Changing her community for the better: Juanita Craft’s life-long fight for equality left an impact on Dallas

Juanita Craft was the first black woman to vote in a public election in Dallas County and served on the Dallas Chapter of the NAACP for more than 50 years.

DALLAS – Regardless of the roadblocks or reasons she shouldn’t have been able to, Juanita Craft lived a life designed to bring equality to the Dallas black community.

Not only was Craft the first Dallas County black woman to vote in public elections, but she also served on the Dallas Chapter of the NAACP for more than 50 years.

Early life

Juanita Jewel Shanks Craft was born in February 1902.

While she was a granddaughter of slaves, Craft was an only child of school teachers David Sylvestus and Eliza Balfour Shanks.

Her mother Shanks died of tuberculosis after she was denied treatment because there were no government hospitals for Black Texans.

Even after Craft received her teaching certificate from Samuel Huston College, now known as Huston-Tillotson University, she was forced to work as a maid at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas and later as a seamstress.

It didn’t take long, however, for things to change not only for Craft but also for the city she called home.

Change Dallas for the better

In 1935 Craft joined the Dallas Chapter of the NAACP. It took her only seven years to become chairman of the chapter.

In the 1940s, Craft organized several branches of the NAACP and had established the Dallas NAACP Youth Council, which became a model for chapters across the country.

After the 1954 Brown v Board of Education ruling, Craft attempted to enroll black students in both the University of Texas and North Texas State College (now North Texas State University). This sparked a battle that was inevitably won in court.

Craft also led a group of youth council members who formed a picket line to protest segregation at the State Fair of Texas. She wanted African Americans to be able to attend the fair without restriction for more than a day.

It didn’t stop at the show as Craft participated in sit-ins at many establishments and pushed back in places she knew she wouldn’t be served.

Craft was a two-year councilor in Dallas in the 1970s and spent much of her time fighting for equality between Hispanics and Native Americans.

She has received numerous awards for her efforts in the civil rights movement, including the NAACP Golden Heritage Life Membership Award and the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award.

In 1985 the NAACP national chapter awarded Craft for fifty years of service with the organization.

That same year, at the age of 83, Craft died in Dallas and was buried in Austin.

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Crafts Legacy in North Texas

After Craft’s death in 1985, the Juanita Craft Foundation was established to uphold her ideas and beliefs.

Craft’s name can be found all over Dallas. There is a US post office in southeast Dallas and a leisure center in east Dallas.

Craft’s home on Warren Avenue in South Dallas is now the Juanita J. Craft Civil Rights House, where you can learn about her lifelong struggle for community equality.

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