Juanita Jewell Shanks Craft, a leader in the Texas Civil Rights Movement and a recipient of several national humanitarian awards, had roots in Round Rock ISD.
Craft was born in Round Rock, Texas on February 9, 1902. She was the only child of educators David Sylvestus (D.S.) and Eliza Lydia Balfour (E.L.) Shanks. It is not known how long Craft lived in Round Rock, nor do documents exist to prove her attendance at the District’s segregated school, but it seems very likely given her parent’s occupation and her relative age during their teaching tenure at Round Rock ISD. In a 1974 interview, Craft stated that she received her elementary training with her father in Round Rock and in Pflugerville prior to attending high school in Austin.
What is known is the October 24, 1916 Board minutes for Round Rock ISD indicate that her father was elected principal of the “Colored School” at $50 per month. Her mother was hired as 2nd assistant on Dec. 4, 1917 at $35 per month. Their tenure was short and ended when Eliza fell ill and succumbed to tuberculosis in 1918 after being refused treatment at segregated hospitals. D.S. Shanks then left Round Rock and was elected principal of a school in Columbus, Texas.
Craft stayed in the area and graduated from Austin ISD’s E.H. Anderson High School (later named L.C. Anderson High School). Craft attended Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University). After two years, Craft moved back to Austin and received her teaching certificate from Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University).
Craft’s public activism began when she joined the NAACP in 1935. She became the organization’s Dallas membership chairman in 1942. Two years later, Craft became the first black woman in Dallas County to vote in a public election. She was promoted to the Texas NAACP field organizer in 1946 and became the first black woman deputized in the State of Texas to collect the poll tax. Over the course of 11 years, Craft and Lulu Belle White of Houston crisscrossed the state to organize 182 branches of the NAACP in Texas and raise money to finance litigation.
In 1955, she organized a protest of the State Fair of Texas against its policy of admitting blacks only on “Negro Achievement Day.” Craft also assisted in the organization of protests and pickets in segregated lunch counters, restaurants, theaters and public transportation.
Following the Brown v. Board of Education, decision in 1954, Craft worked to integrate both the University of Texas Law School and the Dallas Independent School District. She attempted to enroll the first black student at North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas), which was eventually won through litigation. In 1975, at the age of 73, Craft was elected to serve on the Dallas City Council. The City of Dallas later named a recreation center in her honor and her former residence is now the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House Museum.
Craft was an important historic figure in the Civil Rights Movement in Texas, and was given many awards for her efforts including the NAACP Golden Heritage Life Membership Award in 1978 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award in 1984. She received the prestigious Linz Award in 1969 for helping end fraudulent recruiting by Dallas trade schools. Craft was recognized by the NAACP for her fifty years of service shortly before her death at the age of 83 on August 6, 1985.
Abernathy-McKnight, Mamie L. Retrieved from Texas State Historical Association: Craft, Juanita Jewel Shanks.
Gillette, Michael. (2010, February) Retrieved from Humanities Texas: The Craft of Civil Rights
Brown, Cynthia J. Retrieved from: Women in Texas History
*Board Minutes erroneously refer to D.S. Shanks as H.S. Shanks.