A look at prominent Black trailblazers from Texas

Texas — “Everything is bigger in Texas” rings true, especially regarding the monumental impacts Texans have made around the world. Black Texans in various fields have reached heights, paving the way for others, carrying their Lone Star state pride with them.

Hattie Mae White

Hattie Mae White was the first Black person elected to public office in the state since Reconstruction. According to Texas State Historical Association, many voters chose her in error assuming she was white. She served as Houston ISD’s first Black school board trustee in 1958 when schools were still segregated. After White’s election, another African American Texan did not win an elective office position until 1966. Hattie was on the school board for nine years, constantly fighting for the desegregation of the school system. Her efforts impacted the lives of many Texas children. 

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan was an American lawyer, educator and politician. Jordan made history as Texas’ first ever Black state senator. Additionally, she soon became the first African American woman from the south elected to Congress. She was an outspoken member of the U.S. House of Representatives, playing a pivotal part in decisions such as the country’s involvement in Vietnam, federal aid to public schools, aid to the disenfranchised, expanding worker’s compensation and President Richard Nixon’s impeachment. Moreover, she was the first Black woman to deliver a keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. In 1979 Jordan retired from politics and became a professor at UT Austin.  

Eddie Bernice Johnson

Rep. Eddie Bernice John dedicated her life to being a public servant. Throughout her long career, she was a trailblazer. She became the first Black chief psychiatric nurse at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Hospital and the first Black woman elected to public office in Dallas. Ignited by the fight for justice, she went on to serve in the state legislature. She broke barriers again as the first Black state senator to represent Dallas in the Texas Legislature since Reconstruction and as the first registered nurse elected to the House of Representatives. She served 15 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her work included championing legislation on water resources, environmental protections and the development of education, with a concentration on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Beyonce

Beyonce is a 32-time Grammy Award-winning global superstar. She debuted singing lead in one of the best-selling female girl groups of all time, Destiny’s Child. The group sold over 60 million albums and were comparable to The Supremes. The singer-songwriter pursued a solo career following the group’s success, releasing “Dangerously in Love” in 2003 and winning five Grammys. Beyonce released eight studio albums, selling more than 200 million records, including her deluxe releases. Her work emphasizes the expression of the Black identity and celebrates Black culture. Her influence and artistry remains highly relevant after decades in the industry. Today, following the recent close of her Renaissance tour, she is solidified as one of the greatest music artists of all time.

Juanita Craft

Juanita Craft dedicated her life to eliminating racial discrimination. Craft served as a chair member for the NAACP, opening over 180 chapters. She was a prominent figure in the civil rights movement in Texas. Her advocacy included fighting for equal pay and health care equity, among other civil rights inequalities. She successfully demonstrated against both UT Law School and North Texas State University, which were then segregated. Additionally, she held a position as a delegate to the White House conference on Children and Youth. Craft became the first African American to vote in a public election in Dallas County. She was later elected to the Dallas City Council at age 73 where she spent two terms working to improve the plight of Hispanics and Native Americans.

Craig Watkins

Craig Watkins was the first Black person to be a top prosecutor in Texas. He earned a political science degree from Prairie View University and a Juris Doctorate degree from Texas Wesleyan School of Law. He is a pioneer in Dallas County who broke barriers when he became the first African American man to win the elected office as district attorney. He’s prominently recognized for his commitment to freeing innocent people who were wrongfully convicted. He turned tides when entering office, achieving a 99.4% conviction rate in 2015 for child predators and sex offenders, according to the Dallas County DA’s office. Additionally, Watkins managed the district attorney’s establishment of the Conviction Integrity Unit reopening more than 300 cases and overturning 25 wrongful convictions.

Lauren Anderson

Lauren Anderson was the first African American principal ballerina for the Houston Ballet company in 1990. Aside from being the first in Houston, the international performer was one of few Black principal ballerinas. She exclusively trained at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy starting at 7 years old. Anderson gained critical acclaim, performed leading roles in numerous classical ballets and is now one of America’s most distinguished ballerinas. She retired after a career spanning 23 years and now teaches free dance programs for students in the Houston area and conducts lectures at the Houston Ballet Academy. She is one of the few African American ballerinas in the world at the head of a major ballet company.

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