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We Shall Overcome

Civil rights organizer Juanita Shanks Craft struggled for equality
Written by Ann Gallaway.

Juanita Jewel Shanks Craft (1902-1985) gave her life to the struggle for fair treatment of African Americans and other minority groups. (Photo courtesy of the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House)The fight is on!" With this slogan, civil rights organizer Juanita Shanks Craft publicized her struggle for the rights of African Americans, as she helped organize NAACP chapters around the state.

Born in Round Rock in 1902, Juanita, the granddaughter of slaves, graduated from high school in Austin and received a certificate in dressmaking and millinery from Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College in 1921.

She moved to Dallas in 1925, where she worked as a maid in the Adolphus Hotel, joined the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1935, and married Johnny Craft in 1937. Together with Lulu Belle White of Houston, and at great personal risk, Juanita organized 182 NAACP branches in Texas in 11 years.

Craft donated her home at 2618 Warren Ave. to the City of Dallas. The Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House is on the National Register's "We Shall Overcome" travel itinerary of Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement. It is open by appointment (214/670-8637) and is operated by Black Dallas Remembered, Inc., an organization dedicated to preserving the city's African-American history and broadening public awareness.

In 1955, when North Texas State College in Denton refused to admit Joe Atkins, a member of the NAACP Youth Council, Craft played a leading role in a suit filed against the college that resulted in its desegregation. The same year, members of the Youth Council, for which Craft served as advisor for 30 years, picketed the State Fair of Texas in Dallas because of its policy of admitting blacks only on Negro Achievement Day. (Dallas would redeem itself in 1969 by honoring Craft with its highest civic award, the Linz Award.)

Unflagging in her efforts, Craft organized and led sit-ins and picket lines to protest "whites only" sections at restaurants, movie theaters, and transportation companies. (In her book Black Texas Women, 150 Years of Trial and Triumph, author Ruthe Winegarten calls Craft an "organizing genius.") In the 1970s, some years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, she served two terms on the Dallas City Council, winning her first term 2-to-1 at the age of 73. She also served as a member of numerous local, state, and national service organizations.

Craft won many awards for her courageous work, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for public service, in 1984, and recognition the following year from the NAACP for her 50 years of service.

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