The saga of Texas’ first integrated cafe shows how far Southlake has regressed from its enlightened past

An eyewitness told my favorite story in Texas this week. This is the Jones Cafe, considered the first integrated cafe in Texas. It was located in what is now Southlake. The cafe opened in 1949 when integration across America was quite rare.

William Jones was a guest speaker at the Grapevine Historical Society. He is the son of the owners of the original cafe. This is how Jones, 82, a bandleader and music teacher, told the story of his family’s cafe next to his family’s auction barn.

“When the cafe first opened, they just opened it first. [auction] sales days. And all they did was just serve coffee, and they had sandwiches. Then it became a full-time cafe where it was open six days a week, not open on Sundays. And it usually opened at 7 in the morning, then it was open until the last customers left in the evening, usually around 10 or 10:30 p.m.

“They sold out breakfast, lunch and also dinner. When they first started, it was basically the cowboys who came to the sales barn. Then it stayed open all day, not just on sale days. [The cafe served] lots of traffic on Hwy 114. There was nothing between Roanoke and Grapevine at that time. The cafe was right in the middle, half way.

“So a lot of the regular traffic on the 114 stopped for lunch, dinner, desserts. And a lot of truckers were passing. And in those days, a lot of the overland truckers were Negroes, and they would come in the back door to see if they could get something to eat. And my mother Elnora and aunt Lula – they were sisters – they ran the cafe.

The Jones Cafe on Texas 114 in Southlake is recognized as Texas’ first integrated cafe. It opened in 1949.

“But they were just telling them, ‘No, you go to the front, and we’ll serve you.’

“They said, ‘Well, we can’t do that.’

“And they were like, ‘Yes, you can because we own the place.’

“Historically, people say, this is the first integrated cafe in the state of Texas. And there was never a question about it. It didn’t matter. We have never had a single incident to my knowledge. Someone would come in and sit next to a cowboy at the counter or at a table. Everyone ate, talked and carried on.

“In a way, it was a more civil time than what we’re going through now. I think now we see that people get angry very quickly. And that wasn’t necessarily the case right after the Second World War. I think we were all coming out of the Depression, a terrible war. People found a way to find the humanity in others.

William Jones, member of the famous Jones family of Southlake, spoke to the Grapevine...
William Jones, a member of the famous Jones family of Southlake, spoke to the Grapevine Historical Society in March 2022.(David Lieber)

Trying to place this decades-old story in the context of modern Southlake is a difficult dilemma. Southlake’s national image is tainted by a series of events that some say paints the town as insensitive to the concerns of people of color.

For years, students at Carroll ISD complained that the predominantly white and fairly wealthy city was indifferent and unresponsive to persistent non-white concerns.

The issue changed the course of the town and its well-regarded school district. Several junior members of the Carroll School Board are now considered national experts on how to support school boards and block anti-racism initiatives.

The Feds are investigating potential civil rights violations. And the district settled a lawsuit brought by a relative. The settlement prevents Carroll from mandating his cultural competency training and also dissolves the district’s diversity council.

Almost immediately after NBC News reported on the secret taping of a teacher training...

To top it all off, NBC News produced a multi-episode podcast about Southlake’s issues.

When you hear the story of the Jones Cafe told by William Jones, as I did this week, it becomes clear that Southlake has struggled to build on its tolerant past. Originally, the commune was among the most tolerant.

The cafe closed in the early 1970s. Southlake later named its park and nature center after Jones’ grandfather, Bob Jones, a former slave who became a wealthy landowner and community leader respected.

Three months ago at Bob Jones Park, the city unveiled a statue of Bob and his wife, Almeady.

The Watchdog tells this story in hopes that the town and its schools can heal. History should not be forgotten or concealed. I say, look to the past to fix the future.

A new statue of Bob Jones and his wife Almeady by artist Seth Vandable has been unveiled...
A new statue of Bob Jones and his wife Almeady by artist Seth Vandable was unveiled in November 2021 at Southlake Park named after Bob Jones.

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