What Did Dallas Learn from Rediscovering a Suppressed Book?

By Rob MadoleDecember 17, 2021

What Did Dallas Learn from Rediscovering a Suppressed Book?

The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City by Jim Schutze

AROUND 15 YEARS AGO, seemingly out of the blue, The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City became the most sought-after book in Dallas. Used copies of Jim Schutze’s history of the racial violence underlining the city’s gleaming exterior sold on eBay for $900, about double the price of a James Baldwin first edition. The few copies available at the public library had wait times sometimes exceeding two years.

I managed to secure a copy in 2013, a birthday present from a friend working at a charter school network. In classic samizdat fashion, it was a barebones photocopy of a photocopy, sourced from someone at her office. No publisher info, no index, no works cited; just 200 sheaves of printer paper in fading LaserJet ink, bound together with a heavy paperclip.

Thumbing through the pages, I felt a little smug — I’d obtained a ticket through the looking glass of Dallas history. No one seemed to know the exact details, but The Accommodation was supposed to have been suppressed by the political establishment immediately after its publication in 1986.

In the press coverage surrounding the book’s reissue this September by Deep Vellum Books, the reasons for its scarcity have been clarified. Schutze wrote The Accommodation over the course of the 1980s while working as a city hall columnist for the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald. In 1986, he secured a contract to publish it with Dallas-based Taylor Publishing Company. But after members of the Citizens Council caught wind of its contents and raised a stink, Taylor scrapped the project. When The New York Times ran an exposé on the ensuing controversy, a publisher in New Jersey stepped in to create a small print run of 5,000, half of which were lost in a warehouse fire. The few copies that made it to Dallas received negligible coverage, and the book was mostly forgotten. It came as something of a shock, therefore, when Schutze discovered that, two decades later, The Accommodation had suddenly become a status object among a new generation of Dallasites. At a recent panel discussion celebrating the book’s reissue, Schutze mused on its resurgent relevance:

I just became aware of [The Accommodation’s popularity] 15 years ago, and I wondered, “Who’s looking at [this]?” And then I would get invited to groups to talk about it. And everybody was 30 years old, in their 20s, all young people. And they had come into the city, they see this Mason-Dixon line across the middle of the city, and they realize, “Something happened here. We haven’t been given the story.”

The “Mason-Dixon line” Schutze refers to is the I-30 corridor separating northern and southern Dallas — north of the line, Dallas is overwhelmingly white; south of the line, Dallas is overwhelmingly Black. With this in mind, it’s worth defining with more specificity who was taking a sudden interest in The Accommodation. In the wake of a 2006 Democratic Party triumph that saw all of Dallas County’s 47 elected offices go blue for the first time since the Reagan era, the city’s managerial class underwent a generational shift, with Gen X-ers and millennials taking the reins of local administration. A raft of developer-friendly nonprofits and advocacy groups emerged to advance a more progressive agenda for Dallas — organizations like the Coalition for a New Dallas, the Mayor’s Star Council, and the Foundation for Community Empowerment, their membership drawn from the city’s new administrative ranks and made up of a mix of diverse young professionals alongside the overwhelmingly white children of old-money philanthropic families.

Their focal point was and remains southern Dallas, in particular the neighborhood called South Dallas right at the boundary between north and south. According to Census data, only eight percent of South Dallas is white, and per a United Way report, 83.3 percent of families there live in poverty. To anyone thinking about the city’s future, it’s clear that this area, adjacent to downtown and directly across the highway from Dallas’s recently revitalized nightlife district Deep Ellum, lies in the crosshairs of gentrification.

It was in this context that a new generation of Dallasites, dreaming about steering city management in a more equitable direction, began seeking out The Accommodation. Trading bootleg PDFs of the book and learning about the historic processes that resulted in a segregated city became a way of demonstrating sensitivity to South Dallas’s supposed needs as it was shepherded toward a rebirth after years of neglect.

Dallas, Schutze argues in The Accommodation, has always been “much more Southern, with stronger roots in slave culture,” than most residents know or care to admit. His book traces how the city’s white “business oligarchy” was able to achieve a relatively smooth transition into legal desegregation during the Civil Rights era — it’s an oft-cited source of civic pride that Dallas in the 1960s avoided the racial unrest of cities such as Little Rock and Los Angeles — while finding “informal ways to maintain actual and total separation” of the races into the present day. The titular “accommodation” was a stratagem developed by the city’s white leadership, in particular the all-powerful Dallas Citizens Council, to confer limited integration to specific middle-class Black enclaves at the expense of the working-class Black population of southern Dallas, which was banished behind interstate highways and disinvested in for decades. To this day, Dallas ranks as one of the most unequal cities in the nation by nearly every possible measure. Yet aside from Warren Leslie’s similarly neglected Dallas Public and Private from 1964 and Michael Phillips’s sociological monograph White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001, Schutze’s book remains the only comprehensive study of race and segregation in Dallas, which together with its twin city Fort Worth forms the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the nation.

The Accommodation makes for a crackling but unusual read, merging a lifelong beat reporter’s gimlet eye for backroom corruption with a self-taught historian’s propensity for narrative sweep, animated throughout by a sincere and galvanizing rage at Dallas’s white leadership. After a historical section whose main purpose is to demolish what Schutze calls Dallas’s “no-reason-for-being myth” — in fact, Dallas exists because in the late 1800s it became the “moneylender and underwriter” for an enormous but short-lived North Texas cotton boom — Schutze’s book homes in on the post–World War II era, when, after a successful pivot toward underwriting oil exploration, city leaders began laying the groundwork for a real estate play that would transform the region into the logistical center of the emerging Sun Belt.

In this grand vision, no role was allotted to Dallas’s sizable Black population, descendants of former slaves and freed people who’d gravitated to the city when the Blackland Prairies of North Texas “cottoned out” and stopped yielding productive crops. Concentrated at the city’s periphery and hemmed in by one of the South’s most restrictive segregation regimes, Black neighborhoods like Mill Creek and West Dallas had no access to running water or sewage, resulting in frequent outbreaks of typhus and tuberculosis. The travesty from the city’s perspective? They lay in the path of future expansion.

The reportorial sections of The Accommodation hinge on two episodes: one in the early 1950s, when, in the name of “slum clearance,” the West Dallas population was relocated en masse to southern Dallas using a familiar program of eminent domain, redlining, and restrictive covenants; and another in the late 1960s, when Dallas leaders decided they needed to reclaim parts of southern Dallas after all — extra parking was required for the South Dallas area surrounding Fair Park, where the Cotton Bowl and State Fair of Texas are held every autumn. But the relatively new residents resisted.

In one of Dallas’s few instances of successful mobilization during the Civil Rights era, Fair Park homeowners threatened to block the Cotton Bowl parade on national television in 1969 if the mayor didn’t accept a meeting to hear their demands. This, Schutze writes, was a strike at the “ceremonial workings” of Dallas: “[T]he oligarchy could not and would not allow a desecration of the Cotton Bowl Parade.” Although the neighborhood was ultimately razed and replaced with a seldom-used parking lot, the homeowners received better payouts, and their federal suit paved the way for dismantling the at-large election system through which the Dallas Citizens Council had, for decades, controlled the electoral slates for City Council. This led to the first Black representatives entering city hall in the early 1970s, many of them veterans of the Fair Park homeowners movement.


The reissue of The Accommodation has been feted across regional media as a major victory for Dallas, a way of atoning for its past. But looking at the plans hatched over the 2010s to “revitalize” the South Dallas area, it’s hard to countenance the idea that Dallas’s new progressive leaders have learned anything transformative from their encounter with Schutze’s book.

For all the talk about equity, most of the planned developments in South Dallas offer only a bare minimum of “affordable” housing — a new species of Schutze’s accommodationism — and will surely displace current residents in droves. The primary takeaway from The Accommodation, in fact, seems to have been how to stave off resistance to looming redevelopment along the lines of the 1969 homeowners movement by cloaking newfangled slum clearance in the language of “revitalization” and “community engagement.” This, it should be stressed, is no fault of Schutze’s. In numerous columns for the alt Dallas Observer, where from 1998 to 2020 he filed a weekly dispatch that often amounted to the only substantive investigative reporting being performed in the city, Schutze repeatedly warned: “The wolf is at the door in South Dallas.”

One of his last Observer pieces, published in March 2020, details how land appraisals in the area began doubling and tripling in the wake of legislation the year before declaring it an “Opportunity Zone.” This tax-relief scheme, erected by Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill, invites developers to reduce capital gains payouts on real estate speculation by parking investments in “transitioning neighborhoods.” Unsurprisingly, the same developers lobbying Governor Greg Abbott for the designation happened to own huge swathes of real estate in the area. This came on the heels of the City Council’s unanimous vote to approve a plan to privatize the state fairgrounds, following a four-year privatization push by former Democratic mayor Mike Rawlings as part of his “Grow South” initiative. Typical of Obama-era plans, it pairs high-flown rhetoric with the strong arm of finance capital and portends major changes for the South Dallas area. In Schutze’s words, “The very near future could see massive dispossession and displacement there to dwarf the city’s long, ugly history elsewhere.”

Of course, Dallas isn’t unusual when it comes to a history of segregation paired with exploitative social improvement schemes. In his introduction to the recently reissued Kerner Commission Report, Jelani Cobb points out that, in city after city, liberal Americans have always been happy to settle for the “illusions of change” when more systemic transformation might involve surrendering white advantage. Even for a new generation of liberals that purports to be committed to racial justice, real avenues of change feel at a far remove when fundamental remedies, like wealth distribution or a recommitment to public housing — or even basic provisions of a social democracy, like free health care and higher education — remain off the table.

As Cobb writes in a twist on George Santayana’s famous dictum, “[I]t is possible for us to be entirely cognizant of history and repeat it anyway.”


Rob Madole is a writer, translator, and former editor of ARCH+ in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @rob_madole.

LARB Contributor

Rob Madole is a writer, translator, and former editor of ARCH+ in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @rob_madole.


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