Juanita Jewell Shanks Craft, 50 Years of Work for Civil Rights

One of Dallas’ move influential civil rights advocates from the 1930’s to the 1980’s

   Juanita Craft was born Juanita Jewell Shanks on February 9th, 1902, in Round Rock, Williamson County, Texas. She was the only child to David and Eliza (Balfour) Shanks. David was a high school principal and Eliza was a teacher and seamstress. After moving to Dallas in 1925, Juanita went on to become one of Dallas’ leading civil rights advocates, playing a crucial role in the desegregation of the State Fair of Texas, theaters, restaurants, and universities.[1] For example, she played a part in organizing against the segregation of the University of Texas Law School and North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas). These protests were eventually successful when 1950 and 1955, respectively, law suits against these universities were decided in the protestors’ favor.[2] Juanita became so admired among supporters of the Civil Rights Movement that President Jimmy Carter once referred to her as “a living treasure.”[3]

   Juanita was exposed to racial injustice and cruelty from an early age, if not directly, then indirectly through family stories. The granddaughter of enslaved people, Juanita described learning about her great-grandfather being forced to leave his wife and 10 children when he was sold in Virginia to a Mississippi slaveowner. In Mississippi, her great-grandfather was “bred” to a thirteen-year-old girl, a union that eventually resulted in 10 additional children. Juanita’s grandfather, one of these children, was later sold to a slaveowner in Travis County, Texas, where he met Juanita’s grandmother, also a slave. Although slavery officially ended with the end of the Civil War in 1865, violence and injustice continued. In a 1974 oral history interview, Juanita described personally living in fear with an ever-present threat of lynchings as well as other racially-motivated violence.[4] At the age of 16, Juanita lost her mother as a result of segregation. Her mother, suffering from tuberculosis, had been refused treatment because of her race.[5]

   After completing high school in Austin, Texas, Juanita attended the Prairie View Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) where she received certification as a seamstress and millinery in 1921. She subsequently earned a teaching certificate from Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson College) in Austin after which she briefly taught in Columbus, Texas. In 1922, Juanita moved to Galveston where she married and worked as a drug store clerk. Her marriage did not last long, however, and in 1925, Juanita moved to Dallas.[6] Shortly after moving to Dallas, Juanita secured employment with one of Dallas’ luxurious hotels, the Adolphus, where she worked as a bell woman from 1925 until 1934. It was this Adolphus Hotel experience that Juanita credited as a primary influence on who she would become. At the Adolphus, Juanita was exposed to people of all types, from the wealthy and powerful to the prostitute and drunkard. Juanita herself never took a drink. At the Adolphus, Juanita also saw the corruption beneath polished personas as well as the suffering of disempowered people. Juanita joined the National Association for Colored People (NAACP) in the 1930s in response to witnessing job discrimination.[7] Her focus broadened from there.

   After leaving the Adolphus Hotel, Juanita worked as a dressmaker until she married her second husband, Johnny Edward Craft, in 1937. The couple never had children.[8] By the time Johnny passed away in 1950, at the age of 48,[9] Juanita had become heavily involved with the NAACP and civil rights activism. In 1942, she was named the Dallas NAACP membership chairman. In 1946, she was promoted to a Texas NAACP field organizer position and, working with Lulu Belle White from Houston, she proceeded to help establish 182 NAACP branches over the next 11 years. In 1946, Juanita was also appointed as advisor to the NAACP Youth Council, work that was so successful that it became a prototype for NAACP youth groups throughout the country. Juanita worked relentlessly to secure voting rights. In 1944 and after a US Supreme Court ruling against the policy of all-white primaries in Texas, Juanita was the first African American woman to vote in a Dallas County Democratic primary election. In 1946, she was the first African American woman to be deputized as a poll tax collector in Texas. Juanita worked relentlessly for desegregation,[10] often challenging norms by sitting in whites-only sections on trains as she travelled.[11] In 1955, Juanita organized NAACP Youth Council members to protest segregationist policies of State Fair of Texas organizers. At the time, African Americans were denied full access to the fair with the exception of a single day, Negro Achievement Day. During the State Fair protest, Council members reportedly carried signs reading, “Today is Negro Appeasement Day at the Fair.” Change was slow, but protestors continued to gather in protest year after year. In 1961, fair organizers ended the practice of designating a day for “achievement.” A few years later, the fair was fully desegregated.[12]

   In addition to her work with the NAACP, Juanita served in other civic and political capacities. She served as a Democratic precinct chairman from 1954 to 1974 and as a two-term Dallas City Council member from 1975 to 1979. Over the years, Juanita served on the boards of numerous organizations including the Urban League of Greater Dallas, the Governor’s Human Relations Committee, Dallas United Nations, Goals for Dallas, and last but not least, the NAACP. Her awards were also numerous, including the Linz Award, Dallas's highest civic award (1969), the NAACP Golden Heritage Life Membership Award (1968), and the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for public service (1984). On Juanita’s 72nd birthday in 1974, the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department dedicated the Juanita Jewel Craft Recreation Center in Juanita’s honor. In 1985, Juanita was one of 72 African American women featured in a travelling photographic exhibit, Women of Courage, sponsored by the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College. In the same year, the Juanita Craft Foundation was established and, after Juanita’s death on August 6th, 1985, the Foundation donated Juanita’s home to the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department.[13] The home, located at 2618 Warren Street, is maintained as a reminder of Dallas’ history of racial strife and determination to overcome adversity. In a short period from 1950 to 1951, there were 11 bombings near Juanita’s home. Even  so, the home was a place where current and future activists frequently gathered, learned from each other, and planned their paths ahead.[14] President Lyndon Johnson and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. were among those who visited.[15] As Juanita was preparing to participate in the dedication of the Juanita Jewel Craft Recreation Center, she reportedly commented on how far she had come, stating “For the first half of my life they wouldn’t let me in the parks. Now they’re naming one after me.”[16]

   

Footnotes

[1] Mamie L. Abernathy-McKnight, “Craft, Juanita Jewell Shanks,” Texas State Historical Association, last modified May 20, 2019, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcr59.

[2] National Park Service, “Juanita Craft House,” We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement, accessed June 8, 2019, https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/tx1.htm.

[3] Abernathy-McKnight, “Craft, Juanita Jewell Shanks.”

[4] Michael L. Gillette, “The Craft of Civil Rights,” Humanities Texas, February, 2010, https://www.humanitiestexas.org/news/articles/craft-civil-rights.

[5] National Park Service, “Juanita Craft House.”

[6] Abernathy-McKnight, “Craft, Juanita Jewell Shanks.”

[7] National Park Service, “Juanita Craft House.”

[8] Abernathy-McKnight, “Craft, Juanita Jewell Shanks.”

[9] Robert Sage, “Johnny Edward Craft,” Find A Grave Memorial no. 80110509, November 8, 2011, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80110509/johnny-edward-craft.

[10] Abernathy-McKnight, “Craft, Juanita Jewell Shanks.”

[11] National Park Service, “Juanita Craft House.”

[12] Katherine Siefker, “NAACP Youth Council Picket Line, 1955 Texas State Fair,” Bullock Texas State History Museum, accessed June 9, 2019, https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/artifacts/naacp-state-fair-spotlight-012315.

[13] Abernathy-McKnight, “Craft, Juanita Jewell Shanks.”

[14] City of Dallas, “Juanita Craft home,” Dallas Landmark Structures and Sites, accessed June 9, 2019, https://dallascityhall.com/departments/sustainabledevelopment/historicpreservation/Pages/Juanita-Craft-House.aspx.

[15] National Park Service, “Juanita Craft House.”

[16] Gillette, “The Craft of Civil Rights.”

Bibliography

 Abernathy-McKnight, Mamie L. “Craft, Juanita Jewell Shanks.” Texas State Historical Association. Last modified May 20, 2019. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcr59.

 City of Dallas. “Juanita Craft home.” Dallas Landmark Structures and Sites. Accessed June 9, 2019. https://dallascityhall.com/departments/sustainabledevelopment/historicpreservation/Pages/Juanita-Craft-House.aspx.

 Gillette, Michael L. “The Craft of Civil Rights.” Humanities Texas, February, 2010. https://www.humanitiestexas.org/news/articles/craft-civil-rights.

 National Park Service. “Juanita Craft House.” We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement. Accessed June 8, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/tx1.htm.

 Sage, Robert. “Johnny Edward Craft.” Find A Grave Memorial no. 80110509, November 8, 2011. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80110509/johnny-edward-craft.

Siefker, Katherine. “NAACP Youth Council Picket Line, 1955 Texas State Fair.” Bullock Texas State History Museum. Accessed June 9, 2019. https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/artifacts/naacp-state-fair-spotlight-012315.

 

Images

Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House

Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House

Creator: Fergal Purcell View File Details Page

Protest Placards

Protest Placards

Creator: Fergal Purcell View File Details Page

Juanita Craft

Juanita Craft

Juanita Craft in early adulthood | Source: Humanities Texas. https://www.humanitiestexas.org/news/articles/craft-civil-rights | Creator: Humanities Texas. View File Details Page

The Adolphus Hotel in Dallas Texas

The Adolphus Hotel in Dallas Texas

The Adolphus Hotel, where Juanita Craft worked as a bell woman in 1925. | Source: https://www.humanitiestexas.org/news/articles/craft-civil-rights | Creator: Humanities Texas View File Details Page

Juanita Craft at the 1954 NAACP Convention

Juanita Craft at the 1954 NAACP Convention

Juanita Craft (front row, seventh from left) at the 1954 NAACP convention | Source: https://www.humanitiestexas.org/news/articles/craft-civil-rights View File Details Page

NAACP Youth Council Picket Line, 1955 Texas State Fair

NAACP Youth Council Picket Line, 1955 Texas State Fair

Photograph of a protest against segregation at the State Fair of Texas organized by Juanita Craft in 1955. | Source: Hickman (R.C.) Photographic Archive, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas. https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/artifactsztime=10&order=latest&page=3. | Creator: Hickman (R.C.) View File Details Page

Juanita Jewell Shanks Craft

Juanita Jewell Shanks Craft

Photograph of Juanita Jewell Shanks Craft | Source: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcr59 View File Details Page

Interior scene of Juanita Craft's house

Interior scene of Juanita Craft's house

Desk | Creator: Fergal Purcell View File Details Page

Interior scene of Juanita Craft's house

Interior scene of Juanita Craft's house

Creator: Fergal Purcell View File Details Page

Interior scene Juanita Craft's house

Interior scene Juanita Craft's house

Sowing machine | Creator: Fergal Purcell View File Details Page

Interior scene of Juanita Craft's house

Interior scene of Juanita Craft's house

Bed and Poll Tax bag | Creator: Fergal Purcell View File Details Page

Exterior scene of Juanita Craft's house

Exterior scene of Juanita Craft's house

Creator: Fergal Purcell View File Details Page

Juanita Craft

Juanita Craft

Photograph of Juanita Craft later in life. | Source: Juanita Craft Foundation. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcr59 | Creator: Juanita Craft Foundation. View File Details Page

Street Address:

2618 Warren Avenue, Dallas, TX 75215 [map]

Cite this Page:

Suzanne Tuckey. PhD, “Juanita Jewell Shanks Craft, 50 Years of Work for Civil Rights,” Human Rights Dallas Maps, accessed November 30, 2020, http://humanrightsdallasmaps.com/items/show/22.

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