On April 10, 1936, Tom Foward and Callie Lilly found themselves engaged in an eighty-mile late-evening chase with the local police. The African American couple from Dallas had fled an altercation at a service station in Richland, just south of Corsicana. As the Corsicana Daily Sun described it, the high-speed pursuit sounded like something out of a Hollywood summer movie.
Sheriff Rufus Pevehouse stated that he and [Deputy Sheriff Jack] Floyd gave chase on the highway and almost caught the speeding automobile near the underpass in North Corsicana, but that the roaring car, making approximately 100 miles per hour, drew away from the local pursuing automobile and disappeared within a few miles. After the alarm was radioed by Dallas police officials, a squad car gave pursuit south of Dallas but lost the fleeing negroes when the negroes’ car darted in front of a passenger train crossing the highway and the officers were forced to stop. Another Dallas police squad car “jumped” them in Dallas but was outdistanced and finally the sought couple were caught in a traffic jam in North Dallas, according to Sheriff Pevehouse.
The couple had fled from a gas station operated by J. T. McGee, who admitted to the district attorney that he’d thrown a water bottle (likely made of glass) at the car after an argument about fuel prices. In retaliation, Foward fired his pistol over McGee’s head, striking the station, according to McGee’s account. The Daily Sun didn’t provide Foward’s description of events, but he and Lilly were released on bond the following day. Further adjudication of Foward’s “assault to murder” case would have revealed more details, but it never got any closer in the courts. Just a couple weeks back, Navarro County’s current district clerk, Joshua Tackett, dug up an image of the charge dismissal document from 1938 that revealed why the case was dropped: insufficient evidence.
This odd criminal case provided some benefit to hungry Dallasites. While he was out on bail in 1937, Foward, an experienced pitmaster, opened Beaumont Barbeque in Dallas. A couple years earlier he had opened a joint by the same name in Houston. That spot closed in 1939, but the one in Dallas, in the northwest part of downtown, enjoyed more longevity. Foward ran the Dallas enterprise for thirty more years, but I only know about this barbecue joint because of a series of publications known as the Green Books.
In the thirties, newly paved highways and inexpensive automobiles provided the opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Americans to enjoy cross-country road trips. But the route catered to white Americans. According to writer and historian Candacy Taylor, 44 of the 89 counties that lined the iconic Route 66 were home to “sundown towns,” communities where non-white travelers weren’t welcome within city limits after the sun set.
In 1936, Victor H. Green, a postal worker from New York City, created a guide to help African Americans safely travel in his hometown. Three years later he published the first guidebook for African American travelers across the country: The Negro Motorist Green Book. Published more or less annually until 1966, the books listed lodging, service stations, and restaurants safe for African Americans to patronize during the Jim Crow era. “Now we can travel without embarrassment,” was the motto printed inside each copy, though the book’s buyers certainly knew that the publication might also spare them humiliation and physical injury.
For African Americans traveling through Texas in the late thirties, the Green Book listed only two barbecue joints that were safe to visit: Foward’s Beaumont Barbeque, in Dallas, and Long Bar-B-Q, in Beaumont, owned by Edward Long. That’s a pitiful number, but it’s not as if other cuisines did themselves proud. In 1939, just five Texas restaurants were listed as safe for African Americans, and by 1960 the number had grown to a mere twenty. Thankfully, a hungry traveler could get ribs at a couple of them.
Neither of these two African American–owned barbecue joints remains, but Billy McDonald, who runs Mac’s Bar-B-Que, in Dallas, remembers Beaumont Barbeque. McDonald’s dad started Mac’s in 1955 on Young Street, when Beaumont Barbeque was across downtown on what was then called Orange Street. Dallasites might know the Wells Fargo branch bank that sits where Field and Griffin streets merge. That’s about the spot where the barbecue joint was located. McDonald told me, “They were a sandwich house, just like what my [dad’s joint] used to be at the beginning, back in the fifties.”