Political Change

Political Change in Fort Worth came with many long uphill battles for blacks in Tarrant County.  Fort Worth during this time made Black people pay a poll tax to vote. Opal Lee describes this being the hardest

“And another thing I did was to pay a poll tax, a dollar and seventy-five cents. it was the hardest dollar and seventy-five cents to give up you know, and I waited till the last minute to pay it, but I did so that I could vote.”

– Opal Lee

Roy Brooks also recalls the poll tax, and remembers community efforts to work around it.

“I can remember as a kid there was what they called the poll tax. It was a fee that you had to pay in order to register to vote. And the poll tax was a regressive tax because it fell most heavily on poor people and people with low paying jobs. So its intent and effect was to keep black people from voting since we had the lowest end jobs, if we had jobs at all. There were many fights against the poll tax. There were many efforts to raise funds in the community to pay the poll tax for those who could not pay it for themselves.”

– Roy Brooks

During the Civil Rights Movement, there were a variety of people who continued to fight for political power through varying methods. For example, Reby Cary took a more individualist approach, as he felt that the best way to achieve more rights is through empowering yourself both educationally and economically and then trying to win positions. He was not concerned with marches and protesting, but more concerned with education and building wealth in the community. His methods worked well for him, as he was the first African American to be voted onto the School Board in 1974 and ultimately went on to be elected to be the Texas House of Representatives for District 95. Cary went on to be a founder of the Fredrick Douglas Republicans of Texas, and definitely made many racial breakthroughs in Texas politics such as working to integrate hospitals in Fort Worth.

“Black doctors couldn’t even practice here in Fort Worth in the hospitals. Jack Brooks and them top doctors. And While there, I took on the Harris Hospital, I had a meeting down there. And when I went down there, if this hadn’t worked I had a Class Action Suit coming, I had my lawyers working on it. But I worked with Earl Cox, now he and I were pretty good ’cause I worked with him before, he was chairmen of the board over there at Harris Hospital. I took on St. Joseph and all of them. And they started changing, boom. And that’s when black doctors began to get back in and could practice in hospitals here in Fort Worth.”

On the other hand, there were people such as Dr. Marion Jackson Brooks who were among the leaders of the Liberal Wing of the Democratic Party. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed coalitions began to form between people of color and liberal whites. This in turn started a shift in ideology that caused the Democratic Party to develop a strong liberal wing. Once this happened, many conservative Democrats switched to the Republican party, thus giving birth to the party identities that still exist today. Dr. Brooks and others within the Democratic Party continued to advocate for causes such as equal opportunity housing, equal employment opportunities and equal access to public spaces for people of color.

“So what the voting rights act did was allow black people to register to vote in huge numbers. It allowed for coalitions to be formed between blacks, browns and whites of good will. It created the liberal wing of the Democratic party in Texas, of which my father was a leader. Funny thing about Texas is that its always been a one party state. Its either been all Democratic or all Republican, but neither both at the same time, never both at the same time. When those two key pieces of civil rights legislation were signed, that began the end of the dominance of the Democratic Party in Texas because the conservative wing of the Democratic Party which had always run things, they went to the Republican Party. And they left the Democratic Party to the blacks, the browns and the liberal whites.”

Despite their differing styles, both philosophies ultimately sparked a great amount of change in the political arena in Fort Worth. The efforts of people like Reby Cary and Marion Brooks helped pave the way for current black politicians in Texas as they fought to break down the political racial barriers that existed in Texas.

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