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The Dallas Myth

The Making and Unmaking of an American City

2010
Author:

Harvey J. Graff

The Dallas Myth

An unconventional—and critical—examination of ‘the city with no past’

Harvey J. Graff presents a novel interpretation of Dallas, a city that has proudly declared its freedom from the past. Revealing the power of myths that have defined it for so long, Graff presents a new understanding of Dallas that both deepens our knowledge of America’s urban landscape and enables us to envision a more equitable, humane, and democratic future for all.

Harvey Graff begins by telling us that living in Dallas challenged all that he knew about cities. This richly-researched and beautifully-written book does the same for the rest of us. Its provocative historical analysis of space, growth, economics, politics, culture, and memory offers an uncommonly lucid account of inequality, segregation, and their denial.

Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White

The ninth largest city in the United States, Dallas is exceptional among American cities for the claims of its elites and boosters that it is a ‘city with no limits’ and a ‘city with no history.’ Home to the Dallas Cowboys, self-styled as ‘America’s Team,’ setting for the television series that glamorized its values of self-invention and success, and site of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas looms disproportionately large in the American imagination. Yet it lacks an identity of its own.

In The Dallas Myth, Harvey J. Graff presents a novel interpretation of a city that has proudly declared its freedom from the past. He scrutinizes the city’s origin myth and its governance ideology, known as the ‘Dallas Way,’ looking at how these elements have shaped Dallas and served to limit democratic participation and exacerbate inequality. Advancing beyond a traditional historical perspective, Graff proposes an original, integrative understanding of the city’s urban fabric and offers an explicit critique of the reactionary political foundations of modern Dallas: its tolerance for right-wing political violence, the endemic racism and xenophobia, and a planning model that privileges growth and monumental architecture at the expense of the environment and social justice.

Revealing the power of myths that have defined the city for so long, Graff presents a new interpretation of Dallas that both deepens our understanding of America’s urban landscape and enables its residents to envision a more equitable, humane, and democratic future for all.

The Dallas Myth

Harvey J. Graff is Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies and professor of English and history at The Ohio State University. He is the author of numerous books on urban studies, literacy, and the history of children and adolescence, including The Legacies of Literacy: Continuities and Contradictions in Western Culture and Society, The Labyrinths of Literacy: Reflections on Literacy Past and Present, and Conflicting Paths: Growing Up in America.

The Dallas Myth

Harvey Graff begins by telling us that living in Dallas challenged all that he knew about cities. This richly-researched and beautifully-written book does the same for the rest of us. Its provocative historical analysis of space, growth, economics, politics, culture, and memory offers an uncommonly lucid account of inequality, segregation, and their denial.

Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White

The Dallas Myth is an entertaining and meditative reflection on history and the imagination, written with the clear, grounded intelligence of a leading historian at the top of his game.

Michael Frisch, author of Portraits in Steel

Graff brings a lot to the table—the incisive, disciplined eye of an academic who’s not native but knows the city well. And he has very interesting things to say about the city in his book. He’s spot on.

The Dallas Observer

A complex, theoretically rich study.

The Dallas Myth is a terrific book—bold, persuasive, and important. . . . It is interesting how Dallas emerges with a personality, almost like a character in a story.

Michael B. Katz

With this study of Dallas, Texas, Graff has composed a most original and readable urban studies critique of a major urban center. Although a scholarly work, the informed general reading audience with an interest in the topic will appreciate this painstakingly researched and expertly crafted book.

Choice

The Dallas Myth is an articulate and intelligently argued deconstruction of the ninth largest city in the United States.

Canadian Journal of Sociology

This provocative book will be of interest to many urban historians.

American Historical Review

I'm likely teaching my sociology of space and place course next year, and I expect to include Dallas, which is a gem.

Wendy Griswold, Bergen Evans Professor of the Humanities and professor of sociology and English, Northwestern University

The Dallas Myth serves as both an expose and a cautionary tale directed at other ‘big buzz’ cities.

Book News

The Dallas Myth is an innovative and engaging study of a city that still struggles to understand itself.

Journal of Southern History

Largely aimed at a local or regional audience, The Dallas Myth nonetheless offers insights for urban historians and others interested in the future of American cities. Graff presents a provocative view of the role of myth in shaping not only a community’s sense of identity but its city building processes as well.

Journal of Social History

The Dallas Myth

Contents

Preface: Finding Myself in Dallas ix

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction xix


PART I. SEARCHING FOR DALLAS

1. Locating the City: Three Icons and Images of “Big D” 3

2. Constructing a City with No Limits 45

3. Revising Dallas’s Histories 85


PART II. UNDERSTANDING DALLAS

4. The Dallas Way 125

5. Tales of Two Cities, North and South, in White, Black, and Brown 161

6. Mimetic and Monumental Development: Memories Lost and Images Found 195

7. A City at the Crossroads: Dallas at the Tipping Point 233

Appendix A. Dallas’s Historical Development 271

Appendix B. Chronology of Dallas History 277

Notes 301

Index 359