Dr. George Keaton: Remembering Black Dallas
Dr. George Keaton’s Dallas roots run deep – four generations deep. He was born in the Fields community near Skillman Road then moved to Hamilton Park, a then-segregated neighborhood, in the first grade. Today, Dr. Keaton keeps black history alive in Dallas by telling stories, a trait he inherited from his grandmother.
“My grandmother was a great historian. She talked about her husband’s family a lot – the Turner family…She worked for her father-in-law, who was a former slave, who had 90 acres near where the Cooper Center is now. She weighed the cotton and kept the books…she built those interests into me; she made me who I am today,” Keaton remembered.
Dr. Keaton became very serious about documenting the history of his family around the time he was a senior in college at North Texas State University (now known as the University of North Texas). “I started doing quite a bit of research about that one family line [the Turner family] who I had a lot of prior information on. That’s how I got into preservation of Dallas and my family’s history,” Dr. Keaton said.
Following his graduation from UNT, he went on to get a master’s degree in clinical counseling as well as a degree in guidance counseling. Around the time Dr. Keaton was finishing graduate school, he became involved with a nonprofit research organization called Black Dallas Remembered. The organization was run by Dr. Mamie L. McKnight, a woman who was passionate about educating citizens on the history of black people in Dallas, a history that often went undocumented and then forgotten. “I was a life member of Black Dallas Remembered. I was very impressed by what this older woman was doing – she was probably close to 70 at the time and she carried that organization for a period of 30 years.”
Throughout Dr. Keaton’s time with Black Dallas Remembered, he taught in the Dallas Independent School District. He taught at the elementary school level for 20 years then moved on to the middle school level to work as a guidance counselor for 11 years.
“I taught in many schools all over Dallas, mostly in Oak Cliff. I enjoyed it greatly. The only reason I left the elementary school was for the opportunity to be a guidance counselor. When I got to the counseling position, I really enjoyed that one-on-one work with students who were at a difficult stage of life. That age is a difficult time. I worked well with that. Difficult things we sometimes don’t realize kids are struggling through – suicide prevention, helping kids get off drugs, talking about relationships – it was a great fit for me,” Dr. Keaton said.
Four years ago, Dr. Keaton retired from 31 faithful years with DISD. But his work in educating the people of Dallas didn’t stop there. As soon as Dr. Keaton retired from teaching, he started his own nonprofit called Remembering Black Dallas. “We started about four years ago out of what I felt was a need. There was a void. By the time I retired, Dr. Mamie McKnight had not been able to continue her organization for about the last 10 years. So I began Remembering Black Dallas, recording history and educating the community. I think it’s unique – we don’t have anyone else that’s actively trying to preserve, promote, and educate on black history here in Dallas,” Dr. Keaton shared.
Remembering Black Dallas hosts bus tours around the city of Dallas. On these tours, you are taken around parts of north and south Dallas, and educated on their significance. Especially if you are a Dallas native, these tours can be incredibly eye-opening. Places you’ve passed hundreds – maybe thousands – of times but never thought twice about are integral parts of Dallas black history.
“We are working on an oral history documentation by recording elders who are 80 years old and above. We advocate for preservation of sites – sometimes sites come into jeopardy of being demolished because they haven’t been marked. We are working on getting markers for Dr. Edgar Ward’s home – he was a medical doctor who advocated for civil rights during the civil rights movement – and for a location of a lynching of innocent black men that occurred near where JFK was assassinated,” Dr. Keaton said.
Dr. Keaton is also the primary caretaker of White Rock Cemetery Garden of Memories, Dallas’s first integrated cemetery. As Dr. Keaton was trying to figure out who his second great grandfather was, he was told to contact a cousin named Georgia Thomas whom he had not met. He met her at her home, and she invited him to one of their board meetings. “I got to the meeting, and next thing I heard was, ‘all in favor say ‘aye,’’ and I was Vice President. How she slipped that in on me, I don’t know, but she said she had been looking for a ‘ram in the bush.’ I’m the ‘ram in the bush’ and 30 years later, I’m looking for my ‘ram in the bush.’”
On top of all his other work, Dr. Keaton owns a catering company that he has been running since before he retired. “My grandmother was an amazing cook. She had 13 children and I considered myself number 14. It was an empty nest when I was able to go into her home and spend time with her. My mom was an educator and very busy, so I spent time with my grandmother so my mom didn’t have to worry about what I was doing after school. My grandmother taught me to cook,” Dr. Keaton remembered.
Two years ago, Dr. Keaton received his doctorate in humanities from the Texas Institute of Bible Studies. On top of running his own organization and catering company, he is a board member at Preservation Dallas, a board member at the African American Museum, and actively involved in his church, St. Luke.
Remembering Black Dallas runs off the generous donations of its supporters. If you are interested in getting involved with preservation of black history in Dallas, you can email Dr. Keaton. White Rock Cemetery is always thankful for any volunteer help in its upkeep.
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Story and photos by Hunter Lacey.