Kathlyn Gilliam, 79, was not only the first Black woman, but the first Black person elected to the Dallas School Board. Gilliam was elected school board trustee in 1974, following the June 5, 1974 court judgment, in which Judge Sarah Hughes found institutional racism by DISD. Gilliam went on to become the first woman of any race elected as president of the Dallas School Board. Gilliam served as DISD trustee until 1997, when she was replaced by former DISD Trustee Ron Price.
Gilliam, a Dallas native, graduated from Lincoln High School. As a youth, she attended segregated schools and as an adult, faced career barriers due to both her race and her sex. But unlike many, she refused to accept the status quo. As an adult, Gilliam joined and eventually became president of the Dallas Council of the Colored Parents and Teachers, an organization that covered in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
She fought tirelessly to end segregation in Dallas schools, and while on the school board, she pushed for minority representation throughout the district and promoted affirmative action to increase the number of African-American teachers in the district.
Gilliam also helped to establish the DISD magnet schools in the southern sector and was instrumental in the hiring of DISD’s first African-American superintendent, Marvin Edwards. Just two years ago, Gilliam received a standing ovation as she entered the school board meeting, which was called to discuss the possible dismantling of the magnet schools and learning centers she worked diligently to create through her desegregation efforts. Ironically, in his final acts as trustee, Price, who followed her, was instrumental in helping DISD come from under the court order Gilliam and others fought for.
In doing so, it allowed for the ultimate dismantling of the learning centers protected by the court order. It was a sad day for Gilliam, as she watched Price and other Blacks on the Board fight unsuccessfully to save the centers that benefitted mostly minority students. Gilliam’s contributions have not been forgotten by those she served.
In fact, the story of Gilliam’s desegregation efforts is featured in the documentary, “No Ways Tired: Kathlyn Gilliam and the De-Segregation of Dallas Public Schools,” which won first place at the 2006 Juneteenth Film Festival for Best Documentary. Additionally, the Kathlyn J. Gilliam Collegiate Academy was named in honor of her unselfish struggle for children. The high school will accommodate 500 students feeding in from seven district middle schools and will collaborate with the University of North Texas to feature a college-preparatory curriculum. The Academy also will encourage community members to take college classes after hours and make full use of the recreational spaces, an aspect of community involvement Gilliam strongly supports. The groundbreaking is expected this spring.