The Oral History of Margaret Benson
For Oak Cliff is a community center, founded and lead by Taylor Toynes. Taylor’s a partner at Commit and a lifelong member of the community. Last month, he was kind enough to introduce his grandmother, who moved to this neighborhood in 1944, and ran a store with her husband in the same shopping center for over thirty years. In this special podcast, Margaret Benson discusses what it was like to attend a Dallas high school in the years immediately following Brown vs. Board of Education.
Don’t Want to Listen? Read the Full Podcast Below:
Tucked away in a shopping center beside the Pan-African Bookstore, not far from South Oak Cliff High School, is a green neon sign that says For Oak Cliff. It’s the logo of a community center, founded and lead by Taylor Toynes. Taylor’s a partner here at Commit and a lifelong member of the community. And last month, he was kind enough to introduce me to his grandmother, who moved to this neighborhood in 1944, and ran a store with her husband in the same shopping center for over thirty years.
I wanted to talk to Margaret Benson to hear what it was like to attend a Dallas high school in the years immediately following Brown vs. Board of Education. A few of the answers to those specific questions were invaluable to an upcoming episode of our podcast, the Miseducation of Dallas County. But Mrs. Benson’s story extends far beyond that one moment, and in the hour we spent together she spoke on education, segregation, social life, and the history of her neighborhood, the historic Tenth Street district, or as she calls it, the Hills.
So while you anxiously await our next episode (which will air alongside the re-launch of Commit’s website on January 26th), here is a snapshot of the city of Dallas in transition, as told by an eyewitness. I was joined by Taylor and his daughter, Mrs. Benson’s great-granddaughter, Winnie. (She slept through most of it.) And even Taylor had things to learn.
Margaret Benson: I was from Rosebud, Texas.
Taylor Toynes: You were?
MB: I’m from Rosebud, Texas!
TT: I didn’t know that.
MB: I’m a country girl.
TT: No, you’re not.
MB: Yes I am.
TT: How long did you live there?
MB: Four years.
TT: You a city girl.
MB: Okay, I’ll accept that.
TT: You grew up here.
MB: OKAY, I’ll accept that.
Joshua Kumler: So, what brought your family from the country to the city?
MB: A better life. A better life. My granddaddy was there and all of his children were there. My granddady decided- I guess in those times that the head of the the house would pretty much dictate whatever. So you have six boys I think it was and four girls. So, he decided that life would be better. Of course, one stayed back until a certain time, and then he came, he followed. And back in that time everybody wanted to, every family helped one another. One would come, the others had already gotten settled, they would open the doors for the other brothers. And the eldest son was a minister so he had pretty much settled here, did a lot of real estate. He was quite successful. So naturally, then the dad and all the other brothers followed, because he made it possible for them.
It was in the neighborhood, I’m from East Oak Cliff over the other side. That’s pretty much where we settled, from Compton, Landis, to Betterton Circle. And Al Cox was on 9th street, all pretty much in the same area. So we were Coxes, and everybody called us the Coxes army, because there was so many of us. My dad was a father of four. Al Cox was the father of, I think four. My uncle Meshach had a family of twelve. Martha had a family of four. That was… oh, and my uncle Leon had a family of two later on, he remarried because his wife was deceased, and he remarried. Had two children first with the first wife, four with the second wife, so that was a family of six.
Very nice neighborhood. Of course we had to… the streets were nothing but sand. Eventually as the years went by, I guess when I was maybe eight, nine, somewhere in that area they paved the streets, made sidewalks and drives. And it very nice neighborhood, and the neighbors all worked together at that time. And as I remember one of the neighbors, Mr. Wheatland, he worked at a nursery, so he bought a lot of trees and the families would buy trees from him and plant, and that made a beautiful neighborhood.
I remember my first day of school. Went to NW Harllee, that was on 9th.
My first grade teacher, I remember her name: Mrs. Graderton. My second grade teacher, I remember her: Mrs. Washington. Mrs. Macklemore, as I moved on up, I knew my teachers. And the most memorable person that was in the school as I was growing up was my principal, Mr. Pemberton, H.B. Pemberton. Very firm man. Back then you could spank the children, but my dad didn’t allow him to spank his girls. The boy, fine, but not the girls. Then I had another teacher, we had portable buildings for the lower class when we couldn’t go out when it was raining, we had a shed that we played under. We called it, yeah, we called it the shed, and we had little cubby holes, little holes for us to put our books and everything. We had little Merry-go-rounds, and you’d go round and round. That was fun when I was young but I can’t stand to go around, as I got older I couldn’t stand it. We played softball, and of course when we had to stay in we had a playroom that we would go to. We would play checkers. Didn’t play dominoes, but of course I knew how because my dad loved dominoes. It was just a fun time for me growing up at Harllee because as I got up in the grades I thought I was really the big thing at the school.
JK: You were the smartest one.
MB: I tried to be. (laughter) They have changed it up so, because when I was growing up we had a whole playground on this new part where they’ve added to the school. We had, we had all of this equipment for us to play on, but they don’t have that anymore.
JK: Yeah, they’ve got a playground area in the back.
MB: But it’s so small.
JK: It is kinda small.
MB: It’s small. We would play- it was a little- we would sit over close to the graveyard when we wanted to relax or whatever with our friends with sit over there because it was still on the school grounds but you had the graveyard next to it and we weren’t allowed over the fence. And teachers were pretty strict. They were watching you on that playground.
And then there was a movie close by, it was called the Show Hill. Everything was on the Show Hill, we had a store up there, we had the movies, we had a record shop. Oh, and the entertainers, they would come into town on that Show Hill they had apartment buildings over the record shop, and it was a barbershop. It was just a little strip of living, stores and things. And they had apartments for, let’s say if Dinah Washington came into town, she would live there because you know they hadn’t opened things up for blacks, so they had to, the entertainers, had to rent. I guess that was a hotel, motel, whatever. So they had to live there. And of course my uncle, Rev. Cox, was instrumental in having a lot of entertainers of spiritual music to come and that’s where they would stay. So like Rosetta Tharpe, that’s where they would go. That’s where they would go. And everything they needed was right in the area, store, barbecue, record shop with hamburgers and ice cream, so everything was there that they needed.
And I just enjoyed my days growing up, not knowing what I know now, but my dad was we striving for his children to do better. My dad was was a bartender at- he didn’t always work there. He started out, he worked at the flour mill, then he worked at the paper mill. I remember all of this. The paper mill, then he worked for the Dallas Morning News, and then when they opened Oak Cliff bank, of course it wasn’t Oak Cliff bank, I think it was Republic bank, and my dad got the job when they first opened the building up, he was recommended because my daddy knew so many people. A lot of people. He knew the presidents of the bank, he knew… John Connolly used to come up to the club up there, off of Jefferson there. Of course I have a $10 bill that John Connolly signed underneath his signature, of course he was the secretary of the treasury, and he signed underneath that and I still have that ten dollar bill, I’ve had it for years. And him being a bartender it was hard for him to get insurance on his car. They said that daddy probably was an alcoholic. My daddy didn’t drink. My mother didn’t drink. So consequently, none of us drank. And the president of the bank up there, they told them that daddy did not drink. He was a sober man, came to work on- you know, he put a word and daddy got his insurance. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to get it, because being a bartender they think that you’re an alcoholic. And so many of my family, they had their own business. My aunt had a store. My aunt was a nurse, she had her own services. My uncle Leon was the manager of Oak Cliff Country Club, and let me say this like this, the reason why he was is because of his color. He was not-
TT: Go on, keep it real. They was racist, and they wanted to hire a fair skinned man.
MB: They wanted- If they had known he was black he wouldn’t have gotten the job.
JK: He was light-skinned enough…
MB: Very. His mother, my grandmother was. My granddaddy was Indian. There’s a mixture in there, as I have told Taylor, somewhere down the line you’re gonna have a blue-eyed baby. He says no.(laughter) Well, you have to admit, we do have some that have come along and they are fair. Of course, I am the complexion of my mother. All of them were lighter than me. But I’m proud of this color. But he still lived in the neighborhood and like my uncle Rev. Cox, he was very fair. My dad was fair. His sisters were fair, so just a mixture, but I loved my family irregardless, and with my grandmother, I lived with her as I was growing up as a little girl. I would stay with her because she lived on North. If you knew the streets, you’d come into North from Clarendon, from North Street into Betterton Circle, so that we was all right in a circle as family.
JK: You were the army and you had your base set up.
MB: Oh yes, we did. (laughter) We did.
JK: So you went to Harllee for elementary, and then where did you go to middle school?
MB: We went right into high school. I started out at Lincoln and I went there for two years. And then they opened Madison up. It was Forest Avenue High School and they gave it to us, to the backs. And we renamed the school, our principal did, Mr. Thomas Tolbert. He selected the name. Very good, firm, stern principal. At Lincoln he was our English teacher, and he moved from there when they opened the school, he was the principal. And he was firm, he was firm. The kids came there and they wanted to be rowdy. He didn’t stand for that. And he was no taller than this. Short man. Well, I think that shortness, he made up for it with his mouth. (laughter) Oh boy, he was a good principal. He really was.
And we selected our mascot. We had some young ladies that did the school song. I never liked it. When I went to Lincoln, that was a beautiful song, words with meaning to me. And even when I graduated high school, I got me a Lincoln ring rather than a Madison ring, because that’s where I started out. Lincoln. So… and I still have my ring. Yeah. It’s a nice song, but I don’t like it. I don’t think I even learned the words to that song. I didn’t. But Lincoln’s song is so pretty.
I went to high school in 1954. They changed that because, first of all the school for overcrowded, but they sent some of the kids to Wheatley school over in South Dallas. You had to have a certain borderline that you were in. ‘Cause you had the Heights, you had the Bottom, you had the what I call my area, the Hills. But all of them had- you had to split it up, the boundaries were split up. It was still crowded because, I tell you, we were in such a tight area. We had so many kids. Like I say, the Bottom, the Heights, I call it the Hills, and there was another place of course that was back across Ewing Street. So it was a lot of kids. And then on the elementary school, that was after I finished high school, they opened up Roger Q. Mills for the younger children to attend. But as I start growing, start learning, then it kinda got, you know, it kinda did a little something to me, to know that these kids could have this and they’d have that. Because WT White was our superintendent and when Lincoln High School wanted to go to a certain area to play a white school out in the city, he did not give permission for that. So we were not considered as champs, ‘cause I think we would have whipped them. (laughter) We would have whipped them, but-
1954, Brown vs. Board of Education
JK: Well, and it’s interesting ‘cause you mentioned you started going to high school in 1954, which is when we think of Brown vs. Board of Education-
JK: -but you did not ever go to a school that was integrated.
MB: No, No I didn’t. Because I loved school. So during the, the summer I would tell my mother and dad let me go to summer school. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to go. Well there was one incident and I kept going after, after the first year I kept going. We had teacher Mr. Lockhart, and I was a feisty little girl, I won’t say bad, I’ll say feisty little girl. And you don’t need to hear this Taylor, but… When I was in school, I was kinda rebellious, but I knew better than to go too far because my dad didn’t, he didn’t put up with that. But anyway we had a practice. The teacher that was helping Mr. Lockhart, she was from one of the colleges and she was doing her student teaching there. And she never would call my name right. So I corrected her. And it was not nice the way I corrected her. So Mr. Lockhart walked in, and he said a lot of ugly things to me. I didn’t tell Daddy because he’d want to know why was he speaking to you like that. So he told me, “Whatever test you pass,” he said “I’ma put you flags all the way across. The F’s.” I went back. So that made me finish school a little early because I had more credits than, I could’ve gone but I wanted to just walk across the stage anyway.
And of course Taylor’s granddaddy, he was older, and he was in college. I had been seeing him since I was in high school, and he had told me that he was gonna marry me, and he spent that time in college, and then he came out and he told me he wanted to marry me. So of course I thought he was just so handsome, and he was a very smart person. And giving. He was just a good person and I thought about it and I said “well, what else could I be looking for?” So I married him. And of course the results of my marriage was my two children and results of one of those children, here comes Taylor. He had a good granddaddy, he was, Taylor looks and acts a lot like his grandaddy, he really does. He was, I hate to have to set myself but he was, very good guy. He wanted to help everybody. When we owned the store over there, my husband… I think I had to be a little firmer. Because he wanted everybody that comes into the store, picked up what they wanted to buy, then he thought they should walk out with it. And he made him a list and let people sign it. Oh, that would not touch me real good. Not at all. But he did really good in helping the neighborhood, he helped the high school. He would go to SOC, whatever they needed, he would help. He was just a good person. Very good.
Me, as a worker in my church, I have gone to the different businesses to see if they could do something for for my church, and I mean the business, Walgreen’s, CVS, and they had some excuses. They never contributed. So I said “Well I’ll go to the funeral homes.” And every funeral home I went to, they were very generous. Very. Black and Clark is over on Illinois. When I went there and asked- now, my uncle, Al Cox, Reverend Cox, he was instrumental in helping Mr. Clark get started in his business. Of course, it’s a history behind Mr. Clark. He started out with his uncle, but whenever he needed, whatever he needed, Rev. Cox would help him. So consequently that’s where all of our business go, is to Black and Clark. So when I went there to get a donation, it’s under new ownership now, the employees bought the business and some of the people that are there I still know. But the lady that’s the head of the family home, she first said she had given all she was going to give. And I didn’t say anything, I told her “Thank you, maybe next time.” So I don’t know how lady found my daughter’s telephone number but she called my daughter and told my daughter to tell me that there would be a check there for me the next day. She said “I didn’t realize who she was!” And I said okay, so I went and picked that check up. And of course it’s for our building we’re gonna do some building onto our church. But it was a gracious gift.
JK: And this is the church that your uncle was-
MB: No, no, no.
JK: Okay, no.
MB: He was Pentecostal. I am Non-denominational. So I’m with Church of Living God. But I was raised as a Baptist, and there’s a long story behind that, why I’m there now. I did not attend my uncle’s church, I only went there with his mother. We were members of Golden Gate Baptist Church in the Bottom. And my grandmother would leave Golden Gate from prayer service and we’d go to Al Cox’s church because it was over on another street, so we could walk there, and he would bring us home, take us home at night. But my husband was Church of Living God, and of course I raised my children under the same church that he was in. And I left my home church, ‘cause I was raised in Golden Gate Baptist Church. And when my husband passed on, the pastor had changed in Golden Gate, so I wanted to have the funeral there, I want to use the sanctuary, and they never, the pastor never called me to talk with me about it. So his mother was in charge of everything so she went ahead and made arrangements and of course my church is not as big as Golden Gate and my husband’s funeral was so large that’s why I wanted to have it there. There were people standing around the wall, there was closed-circuit TV in the fellowship hall, in the kitchen, and people were standing in the hallway, it was just it was a big funeral. And of course my grandson, at the time, I think he was 10 years old, and I was so shocked and so amazed that my grandson stood up there and spoke. We didn’t know he was gonna do that. But he did it. I just… I don’t know, it did something to me. My husband was so, he was involved. And he helped so many people that would come through. He would help them. He just helped them.
TT: They had two DART buses- two DART buses changed up their routes to go to my grandfather’s funeral.
MB: DART buses were there. The people from DART. The bus drivers, there were bus drivers that would come in our store. I mean all of those people were there. I have cards now, and this was seventeen years ago. I have cards now where people sent me cards and I couldn’t- I won’t let them go. I sit there and sometimes I go through them and read them.
TT: Now, I know you a little bit better than Josh does.
MB: Yeah. (laughter)
JK: Just a little bit.
TT: So, whereas he might skate around, not even skate around, but I know some direct things that I would like to talk to you about. So growing up, you said East Oak Cliff, but even more specific now with the way the city is, North East Oak Cliff, Tenth Street neighborhood, a freedman’s town. Growing up and going to Harllee throughout, how often did you, your cousins, and your sisters and brothers interact with Caucasian individuals in the neighborhood.
MB: None. There weren’t any.
TT: When did those interactions take place?
MB: Even in my high school days there weren’t any interactions with Caucasians.
TT: But I’m saying if you went grocery shopping or went… you know, on the street car, you used to talk about-
MB: Oh yeah. Well this is when I would ride the streetcar from Jefferson to South Dallas to see my uncle, and I road the bus over from Tenth Street to downtown in front of Greyhound bus station.
TT: Where was your favorite place to sit on the bus?
MB: I would go sit on the front seat.
TT: Was you supposed to do that?
MB: No. When you got on the bus- and see, there were no whites on when I get on. So when he would stop and pick whites up, they would take a sign, it was white on one side, colored on the other side. They’d take it and move it. And so colored would be facing you. And you’d have to sit there, and I didn’t agree with that. And I’d tell them, and, like I said, I was feisty. And I’d tell them. You go sit back there. You sit back there, this seat is mine. I’m not moving. And then when we- we would ride the streetcar from Jefferson to- ‘cause there were whites that were mingling up in Jefferson area, and they’d get on there and of course they’d move the sign. I’m not gonna move. My dad would tell me “You should move,” I said “I don’t think I should have to.” I said “They’re people, just like me.” And I didn’t.
TT: What would y’all do for fun?
MB: As children?
TT: Children, teenagers, preteens.
MB: Okay. As children, as I told him when we first moved in the area there was nothing but dirt streets. We were playing softball. We played in the streets because there weren’t many cars coming up and down that street because blacks didn’t own cars. Now my uncle Al Cox, my uncle Leon, they had cars, so this was our way of transportation if we had to go to the store or something like that. But we played hide and seek, and marbles. Jacks. This was- and then we’d go to the movies on Saturdays.
TT: And how was that movie set up?
MB: On Eighth Street, right there on the Show Hill. And we would go to the movie on Saturdays. That was a big thing.
TT: You spoke a little bit about where you were born and lived for four years. Your mother was born when?
MB: My mother was born in Navasota, Texas.
TT: What year?
TT: And how old- when was her mother born?
MB: I guess my grandmother was born in the 1800’s. My great grandmother was in slavery. Her name was Cheney Small.
TT: And I ask that because- just putting it into perspective now- that was your great grandmother, right? You my daughter’s great grandmother. So when we look at today, and the way that certain things are: three generations isn’t that much time. I was talking to someone this summer and they told me there’s people at their school- which was Yale- that are sixth generation Yale students. Just imagine that. Six generations. Not of just college. Not of just college. But six generations of one of the most prestigious universities. Winnie’s waking up. Let me get her before she cries. I just wanted to ask those questions to be in context with everything that’s going on right now because you spoke about WT White.
MB: Yeah. He would come to our schools sometimes.
TT: And when he came to the schools to visit, was he in favor, do you think, of integrating the schools-
TT: Or desegregating?
TT: Or even giving the same- for example, what were your textbooks like at Madison and at Harllee?
MB: At Harllee, the books, some of them had pages torn out of them, some had scribbles all over the pages. You had to really be interested to know, to want to learn, to know what was going on.
TT: Mama Dia, how far in school did she go?
MB: My mother went to the 8th grade.
TT: Your father went to what?
TT: They start working?
MB: Well, they worked during the time… they were sharecropping. Giving so much money to the man that owned the land. And they would pick cotton, raise whatever produce that they were gonna raise. Well my grandaddy didn’t like it for that long, he didn’t want his children- of course they were grown, married, which, you never never give up on the children. And he wanted better. So that’s when we moved to Dallas.
WT White Visits
JK: When WT White visited your school, what was that like?
MB: It was- well, we had to go to the auditorium because WT White was coming. What he had to say because it didn’t make sense to me, it was just some talk. Because he was not interested in us. He was there for his dollar. And he had some ugly words to say before he went out as superintendent. ‘Cause I was in high school then, and he wasn’t a nice person.
TT: How did you feel about my mother- because she was one of the first groups of kids to be bused- how did you feel about that when they bused her to Hulcy and basically integrated them at that school. What was your thoughts?
MB: Well I wanted the best education from my two children. So Kim, when they bused her, that was a new school, that was a new school for her. Now my son I sent him to private school. He finished from Bishop Dunne. When they bused Kim I had already taken Tony out of public school because they weren’t very- The teachers would have my son- He was, I guess he was rambunctious like his mom. They’d have him sitting out in the hallway with books on his lap. And I was not a working- (baby cries) Oh, poopie! What’s the matter? Winnie, Winnie. Taylor, I think she’s constipated or something, talk her on a walk…
Where was I? When I saw him, sitting there in the hallway smiling at me, “Hey Mama!” And I said okay, just sit there. And I went and got the principal. And I said this is what I’m telling you. I had been there the day before. I said “This is what they do.” I said “this is not what I send my son to school for.” I said “He should be in the classroom with the books open.” So… I got tired of that.
I was so anxious to get him out, I started him out in Seventh-day Adventist, and from there I went to John Twenty Third. And from John Twenty Third, he graduated middle school, I sent him to high school at Bishop Dunne. Did a good job. He got scholarships for college, and the awards night Tony got a lot of all plaques and things but he got the- it never happened at Bishop Dunne- he got the two Falcons, that was a trophy that they gave, he got two. I said “Oh, my goodness!” I was proud of him.
And my daughter is still going to school, can you imagine? She has never stopped. Kim is- I don’t think I could be going, because Kim… she has gone to school to be a personal trainer. She’s gone to school to… you name it. Now she’s working on her PhD. I’m proud of her. I’m very proud of her.
JK: So your son was in private school but you sent her to public school the whole way through and you mentioned she went to Hulcy?
MB: She went to Hulcy. It was mixed when they opened that school up. And then she went right around the corner for high school. They were going to send her to SOC according to the boundaries, but she ended up at Carter. So she finished from Carter.
JK: And did she like it at those schools?
MB: Oh yeah, she did. She didn’t want to go to SOC. Because if they had sent her to SOC I was gonna put her in Bishop Dunne. Because I didn’t want to- it was so terrible there. Because the kids were sticking one another with knives. My daughter wasn’t used to stuff like that. No, I couldn’t send her there. See other kids had died from the school there on- right there on Keist, and there was one on Illinois, I believe, those were some bad schools. Was that Oliver Wendell Holmes? I didn’t want my kids there. No.
Let me say this too, when my daughter was in junior high, my husband bought her the ugliest little car, and he bought her I think it was a Renault. It just looks backwards. And she loved that little car. So naturally she would pick- there’s a lot of kids in the neighborhood that went to that school, so she and her friends would ride together so really she didn’t have to ride a bus because before she got the car I was taking her and when she got old enough her daddy bought her a car. And when she went to Hulcy she made friends with a lot of white students. A lot of her friends she still keep in contact with. White, black, whatever, she’s in contact with them, she’s got friends that live everywhere. Same when she went to college. She has so many friends. Oh, my daughter. She has a lot of friends. She is more like her dad. I’m a to-myself person. But her dad was very open with everybody. And when people would walk into the store he would, “Hello, neighbor!” I mean, just so natural with him, it would just come out. And of course he called all the ladies, “Baby,” “honey,” “sugar,” and he couldn’t do that now, not with what’s going on now. Couldn’t do it. But even the older ladies- and on Christmas, Benson would buy the great big peppermint sticks like that and he’d give every lady that come in that store he’d give a peppermint, a big peppermint. That was every year. It was very nice. This used to be a nice neighborhood. And this shopping center used to have Sears, JCPenney, the DPS, a five-and-dime store. But everything has changed. I mean, changed. Now when my husband owned the store across the street he didn’t allow any loitering. You couldn’t stand just- these guys now they’ll get out and gamble, right there on the sidewalk. He didn’t allow that. He’d come out there personally and escort you away. So he didn’t have that problem…
I think it’s all in what you want to do, the want that you have, the determination. Because my husband was determined to do he always wanted his own business he worked for LTV and after working for them, he didn’t want work for the public, so he opened his own business, and he worked in the business until he died and that was in the year 2000. We were there for about 30, or maybe longer. The spirit that you have… you have to want it. If you don’t want it you’re not going to get. And of course my husband didn’t want me to work and he wanted to make sure that his family- like I said when I met him in high school, that was a determined young man and his family was so well cared for. And we did not have to get any student loans for my daughter. My son was on scholarship, but Kim we we never had to- we paid for her education, so consequently she came out of college not owing anybody. And she’s a determined young lady like that too, she’s really like her dad. And I tell her sometimes, I say “hey babe… Let’s go somewhere.” “Mom, I got to study, I got this test.” And she said “next year I’ll do my dissertation,” and I say “Oh my god,” I don’t say it but I want to say it, “Girl, when will you stop going to school?” Plus the fact she has her own business, then she’s teaching now, tell me how many jobs has she had? She was with the DA, she was with the, oh my God, the airlines, she was with so many jobs, and she’s works, okay, she teaches at college on certain days. Kim she’s a go-getter.
JK: Busy lady.
MB: She is, she’s a go-getter. I think my family was progressive. Because I know we had our family reunion this past summer, and I was to give the history of our- ‘cause I’m the oldest living cousin- and I had to give the history of Mark Cox. And my grandaddy was a tall tall man. I think my grandaddy was 6’9”, or somewhere, because his daddy was 7 feet. And he had a very soft voice, my Granddady. And I would say, I told him, I said that he was a giant with a gentle voice. I said, “but when he spoke, you heard him.” I said “and the foundation that he built for us…” I said his sons, and I gave every son, I said what type of business that they were in, and I said “that’s a foundation.” I said “we have built on that foundation, my generation,” I said “and like Taylor’s generation,” I said “he’s building, they’re building.” I said “that’s something to be proud of.” A man, my granddaddy, with hardly no education, but up here is what counted. He wanted better for his children, and he succeeded. He succeeded.
JK: Well this has been great. I think I’m out of questions but thank you so much for your time.
MB: You’re quite welcome, I’ve enjoyed talking.
JK: The Oral History of Margaret Benson was powered by the Commit Partnership and produced by me, Joshua Kumler. It was executive produced by me, along with John Hill and Rob Shearer. Mixed and mastered by Will Short. Music by Trevor Yokochi. Blog post by Kathryn Mikeska.
Special thanks to Taylor Toynes and his entire team at For Oak Cliff. You can check out a transcript of this interview, which was lightly edited for clarity but contains all of Mrs. Benson’s responses, at our website, commit2dallas.org. If you or someone you know could also contribute to our collective historical understanding and sit down for a similar conversation, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk. This oral history is dedicated, of course, to Margaret Benson, and to the many Coxes, Bensons, and Toynes’ who helped make Dallas what it is today.
We’ll be back with a new full length episode next week, on the Miseducation of Dallas County.