Sam Tasby, the key figure in the Dallas school desegregation case, has died at age 93. Tasby was a quiet man who spoke little about his long legal battle and its impact on schools and the city of Dallas.
In 1970, 16 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered public school desegregation, Sam Tasby, father of six, got tired of waiting for it to happen in Dallas. He went to the Legal Services office in West Dallas on a public “interview day” and wound up at the desk of 25-year-old lawyer Ed Cloutman III.
“He wanted to know why his kids were being bused past the white schools to schools in West Dallas," Cloutman said. "He didn’t think that was fair.”
Cloutman took the case and a year later a judge ruled the Dallas ISD had not ended integration and must desegregate. The suit then bounced through a decade of appeals until a federal court agreement in the 1980s created magnet schools and other educational programs to encourage diversity and aid minority students. It also put the district under federal court supervision until 2003.
That year, in a KERA interview, the plain-speaking Tasby summed up his long legal battle in a couple dozen words.
“My thinking was if they could get to go to school with the white children, they would have the material that they need,” Tasby remembered.
Harryette Earhardt, a former state representative and Dallas school board member, knew Tasby well. She was principal of Arlington Park Elementary school in 1971 when the desegregation order came down. The school was a few blocks from Tasby’s house and they became friends. Earhardt says she admired Tasby’s courage.
“Our community by Dallas charter was segregated and to have taken that on in the face of that reality took a very brave man,” Earhardt said.
Civil District Court Judge Eric Moye says the legacy of Tasby and his lawsuit goes way beyond the classroom.
“I think that Sam Tasby was the most influential individual in the history of Dallas in the last half of the 20th century,” Moye said.
He says Tasby didn’t intend to change the development and geography of the Dallas area, but he did.
“The growth of all of the northern suburbs is directly traceable to the orders of the United States District Court that required children to go to integrated schools and the white flight that stemmed therefrom."
“White parents packed up and left. Or more commonly were told about the school desegregation case and were advised to relocate when they came to Dallas in places the DISD didn’ t serve,” attorney Ed Cloutman recalled.
Today, Dallas ISD is 68 percent Latino, a little more than 20 percent Black, and 5 to 6 percent white.
Cloutman says that’s not what he and his soft-spoken, determined client envisioned at the start of their 20-year legal odyssey and 30-year friendship. But he says Tasby never became angry or discouraged.
“I would say 'Sam, I’m sorry we’re not getting this. We’re going to have to make some changes. What do you think we should do?' He’d say 'Well, if you run into a roadblock, turn left,'” Cloutman said.
And he called Tasby was the kind of supportive client lawyers hope for. And as a friend, he was one of a kind.
“Quiet and determined, joyful in his heart, a magical human," Cloutman said. "You don’t find many of those.”
Funeral services for Sam Tasby are Saturday at Concord Church in South Oak Cliff.
Video: Watch Sam Tasby talk about desgregation in Dallas ISD