Walker County was the birthplace of Hattie Mae Whiting, the first African American elected to public office in Texas in the 20th century.
Whiting was born in Huntsville on May 22, 1916. Her family moved to Houston in 1933, where she graduated first in her class from Booker T. Washington High School. After high school, she went to Houston Colored Junior College (the forerunner to Texas Southern University) and graduated with honors from Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (Now Prairie View A&M University) in 1936.
She married Charles E. White in 1941 and had five children. In the 1950’s, White began taking active roles in civic affairs. In 1958, she became the first black to serve on the board of the Houston YWCA Metropolitan Board of Directors. Other local boards and committees that White served on included the Race Relations Committee of the Council of Churches of Greater Houston, program director of Jack and Jill of America Inc. and the Board of Directors of the Houston Association for Better Schools.
In 1956, White appeared on local television and advocated for school desegregation. After her television appearance she earned the support of African American and liberal White groups in the area.
She entered the 1958 Houston Independent School District race and defeated her two white opponents. Her victory made her the first African American elected to a public office in Houston. White served nine years on the school board championing desegregation and racial equality.
White retired from active politics in 1968 after an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the Texas Legislature. She returned to teaching, which she retired from at the age 70.
She passed away seven years later on July 30, 1993.
White is one of many noteworthy people featured in the new exhibit, “Notable People of Walker County,” now on display at the Gibbs-Powell House and County Museum. The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.