Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Nearly forgotten freedmen’s community uncovered by Dallas College students and instructors receives historical marker

Little Egypt is getting long, overdue recognition. The historical Black community in North Dallas was built in 1883 by former slaves and thrived for nearly 80 years before it was demolished and cleared for businesses and a neighborhood in northeast Dallas now known as Lake Highlands.

The site has been designated by the Texas Historical Commission (THC) with a historical marker to commemorate the community’s. A ceremony unveiling the marker took place at noon Sat., May 20, 2023, at 8630 Thurgood Lane in Dallas. Speakers included Dallas City Councilmember Adam McGough, former Dallas College professors Dr. Clive Siegle and Dr. Tim Sullivan, as well as descendants of the original settlers of Little Egypt.

The genesis of Little Egypt’s recognition and its rediscovery can be traced to 2015, when Dallas College Richland Campus students assisted history professor Dr. Clive Siegle and archeology professor Dr. Tim Sullivan in unearthing remnants of the settlement.

 

(Courtesy photo)

Dr. Siegle, who has since retired, helped uncover a tract of 20 modest homes on property at Northwest Highway and Ferndale Road not far from Northlake Shopping Center. He lived near the site and happened upon it by accident.

The students documented a history of the development of the community and the lives of the former residents and their descendants, Dr. Siegle said.

“Our initial problem was that we had no idea who lived there. The name ‘Little Egypt’ did not appear as a formal location on any U.S. census records, so it wasn’t possible to accurately place any of the individuals named in any census records as actually residing there, he said.

“What was vital to recreating a historical picture of life in Little Egypt was to locate any former residents of the community who were willing to tell the story of what it was like to live there, and that was problematic, at best, however, when you can’t verify who those people actually are.”

As luck would have it, they found the McCoy family – whose descendants are among the original settlers on the 30 acres that made up Little Egypt. The McCoy family owned a corner lot and were the only family whose home was equipped with a telephone, said Gloria McCoy, 72.

“There were dirt roads and no running water, but there was electricity. We had a church and families who looked out for one another,” she said. “We lived at 8604 Thurgood, and I have lots of fond memories,” said McCoy, a retired business owner. “We were a community. We were not poor. My dad had a dump truck, a pickup truck and a ‘57 Chevrolet. We went to the movies and to picnics. It was an ideal upbringing. The church was in the community – Egypt Chapel Baptist Church. To us, the church was a large part of everything. If the city had granted us running water, we probably wouldn’t have moved.”

But Little Egypt was landlocked with unpaved roads, no sewer system or trash pickup, although the community was surrounded by houses and structures that had these services, Dr. Siegle said. This made Little Egypt vulnerable to developers who could buy the land and secure city services.

By 1962, fate had dealt the community a final hand. Little Egypt residents decided collectively to sell – a move that allowed them to chart their own course and they were paid for their property, Siegle said.

In one day, the fleet of 37 moving vans that descended on the rutted roads and aging homesteads of Little Egypt had loaded up the furnishings of its residents, and by the end of the day, the community stood deserted. Bulldozers followed shortly. Within a day, newspapers as far away as New Mexico and New York carried the story of Little Egypt’s unique saga, according to documents filed with the Texas Historical Commission, which approved the marker.

Little Egypt took its place in history.

“This is a historical site,” Dr. Siegle said. “It is one of many small rural communities that once dotted Texas and have eventually been swallowed up. But it also provides an excellent example of how these communities developed over time. It’s a case study in post-Civil War Black rural community evolution. History has always talked about great events and great men, but today’s historical focus is rich with studies that illuminate what life was like for regular folk as well. Our focus was to uncover and illuminate a little-known community of just such people.”

McCoy said she is proud to tell her family’s story. “This honor is for Little Egypt, and it is well deserved,” McCoy said. “We are pleased that they (Dr. Siegle, Dr. Sullivan and Richland College students) took an interest in the community we were raised in. This was our home.”

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