The following is an interview with Tameshia Rudd-Ridge and Jourdan Brunson of the Dallas, Texas Community Collections Grant project, If Tenth Street Could Talk, as part of the Library’s Of the People blog series featuring awardees of the American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grant program. The Community Collections Grants program is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path initiative, which seeks to create new opportunities to engage with the Library of Congress and to add their perspectives to the Library’s collections, allowing the national library to share a more inclusive American story.
Leading the If Tenth Street Could Talk project are Tameshia Rudd-Ridge and Jourdan Brunson of kinkofa, together with Dr. Deborah Hopes of Remembering Black Dallas, and in collaboration with Dallas Tenth Street Historic District residents, as well as a team of researchers and documentarians. The project follows descendants and residents as they work tirelessly to preserve the historic freedom colony’s history and fight to have a voice in shaping the future of the community.
Congratulations on your Community Collections Grant! The project is grounded in Dallas’ Tenth Street Historic District, and seeks to bridge the past and the present, shining needed light on present-day community engagements with the neighborhood’s history – and their efforts in safeguarding their history and living heritage. So, let’s first start with the significance of the Tenth Street Historic District and the project’s main aims.
Nestled just a short distance from downtown Dallas is Tenth Street Historic District – a historically significant yet often overlooked community. Founded in the late 1880s, Tenth Street is one of over 1,200 Freedom Colonies that emerged across the country after Emancipation. These settlements, borne out of necessity, provided safe and supportive environments for African American families to establish their roots and rebuild their lives in the face of a society that sought to suppress their progress and human rights.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, discriminatory laws heavily privileged white landowners, rendering property ownership nearly impossible for African Americans. These challenges led to the formation of Freedom Colonies which played a crucial role in fostering a sense of autonomy, belonging, dignity, and security for newly emancipated people.
Tenth Street quickly flourished into a vibrant community, bustling with a diverse array of businesses, activities, skilled professionals, and tradespeople. Among them were artists, domestics, Pullman Porters, educators, doctors, hair stylists, midwives, religious leaders, carpenters, musicians, and more. During its prime, this vibrant neighborhood boasted an array of amenities including: schools, churches, clinics, cafes, grocery stores, a funeral home, a soda pop factory, an ice cream shop, a domino parlor, and even a movie theater.
Today, vacant lots outnumber occupied homes — it appears as a place that’s been forgotten. But for the folks who grew up in Tenth Street, it is all but gone. Their memories transport audiences back in time to see the community for the oasis it used to be and what it can be in the future.
An overgrown lot on the corner of Tenth transforms into the beautiful two-steepled Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel CME, a church built by the community’s founding families that stood for 106 years. The boarded-up building at Tenth & Cliff becomes a drugstore, where Mrs. Deborah Young, would snag the best pinwheel cookies after church. Tenth Street descendants (or elders) hold fond memories of baseball games, boxcar races, paddle ball, and dance parties at Eloise Lundy Park.
The neighborhood, now designated as a national and local historic landmark, still stands as a testament to the ingenuity, spirit, and self-determination of African Americans. As one of only twelve surviving Freedom Colonies listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Tenth Street holds a unique distinction – it is the most intact, has original contributing structures, and remains inhabited.
Despite its historical significance and cultural importance, Tenth Street faces many contemporary challenges, finding itself listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Historic Places” roster. This recognition was driven by an increase in city-led demolitions caused by a detrimental ordinance, as well as issues of heirs’ property. Heirs’ property refers to land or real estate that has been passed down through generations without a clear legal will or title, often leading to shared ownership among family heirs. The lack of a clear title can result in challenges such as inability to make home repairs, pay property taxes, and difficulties in selling or passing on the property, which increases vulnerability to city-led demolitions and other legal issues. This designation underscores the urgent need to safeguard and preserve this piece of American history.
Kinkofa, Remembering Black Dallas, the Tenth Street Residential Association, descendants, and community advocates have joined forces to preserve the living memories of the community and to correct the historical record regarding Tenth Street’s origin story. The research and fieldwork supported by the Community Collections Grant signifies a milestone in sharing the story of Tenth Street with a wider audience. The next step is to develop a traveling exhibition with the long-term aspiration of establishing permanent monuments and a cultural center in the community. In fostering a deeper appreciation of Tenth Street’s rich history and contributions, our ultimate aim is to inspire and educate current and future generations on the enduring legacy of Freedom Colonies.
It is clear that If Tenth Street Could Talk brings together a number of organizations and participants. I’m curious about the work of kinkofa and Remembering Black Dallas, and how the project came about.
The collaborative project, If Tenth Street Could Talk, brings together kinkofa, a digital family history platform, and Remembering Black Dallas, a nonprofit dedicated to recording the history of African Americans in Dallas. It is driven by a shared dedication to preserving the story of Freedom Colonies.
The project emerged from a Juneteenth Freedmen’s Towns bus tour led by the late Dr. George Keaton, founder of Remembering Black Dallas, where Tameshia Rudd-Ridge, co-founder of kinkofa, discussed with Dr. Keaton and Tenth Street Community Leader Larry Johnson the imperative to preserve Tenth Street’s history.
Remembering Black Dallas has been the driving force behind securing historical markers across Dallas that highlight places and people connected to the African American experience in the city. These markers play a vital role in ensuring that the history of Black people in Dallas is visible and recognized, telling stories that might have otherwise been forgotten. Larry Johnson is a Tenth Street property owner and advocate who is also a valued member of both the Tenth Street Residential Association and Remembering Black Dallas. He’s working to physically restore historic homes and address contemporary challenges faced by the community.
Kinkofa, founded by Tameshia Rudd-Ridge and Jourdan Brunson, is a digital family history platform with a mission to bring generations together to discover, record, and preserve Black family stories and history. Tameshia’s personal connection to Tenth Street, discovered through her family history research, adds a deeply personal dimension to the project. The loss of her family’s home during the construction of Interstate 35 fuels kinkofa’s passion to ensure that others do not experience the same sense of erasure when exploring their heritage.
The collaboration aligns the advocacy and historical expertise of Remembering Black Dallas with the digital preservation and storytelling capabilities of kinkofa. Together, they seek to amplify the voices of Tenth Street residents, document the community’s history, and inspire pride and connection among descendants and the broader community. The project draws inspiration from historical initiatives like the Federal Writers’ Project, emphasizing the importance of preserving personal narratives and shared history.
The project team is taking a multi-pronged approach to exploring the relationships between people, place, and their cultural heritage. What documentation methods are being used to center community members’ perspectives and experiences, as well as issues of today?
Throughout the project period, kinkofa and Remembering Black Dallas have collaborated with community members to document their memories, experiences, and perspectives. We’ve captured and recorded oral history interviews, community events, walking tours, and even drone footage of the neighborhood. Community members and descendants have also contributed family photos and records to be digitized and included in the final community collection.
To further support our goal of telling a more comprehensive history of Tenth Street Historic District, we’ve conducted archival and genealogical research to extend the story back as far back as we can trace. We are now compiling everything into a digital museum website, short documentary, and traveling exhibition that will be unveiled during Black History Month 2024. In February 2024, we’re launching an interactive public art and history campaign to share the story of Tenth Street more widely. Posters with QR codes and SMS prompts will be placed around Dallas to facilitate access to the Tenth Street Digital Museum. Inside the museum, visitors will be enabled to interact with digitized archival material, listen to audiovisual interviews, explore an interactive timeline and StoryMap, contribute their own stories to the museum, and leave thoughtful commentary.
On a similar note, I am wondering if there are any project activities and community events that you’d like to share a little about?
Certainly! Summer 2023 was both a busy and exciting time for the project team! On June 17th, the Tenth Street Residential Association collaborated with the Dallas Public Library to commemorate Juneteenth. The day included presentations on Tenth Street’s history, a short theatrical performance, a tribute to musician T. Bone Walker, and the creation of commemorative remembrance stones for unmarked graves in the Oak Cliff Cemetery.
Additionally, Tenth Street residents collaborated with the library to create an exhibit using their family archives that was on display until October 2023. Afterward, archival scans will be used to preserve the exhibit in the Dallas History & Archives digital collection! The If Tenth Street Could Talk team interviewed community members and descendants who were in attendance and documented the day. This event generated photographs, audio recordings, and videos that will be incorporated into the digital museum and traveling exhibition as well as in the Tenth Street Historic District Community Collection in the American Folklife Center archives, reflecting the grant program’s main goals.
On July 10th and 11th, 2023, Remembering Black Dallas and kinkofa partnered with Voices of Southern Methodist University (SMU), SMU Dedman College, and SMU Libraries to host a two-day field school, Emerging Historians: Preservation, Freedom, & Expanded Rights. High school and college students were taught oral history and digital storytelling, conducted interviews with Remembering Black Dallas volunteers, and explored local archives. Some of these students will now contribute to the project, using their newfound skills to help document the community’s history. We are looking forward to hosting and documenting our community event for Black History Month 2024!
It’s one thing to propose and plan a community-based, cultural documentation project, and another to undertake it. That is, such projects are often just as dynamic and fluid as the cultural phenomena and activities they document and, thereby, subject to change, growing in new – and sometimes unexpected – directions! Are any new developments that have emerged as the project has progressed?
The project has been dynamic and filled with discoveries. Engaging with community elders has added a fascinating dimension to our project. In these discussions, elders emphasized the interconnectedness of two neighboring communities – namely, The Bottoms and The Heights, which bordered Tenth Street. According to the elders, understanding Tenth Street’s history is incomplete without considering the proximity and shared experiences with these adjacent neighborhoods. Residents and their ancestors attended school, played in parks, conducted business, and visited family in these interconnected areas. Consequently, we’ve decided to expand our research slightly to comprehensively document the existence of The Bottoms and The Heights in relation to Tenth Street, enriching our understanding of the broader community history.
Additionally, we’ve recently unearthed numerous hidden stories, and in response to community requests and input from descendants, we are actively working to extend the project. In our next phase, we are looking to physically memorialize the community’s story and the influential leaders from Tenth Street through monuments, historical markers, and eventually a cultural center with a museum.
What exciting developments! Thank you for sharing your important work thus far. We look forward to your next steps and sharing the project online, as part of the Library’s collections.