Civil Rights in the "City of Hate:" Grassroots Organizing against Police Brutality in Dallas, Texas, 1935-1990

My dissertation explores the impact of police violence on African American and Mexican American communities in Dallas. The two big arguments in my dissertation center upon the issue of police brutality and how the issue drove conversations among black and brown activists in their broader fight for social justice. My first argument reveals the early twentieth century organizing strategies of both African American and Mexican American civil rights activists to combat discriminatory policing. Activists from each community protested the high levels of crime in neighborhoods of color and the indifference of police in failing to alleviate such high crime rates. In response, black and brown activists argued for increased police protection in communities of color. But they also understood that police officers upheld white supremacist notions of law and order, which subjected people of color to egregious forms of police abuse. In an effort to absolve this, local civil rights organizations argued that reforming the Dallas police department by hiring black and brown officers would not only lower crime rates but would also eliminate police violence.


The second argument explores how Mexican American and African American civil rights activists in the post-1965 era sought interracial collaboration because of the issue of police brutality. The deaths of Michael Morehead and Santos Rodriguez by Officer Darrel Cain as well as other episodes of police violence united black and brown activists, including their white allies, on multiple fronts—leading activists to challenge police violence, class and racial antagonism, and discriminatory voter dilution tactics. By entering into the political system at both the municipal and county level, black and brown organizers endeavored to transform the city by ensuring equitable treatment of all Dallas’s residents, regardless of race, class, gender, and sexuality. The fight against police brutality provided the vehicle for the coalition-building efforts in the later decades of the twentieth century.