When Richland College faculty members Clive Siegle and Tim Sullivan started collaborating on the joint project “Finding Little Egypt,” little did they know how far they and their students would delve into the history and anthropology of a Dallas neighborhood which disappeared decades ago.
The history of that missing community and where its residents went will be the subject of a free presentation by Siegle and Sullivan on Sat., Feb. 9, at the African American Museum of Dallas. “Lost and Found: Little Egypt, Fifty Years Later,” which starts at 1 p.m. in the museum’s AT&T auditorium, is free and open to the public.
Siegle, the historian, lives on the cusp of the long-lost neighborhood, but the significance of that location wasn’t apparent until he noticed a subtle difference between the curb and streets of a nearby shopping center and the rest of his neighborhood.
Siegle started checking with his own neighbors and learned that the shopping center sat on the site of a black community whose residents and homes disappeared almost overnight in the 1960s. Founded by a former slave, Little Egypt was located on 30 acres of land along Northwest Highway – an area currently known as the Lake Highlands neighborhood of Dallas.
The rest, as they say, is history – and a past that the Richland College professor and his colleague began to track down and document three years ago.
“We are excited to share our findings and the history of Little Egypt with the Dallas community,” said Siegle. “Preserving history is critical, and we want people to learn more about African American communities like Little Egypt. It’s particularly fitting that we are sharing our work at the African American Museum during Black History Month. With our students’ help and the support of family members who lived in Little Egypt, the project will continue to expand as we document the history of that community.”
Little Egypt, during its heyday, thrived for 80 years – even without city services and paved streets which surrounding neighborhoods enjoyed – and then almost mysteriously disappeared overnight in 1962 when a developer became interested in the tract of land. More than 200 residents sold their homes and moved out at the same time, using 37 moving vans; the neighborhood was torn down almost immediately.
Who were those residents? Where did they go? Where could Siegle and Sullivan start to trace the neighborhood’s history and relocation? Those are the questions that Richland College students have been working on with their professors, starting with the community’s Egypt Chapel Baptist Church and nearby McCree Cemetery, using old photographs, search grids, measurements, surface artifacts and documents to do some old-fashioned detective work.
That’s the story they will tell during their presentation at the African American Museum. Siegle and Sullivan also will share their most current work: locating, charting and excavating the home of the McCoy family whose house sat on the only piece of land that was never redeveloped after the neighborhood disappeared. They also are creating a computer-generated, 3-D model of the home.
Members of the McCoy family have been instrumental in assisting with the Little Egypt project, said Siegle, as well as providing crucial information about life in the settlement during the years prior to its demise.
Siegle, who came to Richland in 2003, earned his master’s degree in international affairs (with a specialty in African military studies) from George Washington University and his doctorate in history from Southern Methodist University. He spent more than 30 years in the business sector as a buyer, safari outfitter, magazine editor and creative director.
Sullivan earned his master’s degree in conservation anthropology from SMU and spent many years teaching before he received his doctorate in transatlantic history from the University of Texas at Arlington. He has taught at UTA, Texas Christian University and, most recently, at Richland College, where he serves as lead faculty member and coordinator for the anthropology department. Sullivan’s research interests focus on intercultural and interracial interactions, plus their long-term consequences.
For more information about the event, please contact W. Marvin Dulaney at 817-406-8443 or Jane Jones at 214-565-9026, ext. 328.
(Article courtesy of Ann Hatch, Dallas County Community College District)