South Dallas Stories: fair Park Uprooted addresses racial equality at Music Hall. Photo by Raven Jordan

By Raven Jordan

For the first time in its 80 year history, Broadway Dallas is uncovering pieces of South Dallas and Fair Park past.

In the South Dallas Stories: Fair Park Uprooted series, which dropped its first installment in September 2022, racial inequality is addressed in videos, art and memorabilia from community leaders. 

The exhibit at Music Hall opened earlier this month to mark the 60th anniversary that Martin Luther King Jr. visited the Music Hall at Fair Park. It’s part of Broadway Dallas efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion.

Broadway Dallas may be known for year-round musicals, but it’s also moving toward displaying art and history from the lobby, right next to the box office. 

Dallas artists, including Jennifer Monet Cowley, Nitashia Johnson and Marion Butts, were commissioned for photographs and a painting featured in the exhibit. Community members including Diane Ragsdale and Lucy Cain lent out memorabilia, like a sewing machine and vinyl record, for display.

Photographer and visual artist Inyang Essien captured the video interviews featuring three residents at the center of the exhibit. Interviews from Cain, Dr. Marta Torres and Stuart Williams span generations and topics of life over the past few decades. 

“Speaking with Ms. Lucy and Mr. Stuart about their experiences growing up in Fair Park and Dr. Torres sharing stories that unveiled the dark history of the area was an eye-opening and hair-raising experience,” Essien says. “The firsthand accounts about Dallas “then” helped me answer questions I had and gave me a full understanding of Dallas “now.'”

From football games at the Cotton Ball to seeing the neighborhood change over the years, there’s a collection of memories fit within almost 30 minutes of content.

“The story of Fair Park isn’t as picturesque as it looks, it’s actually convoluted. It’s steeped in race and racism issues,“ said Torres. “ People don’t really know how this [Fair Park] came to be.”

A black and white photo provided from the African American Museum shows jazz musician Louis Armstrong performing at Fair Park in 1964. Williams says his grandfather was a big fan but chose to go to another event instead. 

“Pearl Bailey and Louis Armstrong came to Dallas, and my grandfather loved Louis Armstrong, my grandmother loved Pearl Bailey,” said Williams. “But we went and saw Porgy and Bess.”

On the topic of housing and life in South Dallas, Cain mentioned taxes as an issue. As new families start to move in, taxes rise for residents who are already living in the neighborhood.

“What impacted my experience the most is the raise in taxes and how the taxes have risen in this part because of gentrification,“ said Cain.”That has impacted a lot of people and kept them working past their retirement age.”

A TV screen plays parts of the video interviews for visitors to the exhibit and QR codes link to archived articles and information of each item on display.

South Dallas Stories: Fair Park Uprooted is currently on exhibit in the lobby of Music Hall at Fair Park Monday through Friday and two hours before showtime on musical production nights.