The Rev. Dr. Walter Bookman was a pastor at The New Morning Star Baptist Church in West Dallas for more than 40 years until his death in 1995. Now, thanks to efforts by members of Bookman’s congregation, a street topper across from the church will bear his name.
Bookman was known for his humanity and compassion, says Lourice Collier, a member of the church.
“He loved people,” she says. “On Sunday mornings, the people would line up and the church would give them free breakfast. If you needed a place to live, he’d help find housing. He would visit the schools in the area to check on the students.”
“He allowed some candidates to come and speak to our congregation so that we could be more informed about voting,” Collier continues. “Whether you were one of his members or not, many children looked to him as a grandfather figure.”
Bookman was the founder/moderator emeritus of the Unity District Association, and the founder/emeritus of the Dallas West Ministerial Alliance. He received many awards for his religious and community service, such as the Humanitarian Award from the Massed of Atisam. He was also recognized as “The Man of the Year ” by the Interdenominational Ministers’ Alliance, a collection of pastors who represent churches in Texas.
To commemorate his legacy, the community hoped to rename the street near the church in his honor. However, due to legality issues and costs, this proved to be tricky, says George Castro, a community member. The community decided to instead place a street topper with his name on Dennison Street between Puget and Harston street, right in front of the church.
At the Aug. 10 City Council meeting, council members unanimously approved an agenda item to add “Rev. W. Bookman” as a street topper in West Dallas. Collier spoke in favor of the change, along with community members George Castro, Maxie Williams, Marzuq Jaami, Maxie Johnson, Joe Martin and Maxie Johnson, who is The New Morning Star Baptist Church’s current pastor and also represents part of West Dallas on the Dallas ISD board of trustees.
Castro, who heard of Bookman’s work, told the Council he hopes this topper can both honor his legacy and preserve the community’s history.
“When we went door to door with petitions and flyers on information about Rev. Dr. Bookman, there were people who, even living in the area, did not know him or his work. West Dallas is going through a lot of that right now; we are losing our history,” Castro says. “This will remind people of our history.”
Martin, a West Dallas resident who introduced himself to City Council as one of the sons of Bookman’s “preach ministry,” also recognizes this topper as a way to educate West Dallas residents.
“Someone who would look up [at the street topper] and see the name, and when they ask, who’s this person?” Martin says, “we’ll be able to give them a historic preview of who Rev. Dr. Bookman was.”
But in addition to honoring Bookman’s history, this ceremonial street topper is creating history itself.
“This is the first [ceremonial topper] being led by residents. This is also the first Black person who will be given an honorary street topper in our city’s history,” Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez, who represents West Dallas on City Council, stated during the council meeting.
Council members unanimously voted in favor of the proposal, but there isn’t yet an official date for placing the topper. Nonetheless, Collier and other community members are excited.
“The sooner, the better, because we want to have a ribbon cutting ceremony,” Collier says.
“We know this is long overdue, it should have been done long ago. But if not now, when?” Collier asks. “He really paid his dues, and we want to honor him for that. We can’t wait to invite everybody and celebrate since this is definitely a community effort. We are so peacock proud.”