Granddaughter of slaves, Juanita Craft transformed the deep hurts of racial discrimination into a lifetime of courageous work for its elimination. She was greatly affected by her mother's death from tuberculosis after being refused hospital treatment when there were no state hospitals for black Texans.
Despite having a college degree, Craft had to work as a maid at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. In 1935, she joined the NAACP and was named the Dallas membership chair in 1942. In 1946, Craft was hired as Texas field organizer and organized dozens of branches. In the 1940s, Craft organized the Dallas NAACP Youth Council, which became a nationwide model. She was the first black woman to vote in Dallas County and for 20 years was a Democratic Party precinct chair.
In the 1950s, she helped open the University of Texas and North Texas State College to blacks. In 1967, her youth group desegregated the State Fair of Texas. She and other African Americans worked to integrate public facilities through sit-ins and other demonstrations in the 1960s. She received the prestigious Linz Award in 1969 for helping end fraudulent recruiting by Dallas trade schools. In 1975, at age 73 she was elected to the Dallas City Council and later re-elected to a second term.
Written by Cynthia J. Beeman
Read by Teresa Palomo Acosta
The granddaughter of former slaves and the daughter of educators, civil rights activist Juanita Craft grew up in Austin and attended Prairie View and Huston-Tillotson universities, but even with a college education could only find work as a drugstore clerk in Galveston, as a dressmaker in Dallas, and as a maid at the historic Adolphus Hotel. She joined the Dallas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1935, and from that time on worked tirelessly for the cause of civil rights. As an NAACP state field organizer, she helped organize 182 branches throughout the state of Texas. Her work with the NAACP youth council in Dallas was so successful that it was emulated by other chapters around the country. She held the distinction of being the first black woman to vote in Dallas County in 1944, and in the 1950s and 1960s led protests aimed at integrating public universities and the State Fair of Texas. She led the NAACP youth council in picketing restaurants, theaters, public transportation, and other venues in Dallas.
Craft was elected to the Dallas City Council in 1975 when she was 73 years old. She held leadership positions in local, state, and national civil rights organizations and won numerous awards. The City of Dallas named a recreation center in her honor, and her simple frame house is now the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House Museum.
Mamie L. Abernathy-McKnight, "CRAFT, JUANITA JEWEL SHANKS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcr59).
National Park Service, We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement, Juanita Craft House, http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/tx1.htm.
Biography Source Information
Biographies are reprinted from the Foundation for Women’s Resources (now Women’s Resources), Dallas, Texas. They originally appeared in "From Gutsy Mavericks to Quiet Heroes: True Tales of Texas Women," video study guide, Austin: The Foundation for Women's Resources, 1997. Death dates have been added where needed.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.