Mary Elizabeth Branch
Mary Elizabeth Branch was born on May 29, 1881 in Farmwell, Virginia to Tazewell and Harriet Branch, two former slaves; her father served two terms in the Virginia House of Delegates. Mary earned her teaching degree at Virginia State University and then taught at an elementary school in Blackstone, Virginia.
She then returned to Virginia State College to teach; staying there for 20 years while earning a BA and MA from the University of Chicago by going to classes there in the summer. She began by teaching social studies at Sumner Junior College in Kansas City, and then became dean of women at Vashon High School in St. Louis, which was at that time the largest school for Black girls in the country. In 1930, Branch became president at Tillotson College in Austin, Texas, where she stayed until retirement.
Branch had new buildings at the college built, existing ones renovated, teachers hired, and more than tripled enrollment at the college in less than five years. Under her leadership, Tillotson College became a co-ed four year college and joined the American Association of Colleges. Branch was the first and only African American female president of an institution in this Association. Branch was also the first woman to head an accredited college in Texas. In 1935, Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the National Youth Administration’s Negro Advisory Board for Texas. Branch assisted in establishing the United Negro College Fund in 1944 and was President of the Austin chapter of the organization. Branch passed away in 1944 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Azie Taylor Morton
Azie Taylor Morton was born Azie Taylor in Dale, Texas on February 1, 1936. She was born to Fleta Hazel Taylor, who was deaf and mute, did not know her father and was raised as one of 14 children by her maternal grandparents on a small farm in Caldwell County. She worked in the cotton fields as an adolescent. There were no high schools for Black people in Dale so Taylor attended the Texas Blind, Deaf and Orphan school (although she was not blind, deaf or an orphan), where she graduated top of her class at age 16.
In 1952, Taylor enrolled in Huston-Tillotson College in Austin, TX. She was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in commercial education four years later. Taylor attempted to enroll in the University of Texas’s graduate program, but as the state’s segregationist policy barred the enrollment of blacks in undergraduate programs, she was unable to meet the admission requirements and instead took a job as a teacher in the Crocker School for Girls, a state-sponsored school for delinquents. She then was hired as an assistant to the President of Huston-Tillotson, then came to work at the Texas AFL-CIO state headquarters in Austin. She married James Homer Morton on May 29, 1965.
Azie Taylor Morton served on President John F. Kennedy’s Committee for Equal Employment Opportunity and was later appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the Treasurer of the United States from 1977 to 1981, becoming the only African American to hold that office. Her signature was printed on US currency during that tenure. Morton served on various boards and commissions, including St. Edward’s University, the Austin Children’s Museum, and the Austin Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, where they created the Azie Morton scholarship fund for low-income students at Huston-Tillotson University. Azie passed away in Austin, Texas on December 7, 2003.
Tarik Daniels grew up in Detroit, Michigan before earning his undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Daniels is a mental health and HIV awareness activist who is the founder and executive director of WhatsInTheMirror?, a social movement that provides mental health awareness and suicide prevention through art and advocacy to communities of color. As a writer, director, producer, playwright and podcaster, his artistic works focus on social injustices faced by the Black diaspora of women, as well as queer and trans people of color in America.
Daniels published a novel in 2018 called No Bonds So Strong and has written and directed several plays as well as hosting a black queer lifestyle podcast, What Works for Us. He is the winner of the 2019 Austin 40 Under 40 Awards in Arts & Entertainment and is a 2020 SXSW Community Service Award Honoree. Tarik has worked in the public health space as Practice Administrator for the Center of Health Empowerment in Austin and has served two terms as City Commissioner for the City of Austin’s LGBTQ Quality of Life Advisory Board and HIV Planning Council.
Christina Muhammad is a Texas-based activist who graduated from Texas State University. As a member of the Nation of Islam, she was motivated by seeing the disaster in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. She vowed to become more proactive in her community and started an Emergency Disaster Relief team. Becoming the coordinator for 10,000 Fearless First Responders, she has helped with disaster relief efforts in Louisiana, California, Texas and the Caribbean.
In the city of Austin, Christina has become known for her work with the public, providing back-to-school events, aiding evacuees, and providing self-defense training. She is also coordinating the building efforts for a 100-acre community in Thrall, Texas, called the 10,000 Fearless Community Ranch, which aims to be a fully black owned-and-operated community.