Lipscomb, Albert Louis [Al] (1925–2011)


By: Eddie Watson

Type: Biography

Published: June 2, 2021

Updated: June 3, 2021


Albert Louis Lipscomb, civil rights activist and Dallas city council member, son of Thomas Bernard Lipscomb and Lucille Jeffrey, was born on June 15, 1925, in Dallas, Texas. Lipscomb was raised in South Dallas, near Fair Park. His parents separated when he was young, and he spent much of his childhood with his paternal grandparents. He attended segregated public schools in Dallas. He took classes at Booker T. Washington High School and in 1939 was one of the first students to be enrolled at the newly-opened Lincoln High School. The new school was vigorously opposed by White racists and faced many threats of violence, including bomb threats. Lincoln initially required students to stay at school until 4:30 to avoid after-school violence between its students and White students from nearby Forest High School. Despite this, Lipscomb recalled attacks on Black students being common, with White adults sometimes aiding the Forest students.

After graduating from Lincoln in 1942, Lipscomb joined the United States Army Air Forces in 1943 and completed his basic training at Sheppard Field (now Sheppard Air Force Base). He served for four years in California during World War II in a segregated division of the military police. After he was discharged, Lipscomb remained in California. He was arrested for selling heroin in 1952 and served ten months of a one-year sentence on a work farm. He was released early for good behavior. He returned to Dallas by 1954 and waited tables at numerous establishments. He later became head waiter at the executive dining room of First National Bank. On March 15, 1957, Albert Louis Lipscomb married Lovie Marie Love after they had met at the Adolphus Hotel where they both worked. They had four children in addition to the four Lovie already had. After eighteen years of marriage, they filed for divorce on July 25, 1975.

Lipscomb became politically active in Dallas in the 1960s during the civil rights movement. In 1966 he served as a neighborhood organizer for the Dallas Community Action Agency. Community Action Agencies had been authorized by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 as part of the War on Poverty. He also cofounded the Dallas chapter of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and he held leadership positions in the Dallas Legal Services Foundation and the Democratic Progressive Voters League. He opposed the displacement of Black families to make room for expansions in Fair Park. In the 1970s Lipscomb served as spokesman for the Dallas Anti-Apartheid Campaign, encouraging the city of Dallas and businesses operating in Dallas to cut ties with South Africa. He organized protests at the State Fair of Texas to raise awareness about apartheid in South Africa. In 1972 he opened the South Dallas Information Center, which provided residents with information to help them deal with and respond to issues of discrimination and poverty. He was a perennial speaker at the city council and passionately promoted various issues. For this, Texas Monthly journalist Gary Cartwright called him “the conscience of the city.” In 1971 Lipscomb became the first Black person to run for mayor but was ultimately unsuccessful and finished third in a pool of ten candidates.   

In the 1960s Lipscomb repeatedly ran for a city council seat but found himself blocked by Dallas’s at-large electoral system, which elected council members on a citywide basis. Lipscomb filed suit and argued that the at-large system heavily favored White voters and did not fairly represent minority communities on the city council. A district court agreed with Lipscomb, and the Dallas city council instituted a new voting plan ahead of the 1975 municipal election. Under this new system, eight seats were elected by single-member districts, and three seats, including the mayor, were elected at-large. Dissatisfied with this compromise, Lipscomb continued his legal battle for single-member districts. In 1978 the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 8–3 plan, in Wise v Lipscomb. The Citizens Charter Association, the political machine representing conservative business interests that had dominated Dallas municipal politics for most of Lipscomb’s life, had greatly benefitted from the at-large system. It ceased operations in 1977, in large part because of the creation of single-member districts, spurred by Lipscomb’s lawsuit. A 14–1 plan, with all but the mayor being elected from single-member districts, was finally implemented in 1991.   

After previous unsuccessful campaigns for public office, including county commissioner, the Texas legislature, U. S. Congress, and the Dallas school board, Lipscomb was elected to the city council in 1984. He sat on the city council for seven terms, serving from 1984 to 1993 and from 1995 to 2000; term limits prevented him from running in 1993. He successfully fought for the appointment of Richard Knight as the city’s first Black city manager in 1986 and was elected mayor pro tempore in 1991. Lipscomb, along with Diane Ragsdale, the only other Black member of the city council, received death threats in 1986 after the pair raised funds for the legal defense of Charles Tillis, Jr., a Black man accused of killing a police officer. Hundreds of police marched on city hall in protest, but the council refused to censure the two members.

In January 2000 Lipscomb was convicted of sixty-five federal bribery charges. He was accused of accepting nearly $95,000 from Floyd Richards, the owner of Dallas’s Yellow Cab Company, in exchange for favorable votes on the city council. U. S. District Judge Joe Kendall moved the trial to Amarillo and argued that Lipscomb was too prominent a figure in Dallas to receive a fair trial. Lipscomb was fined $7,500, sentenced to forty-one months of home confinement, and forced to resign from the city council. He described the day that he resigned from the city council as “one of the hardest days of [his] life.” In July 2002 the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his sentence and ordered a new trial. The panel ruled that Kendall had erred in moving the trial to Amarillo, where Lipscomb faced an all-White jury. With Lipscomb having already served twenty-seven months of his sentence, federal attorneys declined to retry him. In 2003, after the abrupt firing of Terrell Bolton, Dallas’s first Black police chief, Lipscomb was appointed to the Citizens Police Review Board. In 2005 Lipscomb again sought election to the city council but was defeated by the incumbent James Fantroy.  

Lipscomb was a longstanding member of St. Mark Baptist Church in South Dallas, where he was a deacon, sang in the choir, and served as the president of the pastor’s aide committee. After long-term health issues associated with diabetes, Lipscomb died on June 18, 2011, at his daughter’s home in Dallas. He was buried at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. Dallas city manager, Mary Suhm, paid tribute by saying, “He was a weariless defender of human rights and was untiring in his pursuit to make our city better for all of its residents.” Dallas mayor Dwaine Caraway credited Lipscomb with opening doors for himself and other Black politicians in Dallas. Lipscomb received numerous awards and accolades in his life, including the Outstanding Texan Achievement Award from the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and the Civil Rights Award from the John F. Kennedy/Lyndon Baines Johnson Civil Rights Center. In 1991 D Magazine recognized him as one of “50 People Who Made Dallas.” During the Eighty-second Texas Legislature, the Texas House passed a resolution honoring Lipscomb following his death. In April 2015 part of Grand Avenue in Dallas was renamed Al Lipscomb Way.

Gary Cartwright, “The Outsider Moves In,” Texas Monthly, June 1984. Dallas Morning News, June 19, 2011. Al Lipscomb, Interview by Bonnie A. Lovell, September 17, 2002, Dallas, Texas, transcript, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center Oral History Project, Dallas Public Library (https://dallaslibrary2.org/dallashistory/oralHistory/transcripts_pdf/LipscombAl_transcript.pdf), accessed May 28, 2021. Texas House Resolution No. 177 (https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/821/billtext/html/HR00177F.htm), accessed May 28, 2021.

Categories:
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders
  • Court Cases and Controversies
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Eddie Watson, “Lipscomb, Albert Louis [Al],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/lipscomb-albert-louis-al.

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June 2, 2021
June 3, 2021

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