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The Forgotten History Of The Dallas Serial Bombings

Dozens of racially motivated bombings rocked Dallas for decades. The long-forgotten history of a time when Black families lived in fear of the next terrorist attack.

Less than one hundred years ago, domestic terrorism swept through Dallas, terrifying the Black community. Multiple serial bombers targeted Black homes to frighten homeowners who only wanted a piece of the American pie. Yet, all these years later, the decades of constant bombings of Black families’ homes have been forgotten. Thirty-one racially-motivated bombings happened in the City of Dallas during the 20th Century, and no one was ever held accountable for one of them.

The first bomb.

At the height of the Second Ku Klux Klan movement in America, a disturbing new trend began in Dallas; bombing the homes of Black families to either kill them or scare them away.

The first of those bombings took place at the newly constructed home of James Lewis after a white man warned him not to move in. Lewis was not present at the time of the bombing. That’s all there was, a little blurb in the newspaper. No follow-up, no further word about James Lewis or the crime committed against him.

In 1922 Texas, lynchings were still happening in every part of the state; racial violence was an unfortunately common part of that era. So it’s most likely that law enforcement didn’t investigate the bombing.

Nearly a year later, in July 1923, a bomb exploded at the door of a Mexican mission after several reported skirmishes (including fights, stabbings, and shootings) between white and Mexican youth in Dallas. The mission was essentially a church. In that bombing, no one was injured, and I could not find references for any arrests.

Racial trouble in Dallas in 1927.

In the area, which is not known as “Old East Dallas,” Black and white neighborhoods were growing and inching closer. This caused many problems with Dallas’ white population, who felt as if Black families were getting too close.

A bomb exploded under the home of Kate Garrett, a Black woman who had just moved into the area, on November 6, 1927. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

For a while after that, it was quiet-ish. Then, there were bombings in Dallas during the 1930s, primarily due to labor disputes or domestic conflicts. None of which were found to be racially motivated.

Why were there so many bombings back in the day? This was long before every Tom, Dick, and Harry walked around with AR15s strapped to their chests.

All stopped being quiet-ish on October 1, 1941. Between then and May 8, 1942, fifteen racially motivated bombs went off in the city of Dallas.

The 1941 Dallas Serial Bomber.

The dates of each of those bombings:

  • October 1, 1940
  • October 24, 1940
  • October 26, 1940
  • December 3, 1940
  • December 21, 1940
  • January 13 , 1941 – first of that day
  • January 13, 1941 – second of that day
  • January 17, 1941
  • February 3, 1941 – after this bombing local newspapers finally buzzed about the bombings, due to Dallas Police teaching the local Black community how to stop bombs from exploding.
  • February 11, 1941
  • March 6, 1941
  • April 14, 1941 – this bomb exploded a vacant home the day after a Black family moved out.
  • May 8, 1941

Police could tie all of the bombings together by the material used. Several eyewitnesses spotted the serial bomber during the May 8th bombing. He was described as a white man, dressed in khaki pants and a white shirt. The man carried a brown paper bag under his arm.

A $2,500 reward was offered to anyone who could provide information that would lead to an arrest. That would be the equivalent of about $50,000 today.

What happened to the 1941 Dallas Serial Bomber?

All went quiet. There were no more racially motivated bombings (for several years), and no arrests were ever made.

He could have gotten spooked by the newspapers reporting a description of him and the large reward on his head. He could have fled Dallas, finding another city to terrorize. Or he could have gone off to World War II, where a lot of young American men were sent. We’ll probably never know.

No one in those 1940/1941 bombings was killed or seriously injured.

A second serial bomber? Or the same bomber a decade later?

Almost ten years later, the bombings were back in South Dallas. The newspapers called it a “fringe area,” where Black and white neighborhoods overlapped just under the skyline downtown. And in early 1950, a series of bombings terrified the Black community.

The dates of each of those bombings and what we know about them:

  • February 9, 1950 -the first bomb went off at the home of Horace Bonner.
  • April 3, 1950 – the second bomb, a mere two blocks from the first, demolished the home of Garland Mathis, just after he purchased it. Deputy Chief J.D. Beverly said in an interview that patrol cars were driving slowly through the neighborhood, looking for information to give a grand jury.

The NAACP offered a $500 reward for information.

  • May 8, 1950 – Only hours after Robert Shelton moved into his new home in a white neighborhood, it was blown to smithereens. The NAACP offered a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest. This was not in the same neighborhood as the first two bombings that year, but it’s unclear where this bombing happened.
  • June 3, 1950 – Although the newspapers called this the third bombing of the year, they meant the third bombing in South Dallas. The day after a Black family bought a new home, a bomb was placed outside of it. No one was home and the house received minor structural damage.
  • July 8, 1950 – An unoccupied home in the same South Dallas area was bombed. The NAACP called for the National Guard to be called in to protect Black families in Dallas, after police said they didn’t have the manpower to increase patrols more than they already had on the streets.

Whether they were unreported or I couldn’t find a reference to them, seven more bombings happened between July 1950 and July 1951. I was unable to find information regarding those seven terrorist attacks.

The 13th bomb in just over a year went off on July 12, 1951.

Mrs. Birdie Mae Sharp was in her home on July 12, 1951, when she heard a car stop, then a “thud” as something landed in the bushes that lined her home. She grabbed her pistol and ran outside. She fired several shots at the late model vehicle as it sped away.

Nearby patrolling officers heard the shots and hurried to the location, finding the unexploded dynamite. They poured water on it, extinguishing the bomb, and Mrs. Sharp’s home was saved.

Dallas Mayor J.B. Adoue asked citizens for help in solving the bombings, the Texas Rangers came in to investigate, and the FBI was called, although, at this point, they were not investigating the bombs.

Mayor Adoue was under a lot of pressure from Dallas residents to solve the latest bombings. The Mayor called the police “inefficient” and blamed the city manager, Charles Ford, for the inability to solve the bombings.

In July 1951, a grand jury was convened to investigate the bombings.

This grand jury included both Black and white members in an unprecedented move in the pre-Civil Rights Era. By the end of summer 1951, ten people were arrested and indicted on charges related to the bombings. But due to lack of evidence, only one of them went to trial, and the rest were set free.

The one man who went to trial was a Latino living in the South Dallas neighborhood but was acquitted of all charges in December 1951.

No one was ever held accountable for those 1950/1951 bombings.

In the 31 racially motivated bombings between 1922 and 1951, not one person lost their life. While bombings in Dallas continued in the 1950s and 1960s, like before, they were motivated by labor disputes and domestic issues.

It’s important to remember our history.

Domestic terrorism isn’t new in America. White people have inflicted terror on Black communities for hundreds of years. And in Dallas, a legacy of terror and generational trauma was built. We’ve grown a lot as a society, but we still have far to go.

Remember these Dallas terrorist attacks, know what the grandparents of our neighbors and friends experienced, and make sure that history never repeats itself.

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