Working for Equity

Tracing a Family History of Commitment to Civil Rights

Being an active citizen – and a commitment to civil rights – was a big part of Carolyn Wilkins-Santos's family legacy. Her grandfather, Moses Leroy, was a prominent Houston civil rights advocate who maintained “you couldn’t accept second-class citizenship” and was a model of active citizenry.

Leroy worked to end Texas’s poll tax, but simultaneously insisted that everyone had to vote, “even if you had to save up nickels to do so.”

He also stressed that before voting one had to study and evaluate all the issues and candidates in an election. Wilkins-Santos recalls, “as a very little, little girl,” hearing conversations among family members about voting.

While growing up in Houston's segregated Third Ward neighborhood, Wilkins-Santos had little contact with people from other backgrounds.

The only whites she regularly encountered were Italian American grocers. The K-12 public schools she attended were all racially segregated.

Later in life, she and friends joked that they were “wall-to-wall blacks” in their school and neighborhood. She added, more somberly, that segregation had harmful consequences, including tattered books, worn facilities and embattled self-esteem.

This story is told in four parts:

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