Albert ‘Al’ Lipscomb was a Dallas, Texas civil and political rights activist who served as a member of the Dallas city council and was crucial in reshaping the way that the city voted for city council members.
Lipscomb was born in East Dallas in 1925. He attended Dallas public schools and upon graduating, joined the Army Air Forces in 1943 where he served in California for four years. He largely dedicated his life to fighting for the equal rights and treatment of under served minority groups in Dallas. During the civil rights movement, he was part of the Dallas chapter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Lipscomb also joined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s movement that declared a War on Poverty in 1966, where he served as a neighborhood organizer for the Dallas Community Action Agency.
In the 1970s, Lipscomb was the spokesperson for the Dallas Anti-Apartheid Campaign. He advocated for the divestment of the city of Dallas and encouraged businesses within the city to divest and stop doing work in apartheid South Africa. He organized protests at the Texas State Fair and other places to raise awareness about these issues.
Lipscomb was involved in several court cases where he served as a plaintiff filing suits against the city of Dallas on the basis of racial discrimination in the voting system for electing officials to city council positions. In 1971, Lipscomb- who at the time was also the spokesperson for the Dallas Anti-Apartheid Campaign- served as the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that attempted to change the city council makeup to truly reflect the diversity of Dallas. Before the case Lipscomb v Johnson took place, Dallas had an at-large voting system, where city council members were simply elected, however Lipscomb argued that this diluted the power that minority communities had within city government because they were not being equally represented. Lipscomb fought to enact an 8-3 system for the election of members to the Dallas City Council. An 8-3 system broke Dallas into eight single-member districts and three ‘at-large’ places. In 1984 the court case made its way to the Supreme Court in Wise v Lipscomb. “In Wise v Lipscomb, the Supreme Court ruled that the 8-3 plan was a legislative enactment of the council, not a court-mandated plan, and thus exempt from its single-member-district rule” (Heilig). This ruling allowed for more minority representation within the city council. As Lipscomb stated after the case was settled, “We knew all along we would win. It’s obvious that the city is changing. Whether the power structure wants to change, we’re going to change” (Williams). It was this type of attitude that fueled Lipscomb’s activism in Dallas. Later, Roy H. Williams and Marvin Crenshaw would work to further change the voting system of the city to a 14-1 system.
In 1971, Lipscomb became the first black citizen to run for mayor of the city of Dallas. Although he never became mayor, Lipscomb served as a city council member for seven terms from 1984. When first elected it was Lipscomb’s dedication, tireless efforts, and often times outlandish tactics that led to his success and paved the way for other black citizens to become active in Dallas civic activities.
Indicative of how important Lipscomb’s service was, in 1991 D Magazine recognized him as being one of the 50 people who “made Dallas”. The magazine hailed Lipscomb as
the Jackie Robinson of Dallas city government, ran repeatedly for a City Council seat in the 1960s but was stonewalled by the city’s at large election system, which gave North Dallas whites a disproportionate influence. His 1971 victory in Lipscomb vs. Dallas, created the 8-3 system with eight single-member districts; Lipscomb was elected to one of them in 1984. Lipscomb is capable of passionate argument, unintentionally comic rhetoric and honeyed homilies from the Bible, but few doubt his commitment to social justice (Holston).
This commitment did come into question when he was convicted in 2000 on counts of bribery and conspiracy, a conviction later overturned.
Indicative of how the city remembers him, it renamed Grand Avenue to Al Lipscomb Way in 2015. Lipscomb died in July of 2011 at age 86 after decades of public service. His activism surely raised awareness of racial injustice locally and in South Africa.
Heilig, Peggy, and Robert J. Mundt. Your Voice at City Hall: The Politics, Procedures and Policies of District Representation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.
Holston, Bill, Nancy Nichols, Alex Macon, Dawn McMullan, and Michael J. Mooney. “50 People Who Made Dallas.” D Magazine. November 1991. Accessed April 25, 2017. https://www.dmagazine.com.
Williams, Roy H., Kevin J. Shay.”… and Justice for All”: The Untold History of Dallas: An Alternative Viewpoint. Fort Worth: CGS Communications, 1999.
Wilonsky, Robert. “Al Lipscomb is Dead.” Dallas Observer. June 18, 2011. Accessed May 13, 2017. http://www.dallasobserver.com.