Watch CBS News

Dallas' 'whites only' sign on display as reminder of city's segregated past

Dallas' 'whites only' sign on display as reminder of city's segregated past
Dallas' 'whites only' sign on display as reminder of city's segregated past 02:21

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - In Dallas, a reminder of some painful history has returned to a place of prominence.  

The Dallas Water Fountain Project is an art installation tasked with adding perspective to a "whites only" sign discovered at the county records building nearly two decades ago.

"That's the reason every opportunity I speak to this," said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, "It's not critical race theory, it's critical race facts. And we are now the courier for the facts."

The 'white's only' sign, etched into the marble wall above a water fountain, was discovered in 2003 when a sign that had been covering it fell off. Its discovery, although the content was not surprising, was still controversial - even in communities of color.

"Local NAACP said 'Why - why are we keeping it?'" recalls Commissioner Price, who has insisted that the sign be preserved as an 'eyes-wide-open' reminder of the city's segregated past.

"In those days, it was represented as just the way it was. And that always saddened me... ya know?" Brian Freeman would have been welcomed at that water fountain reserved for whites. And it troubles him now, just as he says it did then. "Because that didn't make sense at all to a young kid, brought up that way... just didn't make sense."

Fast forward and the 81-year-old says he's honored that his marble company was tasked with carefully removing the sign's stone slab to create the teaching tool, an art installation created by artist Lauren Woods.  

It was unveiled in 2013, but spent the past several years in storage as the Records Building underwent renovations. It was re-dedicated today, with a church-like reverence as those gathered were led in a rendition of a gospel hymn 'We've Come This Far By Faith.'

"It is a church moment because it is only by faith," insists Price. "It's by faith that I saw it. It's by faith that I was able to find two of my colleagues with enough courage to say 'let's preserve it'. It was by faith... as I said, truth forever. I'm ecstatic. I'm elated. And the fact that parents brought their children today, to see and be a part of it - says it all."

Asher Caruthers, a 12-year-old history buff, was among the onlookers.

"And I think people can learn from people's mistakes and we can make it better," says Caruthers.

"Just like in our personal lives, when we make mistakes, our most poignant motivator to do the right thing is when we failed," says County Commissioner JJ Koch, District 2, gesturing to the fountain, "This is where we failed. I'm very glad we are highlighting that, as we continue to show prominently our failures, so we don't repeat them."

The art installation incorporates civil rights videos where hatred once flowed.

"We are now the courier for the facts," says Price. "And how dare we let all of those individuals in our past, let them down by not carrying forth the stones. Moses told Joshua, 'those 12 stones. What do you say of these stones? when our kids look and say: THIS is where we've come from'."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.