19 inducted into inaugural class of Ellis County African American Hall of Fame

The first Ellis County African American Hall of Fame inducted 19 community leaders in education, politics, humanities, science and law during inaugural grand opening ceremonies of the Hall of Fame Museum on Saturday afternoon.

Dr. Jamal Rasheed, president and CEO of the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame, opened Saturday’s ceremonies at the Samaria Baptist Church with a thanks to those who have made both the induction ceremonies and the opening of the Hall of Fame a success.

“This is an opportunity that is great for the community, the state and the nation,” said Rasheed. “Today is an opportunity to recognize our unsung heroes — heroes who have done much work throughout Ellis County.”

Rasheed’s message, and indeed, the core emphasis of Saturday’s ceremony was to build bridges of both the racial and generational gaps in the community.

“This is an opportunity to begin to educate and to inform our community, our children, our youth and the world, about not only Ellis County history, but history throughout the world,” said Rasheed.

Rasheed highlighted the efforts of one of the inductees, Easter Butler Fleming, in making the Hall of Fame vision a success.

“Ms. Fleming was the one who helped to bring this brainchild about,” said Rasheed. “In 2006, we had a meeting at the Ellis County Museum, and Ms. Fleming was instrumental in pulling some of us together and guide us in bringing together the African American history of Ellis County. While she assigned various jobs to help bring this about, it was our dream to first complete the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame.”

The stated goal of the museum was to honor leaders in the community for their contributions in humanity, education, politics, science and law.

Midlothian Mayor Bill Houston read a proclamation on behalf of the Midlothian City Council honoring Jean Wilson, who was being inducted posthumously, and LaRue Miller for their leadership and community service.

“LaRue Miller continues to serve in our community and is a constant presence at LaRue Miller Elementary School, reading to and interacting with the students,” said Houston.

Former Waxahachie mayor and current city councilman Chuck Beatty read a proclamation on behalf of the city of Waxahachie, thanking Dr. Rasheed for making the Hall of Fame a reality, and noted the rich history unfolding in the area.

“As we look around and see this historic church, which is over 150 years old, and we also have our Freedman Memorial just a block away,” said Beatty. “Now, just across the street we have the Ellis County African American Hall of Fame — we’ve been very blessed.”

Keynote speaker, the honorable C. Victor Lander, who serves as the Municipal Court Judge for the city of Dallas, spoke about the history and legacy of those inductees and their contributions in Ellis County.

“African American history is American history,” said Lander. “We would be a much poorer country without the contributions of black people here.”

Lander also spoke of the importance of connecting the historic contributions of the inductees with today’s youth.

“One thing I’ve noticed about young people in college, in church and in the world is that many of them have seemingly lost their sense of history,” said Lander. “They do not remember how it is they came to be where they are and to be able to do what they do. Even to eat, sleep or exist the way they have. They believe that things were always the way they are now. That they could travel anywhere or stay in any hotel or go to any school, or converse with others not of their race without fear.”

Of the 19 inductees in Saturday’s ceremony, 12 were posthumously inducted, including Elmer Allen, Easter Butler Fleming, George Brown, Lovia C. Boyd, Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, Lucy Mae McDonald Davis, John Henry Farrow, Sam Cornelius George, Dr. C.A. Harris, William Hobart Stafford, B.F. Thompson and Jean Wilson. Certificates honoring those posthumously inducted were accepted by family members in attendance.

Also inducted were Mattie Borders, Otto S. Carroll, Leonard “Carroll” Davis, LaRue Kilgore Miller, Erma Fay Moore Newton, John Wayne Pruitt and Allene Taylor Thomas.

Following Saturday’s induction ceremonies, guests and honorees walked across the street to 441 East MLK Boulevard, and the home of the new Ellis County African American Hall of Fame.

As the crowd looked at the walls lined with photographs and artwork honoring local, state and national black leaders, inductee John Wayne Phillips, the first black mayor of Maypearl, spoke about what the honor meant to him.

“I think it’s important that we get our history out there for all to see. There’s been so much that’s been lost between generations,” said Pruitt. “My job on this earth is to help people, because if I’m not helping somebody, I’m hurting somebody. So this plaque you see on the wall today is important, but in the bigger picture, it means very little. As a child of God, if I’m not helping people, then I’m not doing the will of God.Today is a great day for these black leaders who have given so much, but it’s really not a black or a white thing. If we don’t work to bridge the racial and generational gaps in our communities, things will continue to get worse.”

“While we’re on this Earth, it’s not about walking around and saying ‘look at me,’ but it’s about helping your fellow man get to the kingdom of God,” said Pruitt.

Inductee Leonard “Carroll” Davis, introduced as “The Architect,” recalled his efforts to build affordable housing to those in need.

“Today’s ceremony brings back a lot of memories,” said Davis. “I’ve been here 94 years. I left for about 10 years, but came back, I found that there weren’t any decent places to live. My sister was a teacher with a good credit rating, but couldn’t get a loan.”

Davis financially backed and built her home, and after starting his own construction company, built more than 40 homes alone in the Waxahachie area, primarily on the east side of Waxahachie, but also built dozens more throughout Ellis County.

“I built about 10 homes on the other side of the tracks, in a time when we weren’t supposed to be on the other side of the tracks,” said Davis. “But I hope I did some good and was able to help those that really need help.”

Waxahachie’s Mattie Borders, now 103 years young, was both honored and optimistic about the induction.

Borders, a long time educator and volunteer in the community was also Waxahachie’s First Lady in 1990.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Borders said. “This is a great honor. I’ve done my work.”

Borders went on to thank those who had help her during her 103 years of life.

“None of this would be possible without the help of so many people,” said Borders. “I didn’t even know about this until a few days ago, so I want to thank everyone who had a part in this.”

As Borders quietly thought about Rasheed’s goal of leaving a legacy for younger generations, she was cautiously optimistic.

“I really hope it does,” said Borders. “But I’m scared. There’s so much work to be done to help these young people. I’ve tried, and I hope I’ve been able to do good, but we’ve got some ways to go. My work is done though. I’m just waiting on the Lord.”