Tasby, Sam (1921–2015)

By: Codee Scott

Type: Biography

Published: November 23, 2020

Updated: July 16, 2021

Sam Tasby, African American civil rights activist, was born on November 21, 1921, in Lafayette County, Arkansas, to Sam and Rilla Tasby. In the early 1940s Tasby moved to Dallas where he found work at the Texas Café on South Houston Street near the courthouse. He served in the U. S. Army Quartermaster Corps during World War II and was stationed in France. Upon his return from the war, Tasby married fellow Arkansan Georgia Green in Lafayette County on January 20, 1946. The couple made their home in Dallas and had six children: Sammy, Lillie, Peggy, Melvin, Eddie, and Phillip.

Tasby’s children were attending schools in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) in 1954, the year the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that separate but equal was inherently unequal, thereby outlawing public school segregation. The Tasby family did not see positive changes because Dallas, like many southern school districts, was slow to follow the federal mandate. DISD initially skirted desegregation by allowing schools to integrate voluntarily. Throughout the 1960s, Tasby paid city bus fares for his children to attend a makeshift school outside of their neighborhood despite a White high school being closer to their home on Arlington Park Drive. The closest school, Arlington Park Elementary, opened in 1957 only after Tasby and his wife Georgia collected enough signatures to convince DISD that the area needed an elementary school. Tasby later approached the district and asked that a new high school be built catering to his largely African American neighborhood on unoccupied land closer to his house. Anticipating that Dallas developer Trammell Crow would purchase the land, the district refused to build the school.

With only his two youngest sons still in school, Tasby attended an open-house event for free legal aid at the Dallas Legal Service Project’s West Dallas office. Initially just wanting his sons to be able to attend a school closer to home, he met with Ed Cloutman III, a twenty-five-year-old who had graduated from law school one year prior. Cloutman agreed to take on Tasby’s case. He, along with three other Dallas Legal Services Project attorneys and other lawyers from San Antonio and Jackson, Mississippi, filed suit against district superintendent Nolan Estes and the school board in October 1970. Eight parents filed on behalf of twenty-one African American and Mexican American DISD students who were named as plaintiffs, and Tasby’s two sons were the first plaintiffs listed in the suit, Tasby v. Estes. The lawsuit charged DISD with “operating a racially, ethnically and economically segregated school system . . . under a de jure (by law) segregated attendance plan.” “My thinking was if they could get to go to school with the White children, they would have the material that they need,” Tasby told KERA in a 2003 interview about his legal challenge to public school segregation. “I didn’t have no need to ask for my rights as they saw it. I was tired of being pushed around for no reason because of the color I am,” Tasby explained in a 2010 interview.

The Tasby family suffered from the public attention the case garnered. Threatening phone calls inundated the house, and Tasby lost his job as a plumber. He later worked as a taxi driver. Georgia Tasby stated in her 2003 interview with KERA that she was scared of the public attention and possible repercussions the suit could bring. “He kept pushing so I just supported him, you know, but I still wanted him to stop.”

On August 2, 1971, nearly a year after the lawsuit was filed, Judge William M. Taylor ordered DISD to create a school transfer policy to allow African American students to attend a school in which most of the student body was White. Taylor also ordered the district to provide transportation for students who transferred schools. Additionally, he ordered DISD to desegregate its schools’ faculty and staff. Locals protested over busing plans, and the courts continually scaled it back, to Tasby’s frustration. “There’s no way I can have much sympathy for parents who complain about having to bus their children. I had been busing all along,” Tasby told the Dallas Morning News in 1982. High schools were no longer required to bus in students starting in the late 1970s, and Judge Barefoot Sanders, who took over federal oversight from Taylor, ended busing completely in the 1980s. In 1989 DISD filed a motion to end federal oversight, but Sanders dismissed the petition. The desegregation order, which required court approval of any new school constructions and renovations as well as court-monitored feeder patterns and school demographics, ended in 2003 after thirty-two years, despite testimony from Tasby stating he believed the federal oversight should continue.

After the lawsuit, Tasby remained an active education advocate in his neighborhood. He frequently contributed to the Arlington Park Community Learning Center, which operated in the old Arlington Park Elementary School building. The African American Education Archives and History Program, a project dedicated to preserving African American educational experiences in Dallas County, inducted Tasby into its African American Educators Hall of Fame in 2005. He also won the Dallas African American Museum’s A. Maceo Smith Community Service Award for Education that same year. In 2006 DISD opened a new middle school named after Tasby. He marveled at the honor and expressed in a 2010 interview his disbelief that “A poor guy, ain't been to college, and he has a school named after him.” The middle school often invited Tasby to attend school functions and honored him every February. Tasby died of prostate cancer on August 16, 2015, in Dallas. He was survived by his daughter Lillie and sons Sammy and Melvin.

Dallas Morning News, October 7, 1970; February 2, 1982; February 9, 1997; April 8, 2003; October 7, 2005; August 8, 2010; August 17, 2015; September 3, 2015. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 16, 2004. Glenn Linden, Desegregating Schools in Dallas: Four Decades in the Federal Courts (Dallas: Three Forks Press, 1995). “Remembering Sam Tasby, Key Figure In Dallas School Desegregation Case,” Texas Standard (https://www.texasstandard.org/stories/remembering-sam-tasby-key-figure-in-dallas-school-desegregation-case/), accessed November 5, 2020. Sam Tasby Middle School (https://www.dallasisd.org/Page/5893), accessed November 5, 2020.

  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
  • Education
  • Lawyers, Civil Rights Activists, and Legislators
  • Military
  • World War II
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
  • 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.

Codee Scott, “Tasby, Sam,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/tasby-sam.

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November 23, 2020
July 16, 2021

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