By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Fifty years ago this month, Dallas’ system of segregated schools finally began to unravel. And a plumber named Sam Tasby was the dad plucking at the legal cord.

“Quiet… very humble… a church man,” shares his granddaughter Rashonda Phelps with an affectionate chuckle, “but it was just, he wanted his two boys to go to the school that was closest to them.”

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Tasby has been called a “civil rights icon.”

Sam Tasby (credit: Tasby family)

But relatives say he was just a dad, one willing to fight for better opportunities for his children in Dallas’ still-segregated schools: schools that remained segregated some 16 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that found segregated public schools unconstitutional.

His granddaughter, Rashonda Phelps, is now a social studies teacher in the district.

“I’m just proud of his perseverance,” says Phelps, “proud that he decided to take a stand. No matter the cost. And he kept going. Even with all the issues that came up, he never let it stop it.”

A half century ago, Tasby was the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that in 1971 forced Dallas ISD to desegregate.

And that courage came at a cost.

“He lost his job, death threats and we never knew any of that until we got older,” says Phelps. “He kept all of that from us. And he never really talked about it.”

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Still, this quiet warrior’s legacy in the district is assured.

Sam Tasby Middle School in Northeast Dallas was named for him in 2006.

Sam Tasby Middle School (CBS 11)

“He was so excited,” recalls Phelps. “He was there every day that they were building it. He and my grandmother, they would drive by every day just to watch it.

And then when it finally opened, they were there every day!” she shares with a laugh. “The kids loved it and they got to see the person that the school is named after.”

Mr. Tasby died in 2015.

The legal battle he helped to launch is credited with the creation of the district’s much applauded magnet schools and bilingual education programs.

And although Phelps ultimately became the educator, she says her grandfather’s lessons are ones she continues to share with students today.

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“I hope they learn they can accomplish anything: no matter what, no matter what trials come, no matter what limitations, they can overcome them,” says Phelps. “There’s no limit to what you can do.”