SPECIAL TO THE DEFENDER: BY. DR. WILL GUZMAN
You may wonder who Maude Evangeline Craig is since she is not the usual name mentioned in the pantheon of foot soldiers within the civil rights movement, although she should be.
Maude was born in Austin in 1880 to Marie Sanders Craig, a homemaker, and George Washington Craig, a grocer. In 1900, she earned a degree from Prairie View State Normal & Industrial College, known today as Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU). Armed with that degree, Maude influenced future generations by teaching at Black public schools in Texas, including Emile Elementary School in Bastrop, Gregory Town (which is present-day Edward L. Blackshear Elementary) in Austin, and Douglass Elementary in El Paso; In La Union, New Mexico, she taught at Central Elementary.
But, along with teaching, Maude was a suffragist, civil rights activist and community advocate. While in El Paso, she married barber Edward Sampson and helped establish the Phyllis Wheatley Club. Across the U.S., Phyllis Wheatley Clubs worked on improving their neighborhoods and the lives of people in their communities. Maude led campaigns supporting World War I by promoting Liberty bonds and Junior Red Cross membership drives to boost the morale of Black soldiers stationed at Fort Bliss and Biggs Field in El Paso.
Beginning in 1917, Maude served as El Paso’s NAACP vice president. El Paso’s NAACP was the first branch in the state. Maude was also a founding member of the El Paso Negro Woman’s Civic and Enfranchisement League and president of the El Paso Colored Woman’s Club. She was an outspoken suffragist who, in 1918, attempted to apply for affiliation in the National American Woman Suffrage Association but was rebuffed due to segregation and racism.
After the death of her husband, Maude married dentist Emerson Williams. She lectured on Frederick Douglass in 1930 during the 5th annual Negro History Week celebration—the precursor to today’s Black History Month. In the 1940s and 1950s, the public saw Maude as a member of the Council of Church Women and the Women’s Federated Clubs and Societies, which organized programs that promoted integration, hosted World War II Black troops, and a trustee at the Mary L. Peyton Foundation.
In 1954, Maude wrote a critique in the El Paso Times, invoking Black beauty, religious ethics, and the horrors of slavery to denounce segregation. Her appeal to whites’ Christian values as a tactic to dismantle social and legal segregation was in the tradition of the Black Freedom Movement’s moral suasion strategy that dated back to the 18th century.
While chair of the El Paso NAACP Legal Redress Committee, Maude was a delegate to its Southwest Conference and participated in panel discussions. She petitioned the city council and the Parks & Recreation Board for more housing and leisure facilities, toured Black neighborhoods with Mayor Fred Hervey to assess community needs, and fought for public school desegregation in the Fort Bliss, Fabens, and Ysleta Independent School Districts.
Moreover, in March 1955, Maude accompanied the young Thelma J. White, Douglass School valedictorian, in an unsuccessful bid to register her at Texas Western College (UTEP). The El Paso NAACP immediately filed suit in U.S. district court White v. Smith and won in July, forcing the school to become the first state-supported university to desegregate at the undergraduate level.
Maude moved to Oklahoma City in May 1957 and died ten months later. In 1968, the El Paso Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance created a Memorial Scholarship Fund in her name.
Maude’s deeds may have fallen into obscurity if not for the public history work and writings of scholars Cecilia Gutierrez Venable, Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, Janine Young, and others. Additionally, Young initiated the process to secure a historical marker to honor Williams and other Black suffragists under the auspices of the National Votes for Women Trail and the Texas and El Paso County Historical Commissions.
Maude will soon be inducted in the 60th Annual Hall of Honor by the El Paso County Historical Society—a fitting tribute indeed.
Will Guzmán is a professor of History at PVAMU. He is co-editing the biography of Houston-born Emmett J. Scott with David H. Jackson, Jr., to be published in December by Texas Tech University Press. He tweets at @ebeyiye.