City of Church: Dallas or New York

The difference between New York and Texas, you say? I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I hate Texas.

I haven’t decided why I hate this place until now. Not too much to be said about the architecture here.  The food’s overrated (although the tacos almost make it worth it). And the girls…well, the girls are pleasant.

I’ve realized, though, that biggest difference between Texas and New York is the role of God and church. The Christian God, of course. See, in New York, church is an afterthought, or a punch line, and God is an option, or a fable. (I’m not Christian, and I’ve only met one person in New York who goes to church every Sunday. Comes with the “liberal media” territory, I guess).

But here, in Texas, God is real, and God is weaponized. People use His name to explain and legitimize and enforce everything. And since this is Black History Month, it feels only proper to tell a story about God, church, and Dallas’ black history.

My boss/mentor/hero here, Jim Schutze, describes time travel in Dallas as a baby fawn traveling through a boa constrictor. Real sad stuff, and kinda gross. The fawn is supposed to be time. The point is, it moves slowly.

Schutze says (and he should know, since he’s white but walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and wrote a book on Dallas race and politics) that because Dallas time moves slowly, it’s actually about 20-25 years behind the rest of the country where, for the most part, it’s 2012. It’s a museum. Why? Because they skipped the Civil Rights Movement.

The Dallas White Citizens Council, and group of über-rich Anglos who wanted to keep the status quo, sent researchers to the Deep South in the 1960s to see why all these black people were rising up and fighting for civil rights. Turned out the civil rights movement started in the churches with young preachers leading their congregations. Turned out one of them, Dr. King, was headed to Dallas.

Dallas was already segregated by a river: the Trinity. North of the Trinity was the metroplex, where the whites lived. South of the Trinity was a barren wasteland, where the blacks were.

The Citizens Council raced across the river with cases of cash and keys to Cadillacs in hand. They met with the ruling black preacher class that acted as community leaders. Since blacks couldn’t vote, they damn sure weren’t going to hold office. They bribed the preachers. Most of them bit.

When Dr. King came to town, the preachers south of the Trinity warned their congregations during service not to see King speak. He was a communist. He wasn’t a real Christian. Their congregations obeyed.

You can guess the rest. One speech, hundreds of whites, a couple dozen blacks. Civil rights squashed. Today, the Trinity still splits the city. To the north, you have a great American city, a booming town, a metropolis. To the south, you have a drug epidemic, a crippling food desert, and one of the largest trash dumps in the Southwest.

And there are churches. Everywhere.

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