Eight Top Dallas African American Leaders Make History

First Time Ever: Eight Top Dallas Leaders are African American

For the first time in Dallas history, eight top posts are all held by African Americans at the same time.

A Dallas Morning News editorial recently called it "A Slate to Celebrate."

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson is the newest member of this group. He credits a teacher at Carr Elementary School in West Dallas for helping him get accepted to a private school. He later earned college degrees, became an attorney and then a State Representative before rising to the job of Dallas Mayor.

"You can be all that you want to be, and I think our mayor is a great example of that," said Fred Perpall.

An example himself, Perpall is the chairman of the Dallas Citizens Council, a group of CEO's with big influence in Dallas.

Perpall grew up in the Bahamas, entered the University of Texas at Arlington at age 17 and became an architect. His only employer in professional life has been the giant Dallas-based construction firm, Beck.

Perpall said Beck is a firm that values young talent.

"I was able to sort of express my talent and got a lot of opportunities, which afforded me the opportunity to run the whole company," Perpall said.

He's been Beck's Chief Executive Officer for seven years.

"Many of these positions, I think it's the case for me, have happened, not based on the color of my skin, but the quality of my competency. I think America is changing. When people say, 'Well, the Citizens Council used to be the White Citizens Council,' well, all of America in some ways used to be that way," Perpall said.

Another trailblazer is Dallas Civic Activist Betty Culbreath. She has served as Chair of the DFW Airport Board, the Dallas Plan Commission and is a former Dallas County Health Director.

"I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I never went to an integrated school," Culbreath said.

Over the years, she has seen people of color serve in many of the eight positions now held by African Americans, but never before saw black leaders at the Dallas Citizens Council. Now Perpall is Chairman and Kevin Walker, another African American, is Citizens Council Chief Executive Officer.

"I was surprised at the Citizens Council ones, and it was a good surprise." Culbreath said. "The Citizens Council has evolved and the City and County have evolved, and they make decisions based on those qualifications."

The other eight include Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax, Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall, Dallas Fire Chief Dominique Artis, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot and Dallas Sheriff Marian Brown. Brown is the first African American to serve as Dallas County Sheriff. The other positions have all been filled by other African Americans in the past.

"It serves to show us that there are opportunities for you, regardless of your race, if you have the wherewithal to take advantage of those," Culbreath said.

Long time Dallas Latino Leader Rene Martinez said he helped Creuzot, Brown and Johnson get elected.

"They've earned the right to be there. They have outreach. They know the Latino community," Martinez said.

Latinos have held some of the same top positions in the past and Martinez said many new Latino leaders are on the way up.

The new Dallas City Council has five members with Latino heritage, the most ever in the city where Latinos are the largest population group, outnumbering caucasians and African Americans.

"We're young. We're developing leadership and the future is really in our hands," Martinez said. "I'm not satisfied until we really start representing proportionally the population of our city."

Citizens Council Chairman Perpall said it is in the best interests of his business group to encourage talent development from all segments of the community.

"In reality today, a great environment for business needs to be a great environment for people. So we need to be focused on those issues that cause Dallas to be great for everyone, that causes it to grow, that allows everyone to prosper," Perpall said. "We need to focus on developing all of our talent. It's a competitive issue for our city, but it's also the right thing to do.

Mayor Johnson has said he intends to make education and work force development a top item in his agenda, as well.

Editor's Note: John Ware was the first African American chairman of the Dallas Citizens Council in 2010.

Contact Us