage of blacks are college-educated. And they kind of wanted, they said, “Why can’t we be like Atlanta?”
J: So, you know, having come when you’re a little girl and then go away for college, and come back, and then leave again, and then come back, and you’re sort of in each of these different capacities each time, you know, you’ve really had to have seen the city change in a lot of ways. How would you kind of define the changes that you’ve seen?
B: You know, some of the changes... I always tell people- years ago we didn't have- we being black people- we did not have a seat, I say, at the table, I mean like boards, councils, and things like that. Our voice was not heard. And today we do have an opportunity to have a seat at the table and for our voices to be heard. However it’s very, very disappointing, because so many times when blacks are appointed to boards and commissions, or when they’re elected to City Council, commissioner’s court, they represent themselves, and they forget about the constituents.
You know, I remember the first school board trustee was Emmett Conrad, Dr. Conrad, he used to live across the street from me when I was growing up, but the thing is that today so many Blacks forget who they are representing, and then a lot of them don't know their history. I can't call off for you right now the percentage of Blacks who vote but it’s very very low, the whole percentage in Dallas of voters is very low, of eligible voters. And I always tell people, “It doesn’t matter. You know, you’re white, you don’t have to vote.” I mean, you do have to vote, but you don’t need to vote like I do, because people died so I could vote, you know? And I know my history, and so, I know the sacrifices that were made so that I could vote, so every time the polls open I go, and I just feel like every black oughta get up and go vote.
So that's just disheartening, but we, we can do a lot that we’re not doing. And in education, that is very very discouraging, oh that is- when I look at the public school system, you know, I was going to a supplement on public schools for half of it, and charter schools other half, I realized that some charter schools are very good, and some are bad, just like, you know, public schools. But in terms of the city, I see people, I see the representation, but they’re not representing the constituents, for the most part, some of them are, but for the most part, they're not, they’re really not. And you see people come in who legitimately have interest in education, and I don’t know what we’re going to do about the education system, I really don’t. I don't have a solution for it, but the only thing that I can do as an individual is say, “okay, what do I have control over?”
One thing is this newspaper, how can I use this newspaper to educate the community, to make them aware of various health issues, education issues, how can I do that, you know? And that's all I can do. But I’ve seen the city change, I’ve seen it change because we do have diversity, we’ve got diversity at the city Council, but you still have a lot of things that could be done with the city that aren’t being done. We have 3 blacks on the School Board of Trustees. We have a black on the commissioners court, we have blacks on the Parkland hospital board, on the Baylor board, you know, we have a seat at the table, but how do we use that seat, you know?
And I know one time- I used to write house editorials, and I stopped but one time I wrote one where I said, “you know, black people, we tend to tell people what they want hear, not the truth, the facts, you know, oh, you want to hear so-and-so, okay, oh, you want to hear this so this is what I’m going to tell you ,but then when I leave and I'm with other Blacks I say something different. So a lot of times I blame black people for not just being honest, because it's a nice way to say something, you don’t have to be argumentative. If somebody hurts your feelings or something is unfair, you can say, “well, you know what, this really isn’t fair because so-and-so,” you can say it in a way that is not, you know- because some people may not have thought about it, you know?
J: What are some of the other ways that you are trying to use this newspaper to kind of do these things you’re talking about?
B: In terms of health, we published like- now I don't know if you know, but the highest rate of new rates of HIV infections are African-American women, you don’t hear anybody talking about it. We do a special on HIV. I had the hardest time getting that thing published. I didn't get any money from- well, I got one ad from Methodist and one from Prism Health, but basically it was funded by Gilead Sciences. And going online and getting that grant, ugh... And actually, the way I did it, I lost money, I didn’t make money. But anyway, I try things like that to educate. We’re going to put out a supplement in August on your legal rights, and the legal community in Dallas. And so the way we’re going to fund it is ads from attorneys, but it's going to have some basic information in there about just legal rights, and I can get that from the bar and places.
We’re trying to have an education supplement in July but so far nobody wants to buy any ads, I think it's a bad, wrong time of year, budgets are gone, but we were gonna have it- the public schools have all these schools of choice, that they would basically, you know, have something in there about, you know, the different schools of choice, and then the charter schools, the ones that are, you know, that would advertise. I have a problem in my mind, though, about the charter schools, because when you ask people to advertise like that, they say what they want to say, and you don't know that they’re really good or not, you know what I mean?
Actually in terms of informing the community, I would rather have money where I could just do news article, like we have one charter school, Faith Community, and they say it's an alternative school, but alternative is not in the name of the school, so the parents, they say they have something like 2200 students over there, so they don't- the parents don’t know they’re sending their kids to an alternative school, so when they get ready to go to college, they don't have the necessary requirements to go to college. But I can do just so much because I have limited advertising. But I’d rather do it, you know, and I probably will do it that way, because the more I think about those schools I’m like “Uh uh.” I mean, if I let them do it they’d be writing all kind of propaganda, you know what I mean? I mean, I really would like to talk about some of the good ones in terms of their ratings with the state, in terms of the students, but you know, journalism takes money.
And you know the newsprint’s going up with these tariffs? I mean every month my print bill goes up, so I mean, I’m limited. But that's how I use the format, like I don’t make a dime off monday night politics, not one dime. The sponsors that we have, they don’t pay us, we just ask them to be sponsors because they help us get people out. They put it on their websites and in their newsletters and help people to come. And they’re all nonprofit all organizations, we have all the black sororities and fraternities and organizations, like we have the leagues, NAACP. We had the Urban League when they existed here but you know what happened here, they’re gone.
Actually, the Dallas Examiner ends up spending money because we had one forum with one of the judges and that judge, they acted up, I had to hire constables, I hired two constables, because if they see somebody in a uniform, you know. But we do that because we feel that it's very important for people to try to be educated, and you know, know about the candidates, you know, they’re not going to find out everything at Monday Night Politics but hopefully, it will, you know, they’ll have an incentive, “let me look a little further, let me read, let me do this, let me get involved.” Because that was a good forum, that district nine forum.
J: It was great. It was awesome.
B: We’ve been doing that for about nine years. We don’t endorse either, the Dallas Examiner has never endorsed a candidate, because, some people ask me “well, why don’t you endorse,” we don’t endorse because we do not have the resources to have editorial staff, because i'm not going to have somebody just walk in here and just tell me what they want me to know about themselves and then I write it. Which is why I like Monday Night Politics because the people get to call them out and ask them questions, you know? But in terms of, you know, somebody that really has the time, that you’re following education, you know what they voted for, what they haven’t, what they're doing, you hold them accountable, you know... And I could make a whole lot of money if I endorsed because, you know, people give you some money if you endorse people, but we have never endorsed. We don't have the resources to endorse.
And I have a nonprofit, Vision Team, that’s a 501(c)(3), and I use it with things like grants and stuff, it goes to that. That's what I did with AIDS supplement, Gilead gave the grant to Vision Team, and then Vision Team purchased the supplement from the Dallas Examiner, we do it like that. And I’m really worried now, in fact I talked to somebody before I came here this morning, they called me, I said “I’m worried because half the people don’t even know that we have a runoff May the 22nd. And a lot of people don’t know that the school board election is May 5th.
J: Do you have more success with the digital version, I know you mentioned, like, the cost of print and advertisers…?
B: No, but we gotta move that way, in fact I just emailed somebody about getting me an app for the paper, somebody said if I have an app, that may be good, you know? Oh, he said he would love to do that.
J: Well, that’s great!
B: But it’d be too much for me to afford. But I’m very involved with our national association of newspapers. So we have 200 black papers in the United States. I served on the executive committee for about six years, and I serve on the board now, but I'm getting ready to go off. So one of our national reps, he called me this morning. So he was thinking out of the box and he said, “you know what,” he said “what do you think if the papers had apps, and you put it on the phone so that people just click the app, like Dallas Examiner and then the whole paper would come up.” I said “well, that’s brilliant,” he said “what you do is you charge the advertiser like three dollars a month.” You have to think, you have to do something to build that digital presence, because that's what it’s going to. People, they’re not realizing it now, but my rep from my printing company, they sent me an article the other day in the Longview daily paper, they had cut out all these pages, and they actually put an article in the paper and told the readers that they would not have these pages because of the tariffs and because of the cost of newsprint.
And I was in Austin last week, and you know the Austin Statesman is about like that. [magazine size] But see, to make money off digital, you have to have millions of views. I was in DC in March for Black Press Week, and we had a reception and for Kamala Harris the State Sen. from California, she spoke, and there was three men there from the Chicago Press Association and they were there lobbying the legislature about this stuff. I mean, it could put newspapers out of business. We’re already in trouble. Print is permanent. Oh, and UNT, they’re going to archive our paper. We joined Texas Press Association, so what I have to do now when we have time, we have to send all of our back issues, 32 years, to UNT and they’re going to archive it. Yeah, I talked with a lady up there, they have a grant. I was accepted for membership to the Texas Press Association, so we sent a pdf every week to them and they send it to her, for the current issues, but I gotta do all those back issues, and she said she’s gonna send some kind of drive or something for my production person to download the papers on to, so that's- feel good about that.
My husband- the reason we left Harlingen, my husband’s from Harlingen, and my husband was an athlete. He went to school on a track scholarship and then a basketball scholarship. And he has some horrible stories within him, so we just really got along great together. I’ma tell you a story, he was a star basketball player in high school, and when they had the athletic banquet, they had it at the Harlingen Country Club, and blacks couldn’t go. So he didn’t get to go to his own- I mean, what kind of scholarship, you know what I mean? And he was very bitter, I mean, you know... So he went to junior college first, he went to Texas Southmost, and when they went, they went to play some school up here, basketball, they actually called him “nigger,” threw stuff at him on the floor and everything. And- oh, I gotta find that letter- the president of the school apologized to him for what happened but he was man, 60 some years old. I mean the things that we went through...
So anyway, he was there, that's what he was, and then we went to Houston, he went to law school while we were married, went to Houston, and all when we moved to Dallas, we stayed with my parents, and every Sunday we’d go looking for house. And so of course then, the nice part of town where a lot of people, blacks were moving to was Oak Cliff. It was like white flight. I wish I had taken a picture. You drive down those streets, and it was a for sale sign in every yard. And people were just almost giving houses away, I mean they were not making a lot off of them, just like, “take this up, pay my mortgage.” It was truly a picture of white flight. We purchased a house in Oak Cliff, I still live in it now, and it was predominately whites around us at the time, of course they had their little yard signs up. They send their kids to St. Elizabeth's School, and to Bishop Dunne, they did not send them to Kimball, to the public schools, to Carpenter.
As soon as they sold their homes they moved, north. And I was telling them, you know, we could have had a very nice integrated neighborhood, because the people, black people who were moving into Oak Cliff at the time were professionals, you know, educated, had disposable income. It wasn't any riffraff. But people just moved. And Camp Wisdom, I don't know if you’re familiar with Camp Wisdom but Camp Wisdom had all kinds of nice restaurants on it, we had Chili's, we had Black Eyed Pea, we had Steak and Ale, you know we had restaurants, and as soon as their leases were up, they moved, they closed them. And so that did not, if that had not happened, even a school like Kimball high school, my kids went to Kimball, and my husband and I could afford to send them to private school but we didn't, because we felt it was very important to be involved in the public school system, that we could make it better.
I really failed. We were unable to do it. And at that time we had a black superintendent. Edwards. I remember going to meetings up there at the school like I said, telling them, “look, kids have to have an opportunity to write. Communication skills are very important, we have to be able to write, speak, you know?” And they didn’t have any opportunity to write. So, you know, we struggled it out. I mean, the last year that my daughter was at Kimball, she was the youngest, ugh, I was scared everyday she went to school, I wanted them to put some metal detectors up there, because they were finding guns in lockers, it just was not safe. And my daughter wanted to be a doctor, she was the salutatorian of the class, and she would never go to UT for an interview, because her father turned her against it, you know, by what happened to him when he went up there.
Oh, I didn’t tell you, he went up there for track meet once, he took his high school for a track meet, and he could not stay with the team, and his coach stayed with him on the east side of the hotel. He will never forget that, so he talked about UT so bad to her, she had a full scholarship to UT, she would not even go down there for an interview. So she went to Xavier in New Orleans, and got a very good education but she had to work extra hard. We had to pay tutors, because she had things that she just had just not had an opportunity to learn. She graduated from Xavier, she's a doctor now, she's an OB-GYN in Austin, a very good one. She specializes in that Da Vinci robotic surgery, GYN surgery, and she has doctors send patients to her to operate on their patients to do the robotics. I mean, she's good. It would have been just a wasted mind, you know? But she finished Kimball, and she said she would never send her children to public school. And I just feel like, you know, I failed, she said “mama, but, you know, I had a good education, but you just don’t know how hard I had to work in college, because those students have been exposed to so much more than I had been.”
I feel like if we had not had the white flight in Oak Cliff and we had had a more integrated, you know, kids all there together working and parents too, ‘cause like the guy across the street from us, he was a veterinarian, I mean we had, you know, people just got up and moved. And they didn't really know us, you know, but they moved, and the businesses closed. Like I told Mayor Rawlings one time I said “you know, I know that you have tried real hard, I know you have, because when you ran for mayor, your whole thing was ‘there’s plenty of money in North Dallas and I’m going to bring some of that money South!’” I said “but you haven’t been able to do it, because it's institutional racism.
And you know, we have to have our schools integrated, you can’t have just a school with the same socioeconomic base and all that, you just can’t. Because I worked very hard when my kids were at Kimball, I was president of the PTA forever, because when kids get to high school, their parents don’t want to work in the PTA. I mean I was the chaperone going on the spanish trips and everything, you know, just really trying to make it. And we had a good principal one time, I think he's deceased now, Robert Payton, he was good, a good principal, and so the whole time my kids were there I wouldn’t let him leave. Every time that I’d hear that he was going to get promoted to the board downtown, I’d go down there and, you know, get up. I mean, it was so bad that he called me in his office and he said “Ms. Belt,” he said “I want to move up. I want to make more money.” I said, “but you are such a good principal! So you don’t need to!” Finally, as soon as my daughter graduated, he got the job.
J: You gave him permission...
B: I didn’t care anymore, I had given up, you know? He was good principal, you know? He was a disciplinarian. You know, he set the tone for the school. But even though he did that, there was just so many things in terms of educational opportunities.
J: So how many kids do you have?
B: I have a boy and a girl.
J: Okay. And so they both went to Kimball. And where did they go before Kimball?
B: Carpenter. Carpenter’s just right up the street from my house. I guess then, more I think about it, it was the beginning of academic problems. But, you know, it’s just sad, Josh, how today-now, all through my kids, when they were in school, my husband always paid tutors for them. The tutors were probably primarily for my son, because he didn't like to study, he didn't, he wasn't interested, he wanted to ride that pop-a-wheelie bicycle outside and stuff, and my daughter would say “well, if he has somebody to come help him, I want somebody to help me,” so they always ended up having tutors. And today, even though my daughter, like, sends her child to that Episcopal school, and it's a very good school, but you know she has to pay, she goes to math tutoring on saturdays, she goes to reading camp in the summer. There’s something wrong.
When I was growing up, we didn’t have tutors. I remember my mother tutoring this one little boy, it was a friend’s son, and he wasn't doing well in school, and my mother told her friend, “Marilyn, just let him come over here and i'll work with him on saturdays,” and she did. So that was tutoring, and he went on to become a veterinarian. But I never had a tutor. Nobody else that I knew did, we didn’t have all that tutoring, my girlfriend and I talk about it all the time, how much money our kids spend on tutoring and then they’re paying private school tuition. Doesn’t make sense. If you’re going to a school, you shouldn’t have to have tutors. So yeah, but I did tell Rob about the flight, god, I wish I had taken a picture of that. My husband’s like, “this is what they call it, white flight.” They were running, they didn't know us.
J: What year did you graduate?
B: ‘61. I graduated in ‘61 and my mother went out to Pinkston that next year with Thomas Tolbert, he was transferred to Pinkston when they built Pinkston high school, and then I think she was out there maybe one year and then she went to El Centro.
J: And just to be clear, you graduated in ‘61, you know, eight years after Brown v Board, still never go to school with white person.
B: Still segregated. Uh uh, except in Cambridge. Except in Cambridge. But my husband went to integrated school, they closed his segregated school as soon as Brown versus passed. Down in the valley, the Rio Grande valley near Mexico. But see, they had very few blacks living down there, and they had Mexicans but then, what happened was, there were a lot of communities like that, most of them were smaller, where you have a choice, no, you didn’t have choice, they closed the school, and it was better for the few black kids to go to the main school.
So that's why he didn't have an athletic banquet and stuff like that, you know. He had more scars than I did, you know, when he sat down to think about it. But they just immediately integrated, but not Dallas. Dallas fought it, fought it, fought it, it was just- I was in college, like I said, ‘61, Dallas integrated while I was in college, and I have asked, like, some of the teachers who maybe were younger than my parents, you know, to do stories, do you remember what it was it like after the schools were integrated, and you worked at another school. And the one lady I asked her name was Mrs. Burke, she taught biology, she said she went to work out at Bishop, she didn't, you know, do the integration thing. And she told me, she's- she may have done the integration thing for one year, but she said it was so unpleasant she didn’t want to talk about it. And you find a lot of blacks who feel that way, they don't want to talk about certain things, you know?
I worked, when I was working for the federal government I worked with George Allen, you know, that courthouse downtown is named after his father, and he finished Lincoln before I did, and I would say “I remember,” and he’d say “Why do you keep talking about all that old stuff?” You know, he wanted to, a lot of people just want to put it behind them, you know? And he was like “why are you always bringing that up?” And I said “that’s history, that’s history! You’re supposed to know it.” You know...
J: Well, and I think especially for somebody like me, you’ve mentioned a couple times, like, these scars-
B: They’re permanent.
J: -that someone like me, I would not be able to see, necessarily, I would not know unless I had the opportunity to ask these questions.
B: And a lot of people won’t tell you about them.
J: And so people won’t talk about them for very good reasons-
B: It hurts.
J: -because those are still very deep, hurtful things, but at the same time, in order for my generation to really have the respect for that experience that we need to-
B: You need to know about it.
J: Yeah, it’s such a delicate balance, I just wonder if you could address going about that.
B: And even if you know- well, I'm thinking back when I went to DU, because that was really the first time that I was really around a lot of white kids. I lived in Aspen home, and our dormitory was a lot of suites. And so I lived in a suite with three other girls. Connie was from New York and Bonnie was from Michigan, they stayed in one room together, and then the other room, my roommate, Carolyn was from one of those midwestern towns, she was cuckoo, but anyway... It was an educational experience for them, because they hadn’t been around anybody black. And so I never will forget, Connie had the cutest little thunderbird convertible, her parents were real rich, her father was like in finance in New York and she was an avid skier, very mature, you know, I mean like she would drive that car from New York, and they had a summer home in Arizona. So she would take me to the beauty shop in the city, I went to a black beauty shop. So she knew nothing about black people's hair, and she was curious.
You know, in living together you learn things about people, you know, you get to know, golly, they’re like this, but this is why they do this. Like she had to get up every morning, take a shower and wash her hair, ‘cause, you know, white people, you get oil in your hair, we don’t get oil, we have to put oil in our hair, just like we don't get lice. My daughter, she tickled me, the practice that she’s a partner in it’s all white, and so they sent a memo around, you know somebody had lice or something, be careful, she’s like “don’t send that to me, I don’t get that!” [laughter] She has worked real hard because her husband is very dark complected and her oldest daughter is dark complected and she has worked real hard to build up the self-esteem of her daughter because she’s so different from the other kids, even the other black kids, you know, and like, you know, she’d tell her things like “Your skin is beautiful, don't you know that? You know white people go to the tanning booth to get darker, you can wear these colors all year! You don’t get lice in your hair!” So she's just real proud.
But if you're around people, you learn about them. We really- and you know that's the first time that I really was aware of different religions, because see Connie was Catholic, and her boyfriend who was also from New York, he was Jewish. And those families did not want them together. And that's when I really realized the difference, because I had never been around- everybody I’d been around were all Christians, you know, baptists or methodists. And very few Episcopals, and so a lot of it is learning people, like you probably learned a lot about black people today, you know, it’s just some things that you just have to, you know, share experiences. I just think it's very important to share experiences. But a lot of people don't know, and to be educated you do need to know.
J: Well, that sounds great…
The Oral History of Mollie Belt is powered by the Commit Partnership, and produced by me, Joshua Kumler. It is executive produced by me, along with John Hill, Kathryn Mileska, and Rob Shearer. Mixed and mastered by Will Short. Music by Trevor Yokochi.
Special thanks to Mollie Belt and everyone at the Dallas Examiner. If you’d like to subscribe or support the paper, please visit dallasexaminer.com or email email@example.com. This oral history is dedicated to the entire Belt and Finch family. Thank you for making Dallas a better place by your presence.