African-American leaders forged lasting legacy of public service

Editor’s Note: Black History Month runs from Monday, Feb. 1, through Monday, Feb. 29, this year, and HISD is celebrating with a series of weekly stories recognizing distinguished African Americans who graduated from district high schools. This second article focuses on alumni who went on to have successful careers in politics or law. The first one spotlighted professional athletes, and others will feature artists, educators, and those with careers in radio, TV, and film.

Since its earliest days, Houston has been home to great leaders who, through their commitment to public service, have helped to shape our community and create opportunities for future generations.

African-Americans figure prominently in this group of civic and government officials, and HISD is proud to count many of them among our distinguished alumni, who have left a lasting legacy for citizens of Houston and students in HISD.

The district has honored African-Americans who graduated from HISD schools and went on to become public servants, by naming schools after them. Barbara Jordan High School and Mickey Leland Young Men’s College Preparatory Academy, both located in Houston’s Fifth Ward, honor the lives of two individuals who were esteemed by the community and stand as role models for students.

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School in 1952. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern University and her law degree from Boston University. She practiced law in Houston and became a notable professional speaker.

Jordan was also a trailblazer. She was the first African-American woman elected to the Texas Senate; the first African-American woman elected to Congress and the first African-American woman to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, to name but a few. She also served four years in the Texas Senate, and while there, she passed the state’s first minimum wage law, instituted fair hiring practices, and demanded anti-discrimination clauses for business contracts.

Representing the 18th Congressional District and Houston’s Fifth Ward, Jordan served three terms in the U.S. Congress from 1973 to 1979, when she declined to run for a fourth term.  She was widely known for her outstanding speaking talents and her commitment to protecting civil rights for all Americans.

“Education remains the key to both economic and political empowerment,” Jordan once said.  “We are a people trying not only to solve the problems of the present…but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America.”

More information on Barbara Jordan

Mickey Leland

Mickey Leland

Mickey Leland graduated from Wheatley High School in 1964. He received his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Texas Southern University (TSU). He was a pharmacist and a professor at TSU’s pharmacy school until he entered politics.

Leland was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1972. In the Texas House, Leland passed legislation that gave low-income families access to affordable generic drugs. He also supported the creation of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) to improve health care access for low-income Texans.

After serving in the Texas House for six years, Leland was elected in 1978 to fill Jordan’s open congressional seat. He was subsequently elected to six two-year terms. “This is my 10th year in Congress, and I want to go back,” Leland said while campaigning in 1988. “The more influence I get, the more I can help the people of the 18th District, but also throughout the country.”

Leland served until his death in a 1989 plane crash, while on a hunger-relief mission to Ethiopia. He was well-known for his dedication to relieving hunger around the world and to serving the needs of the poor.

More information on Mickey Leland

Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland left an enduring legacy, which has inspired many young African Americans to dedicate their lives to public service and to run for public office.

“HISD is fortunate to have the strong support of so many African-American elected officials who really value education and are passionate about our students,” said Ashlea Graves, HISD’s government relations director. “Their service uplifts the Houston community and we should honor them.”

Many elected officeholders who represent Houston today are graduates of or attended HISD schools. We also honor the legacy of the late Harris County Commissioner, El Franco Lee, who passed away this year.

African-American elected officials currently representing Houston include:

Members of Congress

  • Congressman Al Green
  • Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee

State Representatives

  • Rep. Alma Allen
  • Rep. Garnet Coleman
  • Rep. Harold Dutton
  • Rep. Borris Miles
  • Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Senators

  • Sen. Rodney Ellis

Harris County

  • Commissioner Gene Locke, a seat formerly held by El Franco Lee, who passed away this year

City of Houston

  • Mayor Sylvester Turner
  • Council Member Jerry Davis
  • Council Member Dwight Boykins
  • Council Member Amanda Edwards
  • Council Member Larry Green


  • Judge Maria T. Jackson
  • Judge Marc Carter
  • Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan
  • Judge Elaine H. Palmer
  • Judge Mike Fields
  • Judge Zenita A. Burney
  • Judge Hillary H. Green

 HISD Board of Education

  • Wanda Adams
  • Jolanda Jones
  • Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Read more about HISD’s distinguished alumni here.

Join the conversation! Do you know other distinguished alumni who graduated from HISD schools? If so, tell us about them on Facebook or Twitter. Use the “HISDBlackHistory” hashtag.