Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Jan Osborn.
In 1935, Juanita Jewel Craft joined the NAACP. Her determined efforts toward anti-discrimination and civil rights over the course of her life have cemented her legacy as a hero of the people. Her home, a white craftsman bungalow just south of Fair Park in Dallas where she resided for 50 years, was already in need of restoration when it was flooded by a broken fire sprinkler pipe in 2018. Now, in celebration of their upcoming 100th anniversary, the Junior League of Dallas (JLD) has adopted the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House as its centennial project.
Throughout her life Mrs. Craft launched 182 rural NAACP chapters. She also joined demonstrations against the segregated University of Texas Law School and North Texas State University, each resulting in successful lawsuits in 1950 and 1955. She ran a millinery shop in her home while working with Dallas young people, lovingly called “Craft’s Kids.” With that group of young people, the NAACP Youth Council went on to challenge segregation in nonviolent ways, making phone calls, picketing, and organizing sit-ins at local restaurants and theaters. This movement spread to include the Texas State Fair, which was finally desegregated in 1967. Civil rights leaders such as Thurgood Marshall and politicians such as Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter also visited Juanita Craft in her Dallas home.
Born in 1902, Mrs. Craft was the granddaughter of former slaves, and the only child of school teachers, and her eventual nonprofit dropout prevention program was centered within her deep passion for equal education. Later in life, she also served as a delegate to the White House Conference on Children and Youth, and as a member of the Governor’s Human Relations Committee. In 1975, at the age of 73, she was elected to the Dallas City Council, where she spent two terms working to improve the status of Hispanic and Native Americans.
Beyond the physical repairs to the Juanita Craft house, Junior League of Dallas is deeply involved in the expansion of educational programs and civil rights curriculum surrounding the home. “Education is incredibly important to us, in fact it is a key issue area for our chapter,” says Elizabeth Dacus, who is currently the JLD President. “Dallas is a wonderful city and we love it, but we don’t always take advantage of knowing the history. This project will help restore the house, but we are most excited about supporting a curriculum that enables all ages to learn more about Dallas, more about Juanita Craft, and more about the civil rights movement.” Dallas ISD has plans to include a tour of the home into the African American Studies course, and the Junior League team is working alongside the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture and Big Thought to include more videos, photos, and stories surrounding Juanita Craft and her impact.
Andrea Cheek, co-chair of the JLD Centennial Committee says, “When I first heard Juanita Craft’s story I thought, ‘how did I not know about her?’ She is certainly a hidden gem that people in our city may not know about. When her house re-opens in March of 2022, we hope families will visit and have a conversation around civil rights and the history of Dallas. Her legacy deserves to live on in Dallas.”
The house restoration and community education project, is a team effort led by City of Dallas Director of Cultural Affairs, Jennifer Scripps, along with board members from the State Fair of Texas, community leaders, and members of the Junior League of Dallas. The widespread support for this project across public, private, and nonprofit interests points to its importance in the community and for the future of North Texas.
Candace Thompson, Board Chair for the Friends of Juanita Craft House and Museum, sees the upcoming Centennial project as a long-term investment in the future of civil rights and social good. “The Friends of Juanita Craft House and Museum are excited and most appreciative to be the recipient of the support from the Junior League of Dallas for their Centennial Project,” says Candace. “This collaborative effort will heighten the awareness of Mrs. Craft’s lasting impact and promotes the continued work of social change agents in Dallas and beyond as we seek to get her home added to the Civil Rights Trail. Mrs. Craft chartered a trial of change and left a legacy for adopted Craft Kids to carry forward.”
For Andrea, this particular project is an extension of her desire to spend her energy on activities that help others in the community. Raised in Stephenville, about two hours outside Dallas, Andrea grew up with a family that saw community service as a natural rhythm. “My dad passed away when I was young, but my mom was always involved in giving back, whether it was a women’s organization, the PTA, a food bank drive, or Christmas angels during the holidays. I was taught to give back with your time and talent wherever you can, even if it is just a little,” Andrea remembers.
After earning her Bachelor of Arts from Texas Tech, Andrea moved to Dallas and was introduced to the Junior League. “I was told it was a great way to learn about the city and meet like-minded women. Now I’ve been involved for 11 years and it’s the best thing I’ve done since moving to Dallas,” says Andrea. “I can get involved in the issue areas that affect my city and I’ve been connected to the Dallas Museum of Art, Family Place, Cattle Baron’s Ball, and Ronald McDonald House, all through Junior League. This is a place where you can find your group and find your passion—start here with Junior League and then take it outside. You lead a group and chair a project or take it into the board room and find that training that is sometimes hard to get. You can use it literally anywhere.”
The renovated Juanita Craft Civil Rights house is due to open again to the public in March 2022. The cost estimates for the restoration are estimated at $1.4 million. The City of Dallas has been raising funds for the restoration project and to-date has raised $750,000, of which $550,000 was raised through the Craft House Steering Committee. The Junior League of Dallas Centennial Committee is raising funds to help complete the much-needed renovations. Because the project is in the planning phase, the JLD is monitoring the construction estimates and curriculum expenses to determine the specific donation amount. “Junior League is all about strong women helping women,” says Elizabeth. “We are committed to the mission of improving the community and working with the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House fits beautifully with that mission.”
Founded in 1922, the JLD is one of the largest Junior Leagues in the world, as well as the largest and oldest training organization for women in Dallas. You can learn more about how to support Junior League or get involved at jld.net.