What about the “White Only” fountain in a building in Dallas County?

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The Dallas County Records Building’s historic “White Only” sign will be rededicated next week after six years in storage.

County Commissioner John Wiley Price was a leading proponent of preserving the segregation-era sign.

“If you don’t know your story, you’re doomed to repeat it,” he said in an interview.

The faded “White Only” metal plate was rediscovered in 2003, when another panel that covered it fell from the wall. The sign once hung above the segregation-era water fountain.

County leaders decided – after contentious debate – to retain the sign with a historical marker.

Dallas artist Lauren Woods turned the water fountain into an art installation in 2013, after Price earmarked $15,000 from her own district’s budget to fund the project.

The water fountain turned into a work of art plays a video projection of news clips showing civil rights-era protests on a special screen, before releasing water.

The “Whites Only” sign above a water fountain in the Dallas County Records Building was faint in 2003. A sign above said it was left “to remind us of this unpleasant part of our history” .

The Dallas County Commissioners Court is holding the ceremony at 10 a.m. on August 18, in the first floor lobby of the Dallas County Records Building at 500 Elm St.

The “White Only” sign will be replaced and may be different. The sign was carved into the wall, Price said, and ripped out during the restoration process. Woods also updated the video reel, Price said.

Just three years after the facility opened, the building was closed for renovations and the sign was put into storage while the six-year construction project was underway. Today, the Records Building houses more than 700 county employees and the Court of Commissioners.

The installation is one of many historical markers placed around the renovated building. The building once housed the jail, sheriff’s office and criminal courtrooms. Segregation was carved into the original design of the Records Building, Price said. A shot showed “white” and “colored” toilets and water fountains.

Price, who is black, is Dallas County’s longest-serving elected official. As he walks past the water fountain, he says he feels a duty to push forward for change.

“I got here on the backs of these people,” Price said. “I have to stay alert so that I don’t see the hands of time turning back.”

Jill Morgan and her grandson Noah, 13, read a plaque describing how a
Jill Morgan and her 13-year-old grandson Noah read from a plaque describing how a “whites-only” drinking fountain was preserved as a reminder of past injustices at the Dallas County Records Building in Dallas on August 11, 2022.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

Dallas’ history of racism-fueled segregation extends far beyond the Records Building.

Texas was the last state to officially end slavery, on June 19, 1865 – a date now celebrated as June 19.

Until 1953, the State Fair of Texas was separate. That year, the State Fair halfway opened all races except two rides, The Dallas Morning News reported. These two were restricted because there was potential for blacks and whites to touch each other. Fair officials feared violence, The news reported.

Jim Crow laws were not completely extinguished until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but even then segregation was present in many Southern schools until the 1970s.

With the current political climate around school board debates like critical race theory, Price said it’s important to remember history. He said the tension surrounding these racial issues reminded him of the Jim Crow era.

Price said the state’s restrictive voting measures such as limiting mail-in ballots to seniors, no online registration and no same-day voter registration are designed to remove voters. He feels like some things haven’t changed.

“We haven’t gone as far as people would like to see,” Price said. “It’s a tale of two cities, and most of us don’t recognize that’s where we are.”


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