Maude Craig Sampson Williams
With the anniversary of both the voting rights act of 1965 and the enactment of the 19th amendment occurring this month, we decided to begin our new blog feature with a woman who made a big impact on history with women’s suffrage, African-American civil rights, and segregation in schools.
Maude Evangeline Craig Sampson Williams (1880-1958), a native-born Texan, was born and raised in East Central Austin.
She graduated from Prairie View State Normal College (Prairie View A&M), the state college for African American Teachers, in 1900. She moved to El Paso four years later to begin teaching at Frederick Douglass School. While there she was one of the founders of the Parent’s Organization. In 1906, she moved back to Austin to teach at Gregorytown School. Where she was one of the founders of the Douglass Club of Austin (the oldest African-American women’s service organization in Austin and Central Texas; a club still active today). She returned to El Paso in 1907 to be married and resumed teaching there.
In 1914 she was a founding member of Phyliss Wheatley Club, a local civic organization of a national network of black women’s clubs. During WWI she was a leader in campaigns in support of the war effort. She organized programs that promoted Liberty Bonds, Junior Red Cross membership drives, and aimed to boost the morale of black soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss and Biggs Field.
From 1917-1924 she was the vice president of the El Paso chapter of NAACP. Just a few months after her election to the board she held a meeting in her home for local black and white women to discuss women’s suffrage and information for the 1918 election.
In June of 1918 Williams wrote to National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) executive Maude Wood Park to enroll her local league as an auxiliary branch. White leaders of NAWSA and TESA (Texas Equal Suffrage Association), including national president Carrie Chapman Catt and Texas president Minnie Fisher Cunningham, wrote back and forth discussing her request. NAWSA had amended its constitution the year before to keep African American leagues from being directly associated with the national organization. The white suffrage leaders were worried about the possibility of negative consequences coming from southern representatives. The only way local groups could affiliate with NAWSA was through their state's association, which was TESA in this case. And it was determined that since the local group’s application for membership was the first one of its kind, it would need delegate approval and the next convention would not be until the next spring. When shared with Williams, Cunningham also said that she hoped the federal amendment would be ratified by that point, meaning TESA would not have to act on her application at all.
Two years later, Williams became campaign organizer for the Prohibition candidate in the Democratic primary,
However, her participation was restricted as the Texas legislature implemented a law that defined voting for primary elections for whites only. Because of this, the El Paso NAACP went to the Supreme court in Nixon v. Herndon (1927) and Nixon v. Condon (1932). The NAACP won these two cases which played major roles in overturning the state’s white primary legislature.
Williams remained active in political movements throughout her life. Her first husband, Edward Sampson, passed in 1926 and her second, Emerson Williams, passed in 1947. In the 1940’s and 1950’s she was a member of the Council of Church Women and the Women’s Federated Clubs and Societies and organized programs that promoted integration, hosted WWII black troops, and served as trustee of the Mary L. Peyton Foundation. While serving as the chair of the Legal Redress Committee of the El Paso NAACP she petitioned the city council and Parks and Recreation board for more housing and leisure facilities, worked against the threats of black owned property values by city subdivision plans, and went with the mayor into black neighborhoods to determine what people needed, and fought for desegregation of public schools in four districts.
She then took on segregation in schools at the university level in 1955. Just after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Williams went with the valedictorian of the El Paso's black high school, Thelma Joyce White, to Texas Western College to register her for classes. White was denied registration because of the state’s segregation laws and the local NAACP filed and won White v. Smith in the US District Courts. Texas Western College was desegregated in 1955.
In 1957, Williams moved to Oklahoma to live with her sisters. A year later she was struck by a truck and passed away.
She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery here in Austin near her siblings and parents.
Photograph from Marion Butts Collection, courtesy of the Dallas History and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library