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Vice in the Red River Valley


Top 'o the Hill Tea House was a gambling den and saloon on one of Tarrant county's highest hills during Prohibition.

As soon as cities in formed in the Red River Valley, vice zones appeared to satiate the demands of a male-dominated, capitalistic society. These districts tended to appear organically in low-rent areas, which coincided with the neighborhoods where African Americans could afford to live. The zones were sometimes even named after the black neighborhoods where they appeared, even though the majority of African Americans did not own or partake in this trade.

"Low rent" also meant city neglect, criminal elements, frequent flooding, and populated by industry with its pollutants and noise. These conditions made  perfect ruses for cities to condemn the vice districts and, as an added bonus for them, to remove African Americans out of downtown districts as well.  

At the turn of the 20th century, some cities moved the original districts and zoned them instead to keep prostitution, gambling, saloons, and other "nefarious" activities from being spread throughout the city, and to have a central location to collect taxes and fees from the proprietors. No one in the city thought that the vice zones should stop because they centered around human trafficking! Male demand for flesh had to be satiated, after all.

Again, these new zones were either carved into freedmen neighborhoods, because African Americans didn't have a say at the council meetings, or in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, who also didn't have seats at the table. The major  benefit to come from these entertain districts was that they served as venues for musicians and comedians, who honed their crafts inside the dive bars and bordellos.

Women, of course, were never really the beneficiaries save for the "madams" who sold people to willing buyers. For the most part, women became prostitutes because they were addicted to drugs or alcohol; forced into prostitution by their boyfriends or husbands or fathers or brothers; or as an avenue for temporary money when laid off from factory work. After all, this was a time period when women had very few options to make an actual living wage, and many did what they had to do to survive. The children that invariably resulted were often adopted out as orphans, which was yet another human trafficking trade in its earliest iterations; grew up in brothels but barred from public education; or sent to boarding schools if their mothers were wealthy enough. Their "fathers" almost always escapted culpability, with the mothers and children facing condemnation instead.

City-condoned vice zones, often called "reservations," did not last long, either. Established businesses that had to deal with the new trade either sued or harassed the city about the districts. Coupled with moralistic laws like the federal Mann Act (that prohibited unrelated, opposite genders from crossing state lines), prohibition laws, and the army's campaign to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases to new recruits during the Great War, the "reservation" experiment ended after just a few years.

But the damage was done... first, prostitution continued to be a reality. Secondly, the cities had made lots of money from  revenue generated by vice. Thirdly, the people who plied the nefarious trade continued operating, often in hotels and motels. This is why cities tended to replace their Red Light Districts with convention centers, which allowed them to still rake in the cash while pretending to be clean.

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