Ray, John Wesley (1852–1929)

By: David Park

Type: Biography

Published: July 23, 2013

Updated: September 29, 2020

John Wesley Ray, pioneering African-American educator of Dallas, was born on February 24, 1852, in Asheville, North Carolina. As a child, he worked as a teamster, tending horses for soldiers during the Civil War. After the war, he moved to eastern Tennessee where he attended Maryville College, a school established by Quakers. Upon graduation he taught in eastern Tennessee, then Virginia, before settling in Dallas, Texas, in the winter of 1878–79. On March 3, 1881, Ray married Mary L. Crockett in Dallas. By 1900 the couple had three children: a daughter named Sina C., born in Texas in 1881, who worked as a school teacher; a daughter born in Tennessee in 1883 named Pearl H.; and a son, John H., also from Texas, born in 1885. By 1910 Sina was the only child still alive and was living with her parents along with her husband of three-years, a Methodist Minister named John T. S. White, and their two-year-old son John.

Upon arriving in Dallas, Ray founded the first private schools for Blacks in the Dallas area in Plano, Jefferson, and White Rock. Because the city was without any public schools at the time, those begun by Ray were private at first until they were incorporated into the Dallas public school system. Ray was hired to be the first principal at the new two-story, four-room Dallas Colored School No. 1 when it opened in 1884. Located at Canton and Cockrell streets, it was later renamed the Booker T. Washington School. The first graduating class of 1892 had just three students. Later, Ray was recorded as an assistant principal at the school and then assistant principal for the fifth grade. He taught in the Dallas public school system for twenty-eight years.

Ray was very active in both civic activities and politics and served as a member and even chairman of the Dallas County Republican executive committee. In 1886 he was one of only two Black delegates chosen by the Republican county convention to attend the state convention at Houston, and he served in the same capacity again in 1906. Ray was part of a committee composed of Black community leaders of Dallas that established Woodland Cemetery to replace the dilapidated Freedman’s Cemetery. He was one of the original signatories on the 1901 deed for the graveyard’s five acres. He also attended a meeting of Blacks in Dallas to take steps to establish a proper Emancipation Day celebration for June 19, or Juneteenth, and was a member of the group’s committee “to solicit aid” from the community. At the thirtieth Emancipation Day in Dallas he served as master of ceremonies and introduced Ammon S. Wells who read the Emancipation Proclamation. Ray was also associated with other important figures of the era. He issued the closing remarks at a memorial service for Frederick Douglass in 1895 and in 1900 delivered an address of welcome at the Texas State Fair’s Colored People’s Day to the guest speaker Booker T. Washington.

Ray served as the director and chairman of the United Colored Order of Odd Fellows District Grand Lodge No. 25, a fraternal organization of Black men. This district comprised the greater part of the state of Texas. His wife was a member of the auxiliary organization to this order known as the Household of Ruth. He was also a member of the Dallas Colored Literary Society, the Colored Young Men’s Improvement Club, the Negro Law and Order League, and was a leader in the Colored Free Masonic Grand Lodge. Ray attended the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church.

John W. Ray died at his home at 3509 Roseland Avenue on June 12, 1929, at the age of seventy-seven. Funeral services were held at the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, and he was buried at Oakland Cemetery. In 1939 the Dallas Board of Education named a new North Dallas African-American elementary school the J. W. Ray School. Affectionately known as “Baby Ray School,” it cost a little more than $10,000 and was partially funded by WPA grants.

J. Mason Brewer, ed., A History of the Dallas High School for Negroes (Dallas: Friends of the Dallas Public Library, 1991).Texas Standard, November–December 1955. Leslie Wagner, “Highlights from ‘History: Dallas Negro High School, 1938’,” Dallas History Examiner (http://www.examiner.com/article/highlights-from-history-dallas-negro-high-school-1938), accessed June 18, 2013. 

  • Education
  • Educators
  • School Principals and Superintendents
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

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

David Park, “Ray, John Wesley,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ray-john-wesley.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 23, 2013
September 29, 2020

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