S.M. Wright Street Signs Removed Due to City Error

S.M. Wright street sign | Image by Fox 4
S.M. Wright street sign | Image by Fox 4

Several South Dallas residents expressed dismay during a Dallas City Council meeting on Wednesday that signs bearing the namesake of late civic leader Dr. S.M. Wright have been removed from State Highway 310.

“I am here on behalf of the People’s Missionary Baptist Church… to express our profound disappointment and confusion about the removal of S.M. Wright street signs from a section of Highway 310 that runs through our community — a community that Dr. S.M. Wright spent his pastorage serving and whose mediation and coalition-building skills have guided the city through the turbulent 60s and 70s of racial unrest,” Gwendolyn Snead said.

Snead called the removal of the signs “a slap in the face.”

“The entire highway was renamed in July 1995 by action of the Senate … and without notice earlier this year, some of the signs have been removed,” she said. “I urge the council to hear and acknowledge the concerns of the community to move swiftly and with all due diligence to rectify and resolve this perceived slap in the face of our community by restoring the removed S.M. Wright street signs in our community.”

People’s Missionary Baptist Church is on Pine Street, which intersects the portion of State Highway 310 named S.M. Wright Freeway. The area is being reconstructed as part of a Texas Department of Transportation project to “transform” the S.M. Wright Freeway into a six-lane boulevard with traffic signals.

“Rev. Wright was our leader,” said David Wilson, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church. “As we’ve come today in peace, we come simply asking that you extend to us, in the words of Aretha Franklin, ‘respect.’ We need to find out what it means in the black community to respect us.”

Cornerstone Baptist Church is on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which also intersections State Highway 310.

“I certainly stand with all of these pastors as well as Dr. Wilson to express, first of all, our disappointment concerning what has transpired with the S.M. Wright Freeway,” Danny Davis said. “It’s really disturbing because I try to wrestle in my mind with how could this occur. How could the detail of a street name be changed or forgotten … with so much work that goes into something like this? It’s a derelict of duty.”

A TxDOT spokesman explained to The Dallas Express in an email why the signs were removed.

“The signs that showed the new boulevard of S.M. Wright being called ‘Central Expressway’ were placed in error,” he said. “On these types of projects, TxDOT has the city provide the nameplates on the signals, and TxDOT then installs them. The city had looked in their [Geospatial Information System (GIS)] for the naming. After hearing from the community, we realized that the GIS system [sic] is incorrect.”

The highway was called Central Expressway until 1995, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush changed the name to S.M. Wright Freeway, according to the S.M. Wright Foundation. Wright, who became the pastor of People’s Missionary Baptist Church in 1957, was “known for his ability to unite diverse ethnic groups peacefully” and for working with “city leaders to foster integration in education, employment and political representation as well as in restaurants, hotels, shops and swimming pools” in the 1960s.

He died on November 3, 1994. His son, S.M. Wright II, became the church pastor in 1993.

“S.M. Wright Freeway 310 is the gateway into the Joppa community,” Claudia Fowler said. “S.M. Wright Freeway has been around … since 1994, 1995. We are going to be looking forward to another big sign unveiling. Again, history is so important to this city. … The signs were remarkably taken down overnight.”

Dr. Tommy Brown, pastor of New Mount Zion Baptist Church, also spoke during the open mic period at Wednesday’s council meeting.

“I was there on June 13 of 1995 as a young pastor in that crowd,” he said. “I was privileged to sit there with then-Gov. Bush to watch the signage go up. We don’t want to see this history repeat itself. We come today, first of all, to say thank you to Adam Bazaldua [and] certainly to (interim City Manager) Kim Tolbert for even meeting with us this morning. … We trust that you will continue to do what you said you would do to right this wrong.”

The TxDOT project is in Adam Bazaldua’s District 7.

“I just want to say, ‘Thank you’ to the speakers who have come out for Rev. Wright’s street name and legacy,” Bazaldua said. I’ve had conversations and meetings to this point, but I want you to know your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. Actions are already in motion, and this council will be committed to taking the necessary steps to essentially check some boxes.”

Bazaldua attributed the sign removals to “a clear disconnect” between the City of Dallas and TxDOT that was “daylighted because of the reconstruction, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Meanwhile, TxDOT has already removed “Central Expressway” signs where others should have been mounted.

“[We] will replace them with ‘S.M. Wright,'” the TxDOT spokesperson said. “We have to put in an order for the new signing, so it will take a few weeks before you see the replacement signs go up. In addition, the city will take the naming to city council to correct their GIS system.”

The S.M. Wright project includes:

  • Removing freeway overpasses and installing landscaping on the street-level boulevard with sidewalks.
  • Bicycle and pedestrian improvements, including sidewalks and shared-use bicycle lanes between State Highway 310, MLK, AI Lipscomb Way, and Good Latimer Expressway.
  • Converting freeway-to-freeway connections between Interstate 45 and State Highway 310 to a diamond interchange that provides access to MLK and Al Lipscomb Way.
  • Extending State Highway 310 to connect exclusively to Cesar Chavez Boulevard.
  • Converting the State Highway 310 underpass at MLK to an at-grade, signalized intersection.
  • Extending Interstate 45 frontage roads to MLK.
  • Relocating ramps connecting MLK and Interstate 45 to the proposed signalized intersections of the proposed frontage roads and MLK.
  • Building a northbound exit ramp to Al Lipscomb Way from Interstate 45 and a southbound entrance ramp from Al Lipscomb Way to Interstate 45.

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