Last updated: July 28, 2020
Juanita Jewel Craft is an American civil rights advocate and politician. She is an American Hero.
Craft was born Juanita Jewel Shanks in Round Rock, Texas on February 9, 1902. She was the granddaughter of former slaves, and the only child of school teachers, David Slyvestus and Eliza Balfour Shanks. Eliza Shanks raised Juanita alone until she died in 1918. Following her mother’s death, Craft moved to Columbus, Texas to be with her father. The following year, she graduated high school and attended Prairie View A&M University, an HBCU. There Craft studied sewing and millinery. After two years, she left and moved back to Austin, Texas. She received her teaching certificate from Samuel Houston College. By 1925, Craft had gotten a job as a maid at the Adolphus Hotel, and later as a seamstress.
In 1935, Craft joined the NAACP, before becoming the Dallas membership chairman in 1942 and the Texas field organizer in 1946. Over 11 years, Craft organized 182 branches of the NAACP. She became the first African American woman to vote in Dallas County in a public election. Between 1975 and 1979, she served on the Dallas City Council for two terms.
In 1954, Craft began assisting in the organization of protests and pickets over segregation. In 1955, she organized a protest of the State Fair of Texas against its policy of admitting blacks only on “Negro Achievement Day.” Following the Brown v. Board decision, Craft worked to integrate the University of Texas Law School and the Dallas Independent School District. She later fought and won to help enroll the first black student at North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas).
Craft leaves behind an amazing legacy of public service. Because of her lifelong efforts, she received the NAACP Golden Heritage Life Membership Award in 1978 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award in 1984.
Juanita Jewel Craft passed away on August 6, 1985. Her legacy to the city of Dallas was commemorated with the Juanita Jewel Craft Recreation Center and a Dallas city park. Her home, the Juanita Craft Civil Rights House, on Warren St. is open to the public by appointment only. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Wheatley Place Historic District on March 23, 1995.