Al Lipscomb, Who Will Be Buried Saturday, Was Good Enough When It Really Counted

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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There is no question that Al Lipscomb was ethically challenged. When Wilonsky called me Saturday to tell me Lipscomb had died, I remembered a story the Reverend Peter Johnson told me years ago.

Johnson, who had campaigned across the Old South with Martin Luther King Jr., came to Dallas afterward in the early 1970s and found himself in the Valley of the Lost Civil Rights Dinosaurs -- the town The Movement forgot.

The first thing Johnson did was conduct a hunger strike on the steps of City Hall to dramatize the plight of the poor in Dallas. A real hunger strike. He took only water, and after a week he began to waste. So one day Lipscomb shows up.

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Photo by Henry Bargas
Lipscomb's body will lie in state at Hall of State at Fair Park beginning at noon Thursday leading to Saturday's burial.
You have to know that in Dallas in the late 1960s and early '70s, a handful of people like Al Lipscomb, J.B. Jackson and Juanita Craft were creating their own do-it-yourself civil rights movement, here on a desert island. They took even more grief and trouble from conservative black racial separatist ministers like S.M. Wright than they got from the white boys downtown.

Peter Johnson was a soldier of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with permanent damage inside his body to show for it, scars he earned on March 7, 1965, at the battle of the Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma, Alabama. If he was going to do a hunger strike in Dallas, he was going to do it right.

So up jumps Albert Lipscomb, supposed to be Dallas's civil rights firebrand -- who slips through the crowd and around the reporters, gives Johnson a sly wink and puts a Thermos in his hand, full of water, wink wink. Johnson unscrews the cap one notch and smells beef stew.

He hauls Lipscomb around the corner out of view, shoves the Thermos back in his hand and lectures him sternly, telling him this is just what the white boys expect and are hoping for. Lipscomb, sheepish and apologetic, tells Johnson how much he admires what he's doing and how much he wishes something like this had happened in Dallas long ago.

He just didn't want Peter to go hungry.

So does that mean Johnson didn't respect Al Lipscomb as a civil rights leader? Oh, hell, no, because the story didn't end there. Not too long later, Johnson was doing something else never before done in Dallas -- picketing a supermarket chain owned by a powerful member of the then-all-white Dallas Citizens Council. Johnson claimed the grocery chain under-served and over-charged the black community and never promoted anybody black.

Word came to Johnson from a good source that the picketers were going pay in blood, get shot-up or bombed. And here we need to pause for context.

Dallas wasn't a lost valley of civil rights by accident. It earned its status the hard way, with bombs, beatings and lynchings. In the early 1970s, there were still people alive who remembered a time 60 years earlier when Dallas had been literally governed by the Ku Klux Klan.

More recently in the 1950s, a blue-ribbon Dallas County grand jury found evidence of a massive conspiracy to bomb the homes of black people who had moved into white neighborhoods. The proceedings of the grand jury were secret, but information made public when indictments finally came down indicated that white Christian church groups had hired criminal thugs to carry out a campaign of bomb attacks on black families.

In the 1970s Dallas was still a scary place. Johnson knew the gun or bomb threat was probably a cheap shot from somebody who thought it was easy to scare black people. But he had a duty to tell his picketers and wasn't sure what their reaction would be. He was an out-of-town guy. The picketers might not be willing to follow him back to that line. The threat alone might cave the protest.

The picketers did not cave, and Johnson told me one major reason they did not cave was the role of Albert Lipscomb. Lipscomb's reaction to the threat was to go straight back out to the picket line, stand bigger, be louder and act more bodacious than ever, insolently daring the bastards to bring it on. The others saw his insolence and in it they found their own courage.

There was no attack. Nobody got hurt.

I'm not telling you all this to excuse any of his manifold failings. He had failings. And they were ... what can we say ... manifold.

But if there's somebody up on a cloud right now with a big ledger and a calculator doing the math on Lipscomb's eligibility, we know what it's going to say at the bottom of that page.

He was brave for the good.

That's what counts.

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26 comments
Dreadpoetreee
Dreadpoetreee

Jim Shutze and other Dallas Observer writers and so called liberal remind me of the old joke "with friends like this who needs enemies", While they were demonizing Lip we just kept reelecting him by landslides,the same way we keep reelecting John Wiley Price. The Observer has attacked every black leader , that was supported by our community , since gas was a dollar while simultaneously pimping and promoying prostitution in their classified section

Jim Schutze Fled Detroit
Jim Schutze Fled Detroit

Oh lookie lookie

It is Jim "I'm so progressive and liberal that I fled Detroit" Schutze, doing his stereotypical white-guilt excuse-making and apologizing for a black criminal.

Wow I'm so surprised. Never would have seen that coming in a million years.

TomTom
TomTom

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar.

Justiceseekerstexas
Justiceseekerstexas

Awesome story Jim , I have heard several from Al in reference to him and Peter , Al was my Father In the civil rights movement I worked for him and Diane at the age of 19 and some 30 years later he became a honorary member of Justice Seekers Texas the 21st century Civil Rights & Social Justice organization based in Dallas. Peter and I met with Al often in his last days  and he will always be apart of who I am and what I do . Rest In Peace Al(Paw Paww)Rev.Ronald Wright

Chap
Chap

I'm disappointed by all this love for a racist, crooked politician and unrepentant convicted felon.  When on trial for taking a long string of payoffs he referred to his fellow city council members as "a bunch of white snitches".  He even said crooked black politicians are "whitey's" fault since when a rich white man offers a poor black politician money he can't turn it down.   He enjoyed the spotlight and and the payoffs.  We must raise the standards for our leaders.

Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

Mr. Lipscomb was the best his help for people did not start with City Hall,it began in the community.Mr.Lip was also a southern gentleman he will be missed.White,Black ,Asia and Hispanics loved and respected Mr.Lip he was color blind and fought for fairness for all.

Clancey
Clancey

Recollecting:  when I arrived at WFAA in '73 the legendary Bert Shipp cautioned me,  "Hoss,  there's a guy named Al Lipscomb.  Don't ever let him on the air.  He called Shapiro a racist."

As the story notes,  it was a very different time. 

Joyce Foreman
Joyce Foreman

Al Lipscomb opened the door for younger civil rights fighters like myself.  I appreciate the fact that he was not afraid to fight for justice.  RIP Al Lipscomb.

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Yes Jim, Al did a lot of good courageous things (and some criminal things too-selling heroin) early in his career, but that doesn't excuse the second half of his career, where he sold out his community for small change, defended city hall corruption, and worked to preserve the dysfunctional history of Dallas' minority relations.

I still remember him blocking code enforcement to protect slum lords, ensuring that the people in his community could live in substandard housing. Also the bribes he took from the white owned cab company was payment for keeping minority cab drivers out of Dallas. He got a "free" car just like Don Hill and parked it in his drive way. His defense of Don Hill pretty much explains  how devoid of ethics he had become.

Great leaders do great things throughout their carriers, no just occasionally.

The real tragedy of Lipscomb was not that he could be bought, it was the he could be purchased for so little. for pennies he would abandon the best interest of his constituents and the city. He was a Dollar Store version of Don Hill.

The Lipscomb legacy is sad and sorry, it is a legacy of Councilmen Fielding, Fontroy, and Hill they are all his ideological childern, in fact they all defended their actions by sayings "that's how business is done in Dallas" and Al agreed. Sadly Al was the "ideal" for what passes for leadership in Dallas and he will be honored by the people he followed and his benefactors that paid him. Active, assertive, engaged minorities are not the "Dallas Way".

Working to preserve a corrupt status quot to the determinant of your constituents, community, and city is nothing to be honored or praised.

David Ewing
David Ewing

Im torn between how I feel about Al Lipscomb. I think Bob nailed it with he did both good and bad things for Dallas. Only time will tell what his legacy becomes

Vlharris
Vlharris

So do you know or can you find out who will be footing the bill for his "public viewing" at Hall of State?

Sybil's Beaver
Sybil's Beaver

Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, now where is my taxi, I need a ride to William's

Bob
Bob

Al Lipscomb did some very, very good things for Dallas.  Al Lipscomb did some very, very bad things for Dallas.  There will be some who will canonize him for the good things, and some who will vilify him for the bad. Only the ledger keeper in the cloud can weigh the relative values of a person such as Al Lipscomb--or any of us, for that matter.  I guess that's why "judge not lest ye be judged" seems to be the only sensible course for us mortals.  And that applies to a whole lot more folks than just Al Lipscomb.

Dreadpoetree
Dreadpoetree

Jim Shutze and other Dallas Observer writers and so called liberal remind me of the old joke "with friends like this who needs enemies", While they were demonizing Lip we just kept reelecting him by landslides,the same way we keep reelecting John Wiley Price. The Observer has attacked every black leader , that was supported by our community , since gas was a dollar while simultaneously pimping and promoying prostitution in their classified section

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Thanks for your input, now please got back to the Dallas Country Club's bar and finish your martini and cheering on Glenn Beck.

Dee
Dee

You are indeed an asset to the Civil Rights Movement, we do indeed need more and more like yourself to support advocates that are fighting for change.  It is a task that is hard and oftentimes it becomes overwhelming and God knows I have grown tired.  It has been so much negativity that it is draining.   Thank you for the positive attributions.

JimS
JimS

Man, you are not wrong. Look at that vote map Wilonsky posted today, and you see the two hands choking this city, one from the south, one from the north. The one from the south can be bought, and the one from the north is cost-free because it doesn't think. If the cool new Dallas is Dirk, the preachers and the Citizens Council are the double-team defense.   

Bigjondaniel
Bigjondaniel

Many people who were in the Civil Rights movement were flawed , in the same way we all are flawed.

However, these people did the work that produced the progress, incrementally, over decades. It's a field position game ( to use a football analogy), and without people to do the dirty work of moving the ball down the field, nothing gets done.

Despite the bizarre and uniquely "Dallas Way" that this process took place, Mr Lipscomb and others fought for what was right. One can only imagine, knowing how the city runs even today, how difficult that was.

JWP
JWP

You forgot JWP. How dare you forget him! He will sue you, whitey!

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

Hey, who let you out of the Sportatorium?  Someone tell Richie to control his fiefdom

Sharon Boyd
Sharon Boyd

I live in NW Dallas, and I don't know anyone who voted for Rawlings. 

Bob
Bob

I live less than a mile from you and I voted for Rawlings.  You should get out more.

Bob
Bob

Man, Grumpy, you have been on fire lately.

Bigjondaniel
Bigjondaniel

This doesn't change one thing about the point I made

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