DALLAS -- Oak Cliff, a large chunk of Dallas south of the Trinity River, has had other bouts of secession fever. This time, things are different. Residents say their side of town has been ignored, rejected and ridiculed by the rest of the city since its annexation at the beginning of the century.

This time, too, people north of the Trinity River are listening.

"De-annexing Oak Cliff has always been a joke, and then 2,000 people showed up at a meeting to talk about it," said Charles Tandy, an Oak Cliff City Council member, referring to a meeting Oct. 11 to gauge community sentiment.

"We had to point out that our area of town needs attention," Tandy said. "Everybody assumes that Oak Cliff is one large black ghetto, but actually we are an integrated neighborhood that works."

The rest of Dallas is watching nervously because the city stands to lose 370,000 residents, 200 square miles and as much as 20 percent of its tax base if Oak Cliff can secede.

Oak Cliff denizens have compiled volumes of statistics that they contend prove that City Hall regards them as unwanted children.

They say building-code violations go unchecked, sewage problems are ignored and libraries and recreational facilities fall short of those in North Dallas.

According to records compiled by the de-annexation committee, Oak Cliff receives about 20 cents in return for every tax dollar paid to the city.

"The city says they had to spend that money on the north because that's where the growth has been," said Bob McElearney, president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce. "But it was our money that spurred that growth."

Oak Cliff residents also are irked by what they call the now-common "Oak Cliff-Oh" syndrome that they encounter with neighbors to the north:

"Where do you live?"

"Oak Cliff."


Oak Cliff is one of the most beautiful areas of Dallas. It has none of the gleaming glass skyscrapers for which the city is noted, but its magnificent oak trees are a form of greenery foreign to most of Dallas, and it has rolling hills and the chalky cliffs that provided its name.

The largely middle-class neighborhoods are evenly and successfully integrated among whites, blacks and Hispanics in some of the most affordable housing in Dallas.

"The Trinity River has always been a physical barrier," said Bill Minutaglio, a writer who has just completed a book on the history of Oak Cliff. "And that general pattern of frustration, rejection and neglect has been there since the first settler crossed the Trinity," which angles northwest to southeast through Dallas.

In 1890, Oak Cliff was incorporated and set out to become what its developer called the "Cambridge of the South." Its parks, trolley cars, beautiful mansions and clear artesian-well drinking water were the envy of Dallas residents.

In 1903, by 18 votes, Oak Cliff made itself part of Dallas, and secession movements began almost immediately.

In the early 1960s, Oak Cliff voted to outlaw sale of alcoholic beverages, a move that some say prevents development of quality restaurants and entertainment on its side of the river.

As integration began taking hold here and elsewhere in the 1950s and 1960s, Dallas bitterly resisted, most apparently in Oak Cliff.

"The blacks of South Dallas looked toward the attractive affordable housing in Oak Cliff, and the resulting white flight was in near-panic proportions," Minutaglio said. "The population shift was enormous."

Many people fled to predominantly white North Dallas and surrounding suburbs.

Today, Oak Cliff's population is 40 percent white, 40 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic. Most neighborhoods reflect that mixture, although Oak Cliff Country Club only recently accepted its first black member.

Black leaders have suggested that the secession movement is racially motivated to protect white interests in Oak Cliff while Dallas struggles with citywide redistricting to increase minority representation on the City Council.

Last March, a federal judge ruled that electing council members from eight single-member districts and three at-large, including the mayor, violated minority voting rights.

Next month, the city is to vote on a plan to elect 14 council members, each from a district, and a mayor at-large.

"I think that, predominantly, it is the white section of town" leading the secession move, said the Rev. S.M. Wright, pastor of People's Baptist Church in Dallas and president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Metropolitan Dallas.

"I want to feel that there is not a hidden agenda, but I worry about what they're not saying. They discuss one thing, but is this really the thing?" he added.

McElearney said the movement "has nothing to do with race. The new boundaries for the city of Oak Cliff include all the groups, the 40-40-20 breakdown. When Dallas {initially} presented a new redistricting plan, it decimated Oak Cliff neighborhoods while leaving the North Dallas neighborhoods in place.

"That was the straw that broke the camel's back. But this is not a single issue. This has to do with infrastructure, transportation, code enforcement and libraries. Show me anything about this that has to do with race, and I'll drop out of it."

McElearney said individual groups were not consulted about de-annexation because everybody was invited to join from the start. "We have Hispanics, Anglos and African Americans all working on this together," he said.

The secession movement is drawing up a bill that would be presented to the legislature next winter and would allow Oak Cliff residents to vote themselves out of Dallas by a simple majority. "By 1993, we could be our own city," McElearney said.

The attempt is being watched elsewhere. Staten Island residents recently passed a referendum to study secession from New York City, and the Roxbury section of Boston has considered independence.

"It's exhilarating to think what we could do if we could start all over," Tandy said. "It's impossible to deal with a bureaucracy the size of Dallas. Imagine how refreshing it would be to start all over."