Written by Cynthia J. Beeman
Read by Khotan Shahbazi-Harmon
Hattie Mae White holds the distinction of being the first African American elected to public office in Texas in the 20th century. A former schoolteacher, she won a place on the Houston school board in 1958, at a time when the city’s schools remained segregated. The wife of an optometrist and a mother of five, she reportedly decided to stand for election after hearing another parent declare the time had not yet come for a black school board member. With widespread support from African American voters and moderate support from whites, she later recalled that it was the first time black and white Houstonians worked together on a political campaign. Nevertheless, a week after her election someone shot out her car’s windshield, and her family suffered the trauma of having a gasoline-soaked cross set ablaze in their front yard.
Maintaining that dual school systems were expensive and in fact “not equal, though now they are separate,” White led the effort to desegregate Houston’s schools. She weathered years of acrimony as other members of the board resisted the inevitability of integration. Defeated by conservatives in her bid for a third term, she redirected her talents to serving a number of interracial organizations and continued to fight for equality in Houston. She returned to teaching, retired at age 70, and died seven years later, in 1993. The school district’s Hattie Mae White Administration Building honors her legacy.
Radcliffe, Jennifer, “Black History Month Profile: Elected Official Hattie Mae White,” Houston Chronicle, Feb. 14, 2011, accessed online at http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Black-History-Month-profile-Elected-official-1688202.php
Untold Stories: The Strange Demise of Jim Crow in Houston, website designed by graduate students in the College of Education at the University of Houston to support the book No Color is My Kind by Thomas R. Cole, and the documentary, “The Strange Demise of Jim Crow”
Winegarten, Ruthe, Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.