Azie Taylor Morton

Barton Springs Pool, where Azie Taylor Morton swam in defiance of segregationist policies. A road running past the springs, once named for Robert E Lee, is now named for Morton.

Azie Taylor Morton, born in Dale, Texas in 1946, was the Treasurer of the United States under President Carter, from 1977 to 1981. She remains the only African American to have ever served in that office. Described in her obituary as “passionate about public service and the necessity of giving back to the community that made so much possible for her,” Morton had a long and accomplished career in the public sector.

Morton’s mother was deaf and did not speak. She never knew who her father was. Morton was raised by her maternal grandparents on their farm in Dale, southeast of Austin, and, in her youth, worked in the cotton fields.

Though Morton was not deaf, blind, nor an orphan, she attended the Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School for high school because there was no high school for African Americans in Dale. She graduated at the age of 16, at the top of her class.

Morton went on to attend Huston-Tillotson University, an HBCU in Austin. She graduated cum laude with a BS in commercial education in 1956. She aspired to attend graduate school and applied to UT Austin. She was denied on the technical basis of not having sufficient undergraduate courses, which was something of a farce. UT Austin at the time had a policy of not enrolling “Negroes to its undergraduate programs” — and, presumably, their graduate programs as well.

Azie Taylor Morton

Rather than attending graduate school, Morton started working as a teacher in a state-sponsored school for delinquent girls. A year later, she was hired to serve as the assistant to the President at Huston-Tillotson, where she stayed for just a few months before being hired at the Texas AFL-CIO state headquarters in Austin.

Morton went on to work on LBJ’s senatorial campaign. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy invited Morton to work for the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. She remained with that committee for 20 years, serving in various capacities.

Morton, who described herself as a “convention junkie,” also served as the special assistant to the chair of the Democratic National Committee from 1972 to 1976. And in 1977 she accepted President Carter’s invitation to serve as the 36th Treasurer of the U.S., a post she held from September 1977 until the end of Carter’s term in January 1981.

Morton, described as “passionate about public service and the need to give back to the community,” served the country in multiple international capacities as well. She was an election observer for the presidential elections in Haiti, Senegal, and the Dominican Republic; she was a member of the American Delegation to Rome for Pope John Paul II’s enthronement; she chaired a mission to the USSR and China in 1986; and she was a representative to the first African/African American Conference held in Africa.

Morton later returned to Austin, serving on the Austin Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (HACA) from 1999 to 2001. In honor of her service, the HACA created the Azie Morton Scholarship Fund for low-income students at Huston-Tillotson.

Morton suffered a stroke in December 2003 and died the next day, at the age of 67.

Earlier this year, a road in Austin, originally named for Robert E. Lee, was renamed in honor of Azie Taylor Morton, someone who is actually deserving of the honor.

Azie Taylor Morton Road runs from Barton Springs Road north into Zilker, past the Umlauf Sculpture park and Barton Springs Pool itself. Barton Spring Pool was segregated during Morton’s lifetime. As a young woman, Morton swam in the pool in protest against and defiance of the racist policy.

I’ll leave you with this remark from Virgie Morton, Azie Taylor Morton’s oldest daughter, who, when thanking the City Council for renaming the street, said of her mother:

“Her hard work, contributions and service to the fabric of America, dedication and vision, was and still remains a part of the American dream. The renaming of the street — and certainly this name being very special to our family, our community, our city, our state and our nation — this is an historic moment and we are all part of this American story. … As the struggle continues, we will forever forge ahead to form a more perfect union, where everyone is welcome and appreciated for their contributions.”