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HERstory: Hattie Mae White helps desegregate Houston ISD schools

Leading the charge for change in the Houston Independent School District was Hattie Mae White -- a teacher who fought for equal rights.

HOUSTON — Houston ISD is the largest school district in Texas but was also the slowest in the nation to integrate its schools.

Leading the charge for change was Hattie Mae White, a woman and teacher who paved the way for providing equal education for all Houston students. 

Now, HISD's headquarters is named after her. 

In 1958, White became the first African American elected to the HISD school board. She spoke frankly about the segregation at HISD, remaining steadfast on the school board during this difficult time despite the racist backlash. 

"The Houston school board seems to put forth every effort they can to keep the status quo," White said during an interview. 

By 1968, the Department of Justice declared the district's desegregation efforts were lagging and unjust. New efforts were made, new schools, new plans and more involvement from the federal government. 

It took decades for HISD to fully desegregate its schools. 

White served three terms on HISD's School Board, dedicating her career to the cause, before returning to teaching. 

When she retired, White remained a community activist and spoke out against the unwelcome development and construction of Highway 288 and the Harris County Psychiatric Center in the mostly Black Riverside community.

She passed away in 1993.

To watch a full archived interview with White, click here.

From the HISD website:

"When former teacher Hattie Mae White (1916-1993) was elected to the HISD Board of Education in 1958, she was the first African-American elected to public office in Texas in the 20th century. She led the effort to desegregate Houston’s schools, undeterred despite racist attacks. White also was elected to the YWCA Metropolitan Board of Directors, where she served for six years. After being defeated for a third term with HISD, she returned to teaching and retired at age 70. She attended Booker T. Washington High School and the former Texas Southern University before graduating from what is now Prairie View A&M University. The HISD district headquarters building on Richmond was named in her honor, as is the new building on W. 18th Street that replaced it."

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