Remembering former Texas Gov. Mark White, dead at 77

Black lawmakers paid tribute to former Texas Gov. Mark White, 77, as word of his death on Aug. 5 spread across the state. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, Aug. 9 at 11 a.m. at Second Baptist Church, 6400 Woodway Drive.

Local elected officials recalled the contributions of White, who held the state’s highest office from 1983 to 1987.

Former Congressman Craig Washington, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis reflected on how White’s actions impacted African-Americans throughout the state of Texas.

Washington, who served in the state legislature when White was governor, said, “A mighty oak has fallen in our forest. A true warrior for justice has taken up residence where the sun never sets on doing what is right.

“Born in the piney woods of deep East Texas, Governor Mark W. White Jr. put his indelible mark on Texas by being the warrior for a quality education for the least, the last and the lost!”

Washington added, “He became the champion of such causes as voting rights, equal justice and came to view the death penalty as abhorrent to a civilized society! Most of all, he will be remembered for having the courage to “let justice be done, though the heavens may fall!”

During his term in office, White appointed Blacks to key positions and promoted educational changes that positively affected African-Americans. Jackson Lee recalled the important role he played.

“Governor Mark White recognized and respected the African-American community,” Jackson Lee said. “He enjoyed the respect and friendship from a number of African-Americans and listened to their advice and counsel. But he had his own moral compass as it relates to improving the lives of African Americans,” she said.

“The governor’s educational reforms included decreasing class size and paying teachers more.  At that time, low salaries impacted African-American teachers negatively and African-American children suffered the most in overcrowded classrooms.

“Governor White did not take the African-American community for granted and appointed Blacks to judgeships and positions on the boards of regents for Texas universities,” she said.

He worked closely with Allen Parker, who he appointed as Texas state commissioner of Labor Standards, and with Helen George, who he relied upon with respect to her work on the issues of juvenile justice,” Jackson Lee said.

Ellis also noted White’s key appointments and educational reforms.

“Early in his tenure, Governor White appointed Myra McDaniel in 1984 as the state’s first Black secretary of state. That was a bold move even at that time. His educational reforms still benefit African-Americans today. The no-pass, no-play rule made our Black students focus on education instead of athletics. He also initiated pay raises for teachers, many of whom are Black,” Ellis said.

After leaving office, White continued to serve the interest of the people.

“Even though Governor White supported the state’s use of the death penalty while in office, he later changed his mind about capital punishment and eventually worked diligently with the Innocence Project on behalf of wrongfully convicted inmates,” Ellis said. “He became the go-to man on criminal justice reform.”

Jackson Lee also said White continued to work for justice after leaving office.

“In his retirement, White moved toward advocating strongly for criminal justice reform and the removal of race bias in the prosecution of African-American men, and he often spoke out against racial discrimination in sentencing in the criminal justice system,” Jackson Lee said.

“Governor Mark White was a kind man who was genuine in his belief in diversity and leadership opportunities for African-Americans.  He was also proud to be a strong supporter of the presidency of President Barack Obama.”

Jackson Lee said White will be missed as a friend and public servant.

“His many friends in the African-American community who remember the history of a segregated Texas will especially cherish his sincerity in improving their lives,” Jackson Lee said.