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City of Dallas and Dallas College officials unveil historical marker to remember founding of settlement built by former slaves

North Dallas community excavated by area college students and instructors receives state designation

 

(DALLAS) - The Texas Historical Commission (THC) has designated a historical black community in North Dallas known as Little Egypt as vital and an educational part of local history. Little Egypt 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.  

City of Dallas and Dallas College officials unveiled a historical marker last weekend at 8630 Thurgood Lane, Dallas 75238. The marker stands next to the Dallas Park and Recreation Department's Paul D. Dyer Administrative Building on Northwest Highway at Thurgood Lane, directly across from where Little Egypt was settled.

Speakers at the event included Dallas City Councilmember Adam McGough; Daniel Wood, Vice President, and Scott Goldstein, Member, District 10, Dallas Park and Recreation Board; and Dallas College Professors Dr. Tim Sullivan and Dr. Clive Siegle; Rev. Thomas McGee, retired pastor, Little Egypt Baptist Church; and Jerry McCoy, a descendent of the original settlers of Little Egypt and former resident.    

“Little Egypt is an important part of our city’s past. We have worked for several years to recognize this area and highlight the stories of so many who called Little Egypt home. I am thankful for the work of historians and neighbors who got us to this point, and I am grateful for this opportunity to show respect for our history,” said McGough, whose district includes the Lake Highlands and Hamilton Park neighborhoods. “This historical designation is significant in honoring and respecting the families who settled and lived here.”

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. Siegle and archeology professor Dr. Sullivan in unearthing remnants of the settlement.

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, said Dr. Siegle.

“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 of the 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 among the only families whose homes were equipped with telephones, 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 by modern development, with unpaved roads and no sewer system or trash pickup, although they were surrounded by houses and structures that had these services, said Dr. Siegle.  This made Little Egypt vulnerable to eyeing developers who could likely 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, a 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. 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’s historical significance, though noted, was overlooked for decades.

“This is an important historical site,” according to Dr. Siegle. “It is one of many small rural communities that once dotted Texas and have eventually been swallowed up modern development.  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 document 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 and will be on hand to celebrate the unveiling. “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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