KEN BRIDGES | Amarillo Globe-News
Cities are often known by the newspapers they support and the opportunities that their residents find. When one English immigrant arrived in Dallas in 1885, he became known for both. George Dealey became the driving force behind The Dallas Morning News from its founding and became an important figure in the early growth of the city.
George Bannerman Dealey was born in Manchester, England, in 1859. He was the fifth of 10 children born into a modest family in the growing industrial city. The family soon moved to nearby Liverpool. He began attending school and also working as an apprentice for a local grocer. In 1870, the family made the decision to move to America in pursuit of a better life.
The family arrived in Galveston where Dealey continued his schooling and took a series of jobs in the new city. His older brother had taken a job as an office assistant at the Galveston Daily News. When his brother left in 1874, he took up the position. Dealey moved up the ranks, eventually taking classes at Island City Business College and becoming a reporter.
In 1885, the owner and publisher of the Daily News, Alfred H. Belo, saw that Dallas was growing rapidly. In fact, the city would more than triple in size during the 1880s, passing Galveston. He saw a valuable opportunity and decided that Dallas needed a new newspaper to serve the city though there were already others in operation. Belo sent Dealey to Dallas to serve as business manager for the new publication, to be called The Dallas Morning News. Belo and Dealey agreed that a morning publication would be an advantage over the afternoon papers in the city by providing the late news from the previous day first. It was an unusual approach as most newspapers in the country still printed and distributed their papers in the afternoons, something that would continue into the 1970s and 1980s.
The newspaper quickly became a success. The paper brought the world’s news to the doorsteps of residents, and Dealey actively promoted the city through its reporting. Dealey was promoted to manager in 1895. In 1899, he campaigned for the Cleaner Dallas League, a civic organization dedicated to improving the city’s appearance and services, which became the Dallas Civic Improvement League.
He was placed on the board of directors of the A. H. Belo Corporation in 1905 but continued to direct the growth of the Morning News. Agreeing with other city leaders that Dallas needed a university, he supported the creation of Southern Methodist University, which opened in 1911. He used the paper’s growing influence to lobby for Dallas to become the site of the new Federal Reserve Bank in 1913, beating Houston.
He became president of the A. H. Belo Corporation in 1919. With radio becoming more popular, and the City of Dallas establishing its own public radio station in 1920, Dealey pushed to begin a station owned by the Belo Corporation. In 1922, radio station WFAA went on the air and would enjoy a close relationship with the paper for decades. He bought the newspaper and became majority stockholder in the Belo Corporation in 1926. For his efforts to promote Dallas, he was named vice president of the National Municipal League in 1923 and president of the Dallas Historical Society in 1933. He later served on the boards of the Children’s Hospital of Texas and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.
Dealey insisted on integrity in reporting and in advertising. He refused to run ads for liquor sales, and even in the midst of the oil boom refused ads from oilmen as he could not verify the honesty of the speculators descending into the region. He also railed against the Ku Klux Klan in editorials and reporting, including stories written by his son, future publisher Ted Dealey. By the early 1920s, The Dallas Morning News was one of the most important newspapers in East Texas and strong rivalry with the other local newspaper, the afternoon Dallas Times Herald and with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to the west.
In honor of his work to improve the downtown area, Dealey Plaza opened in 1934 as a park area on the west side of the old Dallas County Courthouse along Elm Street and bounded by Houston and Commerce streets. It became a popular feature in the downtown area with its trees and sloping hills.
Dealey died in February 1946. Up until the end at age 86, he continued to work as publisher for the paper he had worked to build. Upon his death, he was praised by colleagues around the country as the “dean of American newspaper publishers.” A statue in honor of Dealey was placed at Dealey Plaza in 1949. However, the Dealey Plaza area later became synonymous with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Dealey continued to be remembered for his contributions to the city. Years later, a public Montessori school in North Dallas was named for him. By 1991, The Dallas Morning News had become the only daily newspaper in Dallas and is still one of the largest newspapers in the state.
Ken Bridges is a writer, historian and native Texan. He holds a doctorate from the University of North Texas. Bridges can be reached by email at email@example.com.