Al Edwards, former state rep, dead at 83

Former state representative, Albert Ely Edwards has died. He was 83.

The family of Edwards issued the following statement:

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce that former District 146 State Rep. and Civil Rights Leader, Al Edwards Sr. died today from natural causes. He was an ordained minister, father, and grandfather that notably sponsored the legislation making Juneteenth the first legal Texas state holiday for African Americans. He was a proud graduate of Phyllis Wheatley High School and Texas Southern University. He will be sorely missed by all who loved him. He was 83 years old.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner expressed his condolences in a statement:

“The Honorable Al Edwards worked tirelessly for the people of House District 146 and the state of Texas. During nearly three decades in the Texas House, he served with distinction on several influential committees. In 1979, in the face of considerable opposition, Edwards passed legislation to recognize the abolition of slavery in Texas as an annual holiday, earning him the well-deserved nickname “Mr. Juneteenth.

“As a former chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, Edwards was instrumental in getting the Texas African American History Memorial installed on the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin.

“Edwards and I served together in the Texas Legislature for more than two decades, and during that time, he became like a brother to me. I deeply loved him. And I will miss him greatly.

“On July 28, 2018, I had the honor of proclaiming Albert E. “Al” Edwards Day in the city of Houston. 

“Because of the COVID-19 public health crisis, his family and many friends will not be able to gather in person for a memorial service. But make no mistake, Al deserves a grand celebration for his lifetime of achievements.

“I look forward to honoring my friend and brother at the appropriate time.”

Senator Borris Miles expressed his condolences in an email to constituents:

“Today we lost a pillar in our community. My deepest condolences go out to the Edwards family as they mourn the loss of Albert Ely Edwards. Al graduated from Wheatley High School, and attended Texas Southern University where he was an Alpha Phi Alpha. He went on to become a successful businessman and was one of the longest serving legislators in Texas history.

“Al was a pioneer and civil rights leader. He twice served as Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Campaign Chairman during Reverend Jackson’s presidential runs. He marched, served on peace missions abroad, and most recently ensured the right to vote for students at Prairie View A&M.

I thank Al for all that he did for our community. For without the drive of leaders in the face of evil, we would be nowhere. We must continue the fight of our forefathers and mothers to rise and lift each other up.”

Edwards was born in Houston, Texas on March 19, 1937. Edwards is the sixth child out of the sixteen children born to Reverend E. L. Edwards, Sr. and Josephine Radford Edwards. He graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School and attended Texas Southern University, earning his B.A. degree in 1966.

At the age of forty-one, Edwards entered politics and was elected to the Texas State Legislature from Houston’s House District 146. His first major goal was to ensure the establishment of a holiday that recognized the emancipation of slavery. In 1979, legislation recognizing Juneteenth Day, initiated by Edwards, passed the Texas State Legislature and was signed into law. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an annual holiday in fourteen states of the United States. Celebrated on June 19th, it commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas. While serving in the legislature, Edwards also founded his own real estate company.

Though deeply involved with local issues, Edwards remained active in many issues outside the Texas State Legislature. In 1983, Edwards was appointed as a member of the board of Operation PUSH. Edwards also served as the Texas State Director of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s two presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988. In 1986, Edwards also founded Operation Justus, a community faith-based organization that serves as a referral service for persons with social problems and concerns. Edwards was also arrested in Houston and went to jail for peacefully demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa in 1987.

Edwards left the Texas legislature in 2007 after twenty-eight years of serving the people of District 146. As a veteran member of the Texas Legislature, Edwards served on three influential committees. He was the Chairman of the Rules and Resolutions Committee, Chairman of Budget and Oversight of the Ways and Means Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Edwards is survived by three children — Al II, Alana and Jason — and his ex-wife Lana, a longtime educator and former city council candidate.