DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – 77-year-old J.W. White remembers how things used to be. “I remember when you had to pay a dollar and a half for poll tax,” he said.
Back then, his neighbors near the Cedar Crest golf club were all black and Dallas City Council was all white. “You work hard to get those guys there,” he said, of current black leaders.
Today, there are 4 African-American city council members. “We got 4 today. We want to have 4 tomorrow. And 4 in the future,” said council member Tennell Atkins, who was joined by council member Dwaine Carraway and former council member Diane Ragsdale at a press conference Thursday.
Together, the three expressed concern redistricting could hurt their numbers. “We will not allow our struggles to be thrown overboard. We demand four winnable African American seats,” said Ragsdale.
Drawing up African-American districts in Dallas, though, is getting harder. As blacks have become increasingly middle class, many have moved to the suburbs, like Duncanville and DeSoto.
Replacing them in historically African American neighborhoods are Hispanics.
Take Harrell Budd Elementary. In 1994, 50 percent of the students were black. Today, only 34 percent are, and the sign outside is written in Spanish. “That’s the gamble they’re taking,” said Bill Betzen, a former school teacher who has pushed for more citizen participation in the redistricting process.
Betzen believes, trying to spread black voters over 4 districts may backfire, if their population continues to dwindle. He says he’s proposed a safer bet to city council. “Basically we’ve got a strong map that will definitely give us three strong African American districts for the next decade. I mean, these will last at least a decade,” he said.
Still, some voters aren’t ready to give up ground they fought so hard to win. “There’s fewer blacks, less representation,” said White. “We can’t stand to lose them, we need to gain some.”
Dallas City Council will meet this Saturday at 3 p.m. in city hall to review the proposed redistricting maps.