DALLAS — By this time next year, officials hope the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House and Museum will reopen for visitors looking to learn more about its history. The city’s historical landmark is set to receive much-needed renovations, which the Junior League of Dallas continues to raise money to support.
“We’ve got a great network of folks that we work with and we’re trying to focus on individuals and foundations that would be interested in a project like this,” said Elizabeth Dacus, Junior League of Dallas president. “Obviously, we raise money for other things as well and so we’re trying to match the right donor with the right project.”
For its centennial celebration, the non-profit organization decided that the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House and Museum was the perfect project to back. The work on the house is set to begin in the fall.
“It focuses on a woman, it focuses on the history of Dallas, it focuses on a largely untold story and we also saw just a great benefit that this is going to have for the whole community, particularly young people and the opportunity to learn about Ms. Craft’s life, learn about what she did, and what a change maker she was right here in our own community,” said Dacus.
Before her death in 1985, Craft worked to improve the conditions of Black and brown people across the state. According to records, she played a role in the integration of the Texas State Fair along with universities, theaters, restaurants, and lunch counters.
She also made history as the first Black woman deputized as a poll tax collector. Her work in the state consisted of mobilizing more than 180 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapters, advocating for civil rights issues, including equal pay and health care. Additionally, she served on the Dallas City Council.
“Her legacy is just bar none superior in our area for what she did for civil rights as a local person and for the state is just revered even today,” said Sarah Jackson, Junior League of Dallas centennial project chair.
In 1950, the Round Rock native moved to the Craftsman Bungalow-style home at 2618 Warren Avenue in South Dallas. At the time, the area was characterized as one filled with racial tension, including at least 11 bombings from 1950-1951, per the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House and Museum’s website.
Not only did she turn her home into an educational setting for youth, but also a meeting place for leaders. Civil rights icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalyn Carter were seen visiting the home.
Representing the core values of the Junior League of Dallas today, the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House and Museu, proved to be the perfect venture.
“It’s always important to us to lift up woman and, secondly, lift up women in our community and to show and embrace the diversity in our community that sometimes isn’t always recognized,” said Dacus. “It’s very important to us to show that and to show the Junior League is just here to support the Dallas community.”
In 2018, pipes in the home burst, causing a setback to renovation efforts due to extensive water damage. The Junior League of Dallas penned an op-ed in The Dallas Morning News last year detailing the non-profit organization’s “strong conviction” to use its 100-year anniversary as a chance to honor a “women who played an integral role in shaping” Dallas.
At that time, the estimated cost of the restoration totaled $1.4 million, of which the city and other community organizations had raised $750,000. The Junior League will cover the remaining costs to complete the restoration.
Dacus declined to provide a current total of its fundraising efforts to date, noting the work to raise money continues. Back in January, the Dallas City Council unanimously approved a $50,000 grant from the Hillcrest Foundation to go toward the project.
“I think it just puts a stamp of approval on what we’re doing,” said Dacus. “We knew this was a great project. We’ve always known it was a great project, but to kind of have that extra level of supporting knowing that everyone is behind this project is incredibly meaningful.”
Along with helping to renovate the house, officials hope to get it listed as an official stop on the United States Civil Rights Trail, making it the first in the state. Additionally, the home will become a Texas Education Commission certified facility for teaching students across the state.
“I was three-years-old when Ms. Craft died, so unfortunately I never got to meet her, but her legacy is really timeless,” Jackson said. “What she did in her time was so forward thinking and it really helped moved the needle for people of color – for Black people in particular in this area and in our state.
“I think where we are as a nation for this group of women leaders to be able to bring this legacy alive today is amazing and we really hope that people will be able to see and not only understand Ms. Craft, but also understand how her legacy speaks to so many partners and organizations in the city.”