By Vincent L. Hall
We lost a dear friend the other day. I say we because those who want to “Remember Black Dallas” lost a giant. Dr. George Keaton Jr. led the bulk of recent Black history discoveries. But, unfortunately, he lost a battle to cancer – a cancer not directly associated with racism.
George was the master historian. But let me tell you my story about him and how we knew each other.
For the first five years of the school’s existence, hundreds of Black students’ arrival at Skyline High was chaotic and historic. In most cases, it was the first time they had seen or sat next to White students- much less in a setting where White students represented a majority.
Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954, but like Juneteenth, freedom didn’t ring immediately after the ruling for Dallas school children. Unfortunately, that 50 years of history is too broad and deep for this rendering. So instead, read up on Tasby v. Estes or the orders of Judge Harold “Barefoot” Sanders. There’s a school at Townview in his honor.
And so here we all were. We had migrated and ridden long yellow buses from Oak Cliff, South Dallas, Mill Place in East Dallas, and the Pinkston campus in West Dallas. For many of us, it was not nearly the “dystopian” experience Aldous Huxley portrayed in his epic, “Brave New World,” but we had some “difficult days” ahead of us.
Dallas ISD was accomplishing forced bussing through Majority-Minority (M&M) transfers. Black students at Skyline, though, were there primarily due to their academic merit. In other words, Black kids had to have credentials that other “privileged” students lacked in many cases.
Skyline was a grand experiment that became the educational petri dish of future professionals of every discipline. Skyline’s alumnae have significantly contributed to this city since opening its doors to instruction in 1971. However, the most significant benefit was that we gleaned the good, the bad, and the ugly about race and public policy.
Skyline High was the epitome and forerunner of the “magnet school” design and pedagogy. As a tour guide in the 10th grade, I led visitors from Chicago to China throughout the 77-acre complex, armed with talking points and deep knowledge of all 32 “Clusters.”
Visitors posed questions about every school, from Horticulture and Aviation to Fashion Design and Childcare. You could learn about different cultures in the “smoking area.” “Goat ropers and shit-kickers smoked Marlboro. Rockers puffed on Alpines.
Soul brothers and sisters took their drags on Kool and Salem. But they all talked in their own vernacular.
By the time George arrived in 1972, the dust of disunity had still not settled. Everything in the school was about race. It was customary to witness racial protests and fights. Scuffles and food fights stretched from the sprawling student center to the cafeteria. As a result, Black students learned how to fight for themselves and one another.
With the help of some courageous educators, we began to understand politics and how they sometimes superseded talent and ability. These educators pushed us headlong into student government and other areas where we were skeptical but capable.
My lifelong mentor/favorite teacher, Mr. Robert Edison, and other stalwarts were adamant. Edison openly rejected all that talk about White superiority in intelligence. Black inferiority was wildly unfounded. He dispelled myths and held us up during our worst bouts.
George Keaton Jr. was one of us. He was tall, handsome, and sported an afro that was “tight and right.” George was asked a million times whether he was on the basketball team. His long, lanky frame at 6 foot 5 probably warranted the question. However, his passion was learning and teaching, and he did it all his life.
George Keaton Jr. took a page right out of his father’s play-book. George Keaton Sr. graces the pages of history as one of the most prolific photographers of “Dallas’ Black Life.” From nightclub Polaroid snapshots at $2 a pop to random impromptu poses around Dallas’ Black enclaves, he left a time capsule of our history.
George Keaton Jr. assumed the mantle of Black history by succeeding Dr. Mamie McKnight, who, among other things, saved Dallas’ Freedmen’s Cemetery. George founded Remembering Black Dallas and has been the major curator and cultivator of Black history, landmarks, and legacies for the past 20 years.
George made his mark by pulling Dallas’ racial history inside out. He forced White Dallas to accept it and Black Dallas to confront it. He took his high school lessons on race and society from a hurtful place to a helpful place. And by George, Black history will continue to be respected, regarded, and recorded in Dallas, Texas!
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.
Dr. George E. Keaton, Jr., Founder Remembering Black Dallas
(December 3, 1956-December 7, 2022)
Thursday, December 15, 2022- Remains will Lie-in-State at the Hall of State at 3939 Grand Ave, Dallas, Texas (Fair Park) from 12:00 pm (noon) until 7 pm. (enter via Gate 3 from Parry Ave., Park in lot 3.)
Friday, December 16, 2022- Informal viewing 1-7 pm at Evergreen Memorial Funeral Home, 6449 University Hills Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75241
Saturday, December 17, 2022- Celebration of Life (Funeral Service) will go forth at 12:00 pm (noon) at Christian Chapel Temple of Faith, Pastor Clarence Ford, 14120 Noel Rd, Dallas, Texas 75254. Viewing from 11:00 am-12 pm. Interment will follow immediately at Restland Memorial Park- 13005 Greenville Avenue, Dallas, Texas.
Personal Expressions of Condolences can be mailed to The Family of Dr. George E. Keaton, Jr, c/o Reginald Small 5428 Oak Trail, Dallas, Texas 75232.
Recommended/suggested Florist- Arapaho Florist 972 238-1925- 2141 E. Arapaho Rd #160, Richardson, Texas 75081.
Memorial Contributions may be made to Remembering Black Dallas in memory of Founder, Dr. George E. Keaton, Jr. and mailed to 1408 N. Washington Ave, Suite 220, Dallas, Texas 75232
*Services entrusted to Evergreen Memorial Funeral Home 6449 University Hills Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75241. 214 376-1500