DALLAS (AP) — The markers appeared a while back, atop road signs at intersections in front of quiet homes and empty lots.
"Joppee," they said. "Est. 1872, Old Freedman Town."
Many residents of Joppa, the southern Dallas neighborhood named long ago for a biblical seaport, did a double-take.
Yes, it's always been pronounced "Joppee." But it's always been Joppa.
As neighborhood residents push for historical recognition and hope for future development, the spelling has become a divisive issue.
"We don't argue too much amongst each other, but the name comes from the Bible, Joppa," Harold Arnold, 53, said.
Under his feet, near a shuttered old house and a pile of trash, James Williams, 60, points to a concrete slab into which the name of his uncle, a World War II veteran, was scratched many years ago.
"The people that came here named it," Williams said of Joppa. "In honor of their spirit, the trials and tribulations and the suffering . this should not be changed."
The residents who made sure "Joppee" was the spelling on a new state historical designation and on the street sign toppers paid for by the city, said it wasn't a change, but a reflection of how the name's pronounced.
"It's going with what has always been heard and known, not what was printed," said Delveeta Thompson. She added: "It's been the people that have come out of this neighborhood, that were born and raised in this neighborhood, that know which way it was."
Thompson's argument won the day in a community meeting last October with Carolyn Davis, who was then the Dallas City Council member representing the area.
The few dozen people at the meeting voted to use Joppee for the sign toppers, which Davis' office paid for with discretionary funds. Only after they were installed did some residents react with dismay.
Davis, who left the City Council last month, did not return telephone calls to discuss them.
After the meeting, Thompson and Shalondria Galimore applied for recognition of "Joppee" by the Texas Historical Commission. It was granted, but markers reflecting that decision have not yet arrived.
Former slaves from the nearby Miller Plantation — and from as far away as Missouri — settled Joppa beginning in the late 1860s, and some of their descendants remain there today.
Bounded by a rail yard on one side and the Trinity River on the other, Joppa was largely cut off from the rest of the city until a highway bridge was built over the train tracks in 2006. Today, it's a place where stray dogs roam, residents take refuge from the heat under shaded front porches, and an unfamiliar car is quickly noticed.
Locals have informally scrawled the name as Joppy, Joppee and Joppie, but it's always been spelled Joppa on maps and official documents, said Donald Payton, a historian who's studied the area for years.
But Thompson contends that old-timers she knew — all dead now — always insisted that Joppee was correct. She thinks the pronunciation may have come from tobacco chewers' doing their best with "Jaffee," a different neighborhood just across the railroad tracks where other former plantation workers settled.
Regardless of how it's spelled, Thompson and Galimore are determined to gain recognition for Joppa.
Thompson has spent years collecting historical information on the neighborhood. There's a Joppee website (joppee.wix.com/joppee1870s) and a Joppee Facebook page managed by Galimore to spread community news.
Their goal, they said, is to attract people to Joppa while protecting it from large-scale development. Habitat for Humanity remains the primary builder in the area, but some residents said they've seen developers eyeing properties that look out over the adjoining Great Trinity Forest.
Whatever the future holds, it must embrace Joppa's past, said Williams.
"If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going," he said.