Not all heroes wear capes. Neither do they all have their names in history books. Beatrice Green was one of those heroes whose good works and courageous commitment to justice and equality for all rarely, if ever made headlines. Yet, her work paved the way for African American voting rights in Texas and a slew of elected officials of color who walked through the doors Green helped opened.
Born one year before World War 1 began, Green’s 108 years on this planet witnessed great change, much of which she had a hand in. But what never changed for Green was her undying faith and her commitment to the Lutheran Church.
In fact, it was an interaction at a local Lutheran Church (Trinity Lutheran Church) that symbolized the stance for equality Green took throughout her life.
James A. Baker III, 61st U.S. Secretary of State, whom Green helped raise while employed as the Baker’s maid, recounted during Green’s funeral service her initial contact in 1939 with Trinity Lutheran Church.
“Coming from a Lutheran family with several ministers, Trinity seemed like a natural place for (Bea). But 1939 was a time of strict segregation in Houston, and she could not enter through the front door. Instead, Bea was told she could pray out in the back. But that didn’t seem quite right to her,” shared Baker.
The result: Green and her aunt Erma Johnson Green set about to start their own church and eventually co-founded Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Third Ward, the first Lutheran church in the state of Texas for African Americans.
Baker said the highlight of his career was arranging for Green to meet America’s first Black president Barack Obama in 2018.
Like so many Blacks then and now, Green worked her day job of caring for Baker, his sister and mother, then worked for civil rights nights and weekends through her many organizational affiliations.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she and several friends travelled by Greyhound bus to Austin, protesting at the State Capitol Fridays and Saturdays for the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.
Green was also one of the key figures in opening Voting Precinct #247, the first Black voting precinct in the Cuney Homes of Houston’s Third Ward, a precinct she served until 2006 when she was 94-years-old.
In a 2009 interview for the University of Houston Oral History of Houston Project, Green bemoaned “young folk’s” lack of interest in learning from the past.
“I tell them to look back and see what history was at that time and how things have changed. The young people today, I don’t think they are that interested. The ones that are coming along now (they say) ‘Oh, that was then. This is now.’ I say, ‘But you have to learn history, what was in the past, and just keep looking for better days.’”
Still, Green maintained hope in the future, a hope some viewed as symbolized by the fact that her funeral was held in the very church that refused to allow her admission via the front door as progress.
“How sweet it is that her funeral is being held in the very church that back then would not let her through the front door,” said Baker. He later added, “I can really imagine the scene my friends when St. Peter recently welcomed Bea at the Pearly Gates. With a warm smile on his face and his comforting hands outstretched to her. ‘Welcome to Heaven, Bea,’ St. Peter said. ‘Here, the front door is always open.’”
However, Green’s own words in that 2009 UH interview directed specifically at youth suggest she would view the service as progress but nowhere near a final destination.
“Climb higher. Reach the pinnacle. Don’t look down. Keep going. Keep going forward, you will reach the goal you want to attain.”
ABOUT BEATRICE LEHMAN GREEN
Also Known As: Bea, Mama Bea, Aunt Bea, Cousin Bea, Nan Nan, Honey Bea, and Queen Bea
Birthdate: March 1, 1913
Hometown: Mansura, Louisiana
Education: Concordia Lutheran College, Selma, Alabama
Houston Arrival: 1939
Church Home: Holy Cross Lutheran Church (co-founder, Holy Cross Altar Guild, Holy Cross Ladies’ Aid Society, Lutheran Women’s Missionary League)
Organizational Affiliations: AFL-CIO’s Women’s Activities Division, Harris County Council of Organizations, Blue Triangle Branch YWCA Board, Magnolia Garden Club, Third Ward Community Club, Entro-Nous Club, Model Cities and Houston Parks and Recreation Line Dancers