Fort Bend Women Make Fort Bend Strong!

Since 1987, every March has been Women’s History Month in the United States.  This is a month dedicated to the contributions women have made to society, history and culture.  All of us have one woman who should be honored – our mother.  My mother celebrated her 84th birthday last month.  She is the best mom ever!  She smiled and encouraged me to follow my dreams, even when those dreams appeared a bit crazy.  She had a big grin when I told her that I was not going to use my Computer Science degree from Rice University.  At the very last minute, I was going to the University of Texas School of Law.  Three years later, I announced that I was going to graduate from law school, pass the Texas Bar Exam, and fly warplanes for the U.S. Navy.  My mom never flinched.

After four years in the Navy, I married my soulmate, my Romance, my Nancy.  Like my mom, Nancy never wavered when I changed our plans.  We had been married for seven months when I left for a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf.  I came home expecting a few months of rest and relaxation with Nancy in Hawaii where we were stationed.  The Navy had different plans for us – I was ordered to report to Washington, D.C. three weeks after coming home.

Nancy and I were reunited three days before Christmas 1994.  After our two children were born, I gave my Romance another surprise – we were moving back to my Texas home so I could run for Congress!  I was elected to Congress in 2008 and spent most of twelve years in Washington, D.C., away from Nancy, Kate and Grant.  My Romance never faltered.  Like my mom, my Nancy’s love for me has always been pure.  Whatever success I have had in my life is because of my Nancy and my mom.

Jane Long, the “Mother of Texas’,” grave in Morton Cemetery in Richmond, Texas.

We Texans all have a common mother, Jane Long.  Jane was given land grants in Fort Bend by the Father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin.  On December 21, 1821 at Bolivar Point, she gave birth to possibly the first child born in Texas to an American mother.  She became known as the “Mother of Texas.”  The town of Richmond was built on land Long owned.  The Mother of Texas died on December 30, 1880.  Befitting the stature of being the “Mother of Texas,” Long is buried in Richmond’s historic Morton Cemetery with a Texas flag proudly flying beside her 24/7/365.   The Mother of Texas was Fort Bend Strong!

Arizona Fleming is another Fort Bend woman we all need to celebrate during Women’s History Month.  She was born in Richmond on March 3, 1884.  An African-American, she grew up in a Fort Bend County where white racists resented former slaves who could now vote and were nearly three times the population.

Black men like Benjamin Franklin Williams and Walter Moses Burton were elected to powerful positions.  Enraged, the racists devised a way to stop the black vote.  Since the majority of Texans were Democrats, these evil men, called Jaybirds, formed a club to control the Democrat primary elections.  They banned African-Americans from participating in Democrat primaries, effectively denying African-Americans a voice in Texas elections.  The Jaybirds called themselves a “private club” instead of a “political organization.”  This false distinction allowed the racist Jaybirds to freely and openly discriminate against black Americans.

Willie Melton and Arizona Fleming with attorneys J. Edwin Smith and James Nabritt on the steps of US Supreme Court Building. Photo courtesy of the Fort Bend Museum.

Fleming made it her life’s goal to end this hideous practice.  She teamed up with a wealthy black farmer from Kendleton, Willie Melton, to challenge the Jaybirds in federal court.  Their case, Terry v. Adams, went to the United States Supreme Court.  Flaming WON, 8-1!  The personal cost of justice was high.  Fleming spent her entire savings to make Texas and America better.  She died penniless.  Assessing the cause of her poverty, Fleming said, “I’d do it all over again.”  Arizona Fleming was Fort Bend Strong!

Albert and Mamie George.

The Fort Bend County we love would not be that way without Polly Ryon, Lizzie Davis and Mamie George.  Polly was Lizzie’s mother, and Mamie was Lizzie’s daughter.  Their property on FM 762 had been part of a land grant from Stephen F. Austin.  The family became successful farmers and ranchers.  That all changed on September 12, 1923 when Mamie and her husband, Albert, were in charge. Oil was discovered on their Fort Bend Ranch.  Their wealth grew dramatically.  Mamie and Albert died with no heirs. Their only child died as an infant, and the niece who lived with them died in an automobile crash.  They used their pain of loss to make Fort Bend County strong; they created The George Foundation “for the use and benefit of the people of Fort Bend County.”  To date, The George Foundation has given us $270 million.  That’s Fort Bend Strong.

I never chatted with anyone who knew Jane Long, Arizona Fleming, Polly Ryon, Lizzie Davis or Mamie George.  I have been blessed to talk with people who knew Fort Bend heroes Anne Sullivan and Sonal Bhuchar.  Anne was killed fighting a fire in Houston on May 31, 2013.  Four firefighters died with her, making it the worst day in the history of the Houston Fire Department.  She lived her entire life in Fort Bend.  I knew her mom, Mary, who was the nurse at the intermediate school both of my kids attended.  Anne was 24 years old when she left us.   

The mural in the foyer at Anne McCormick Sullivan Elementary School.

Shortly after that horrific day, Mary and I worked toward a common goal – to have an elementary school named after Anne.  Anne McCormick Sullivan Elementary School opened in 2016.  The entry foyer at Anne’s school is a museum of her life.  Check out the mural of Anne, a fire truck, an adult Dalmatian and two Dalmatian puppies.  If you look closely at the adult Dalmatian, one of its spots is shaped like a heart.

Sonal Bhuchar.

My dear friend, Sonal, was 58 years-young when she lost a gallant fight against cancer.  She was a trailblazer in Fort Bend County.  Sonal was from Mumbai, India. She came to Texas with her husband, Subodh, in 1984.  That’s when she took over and made Fort Bend County better.  Her life was devoted to our children.  She was elected to the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees and served six years on the Board.  She was the Board President for two years.  While on the Board, she pushed through several initiatives like the Student Leadership Program, the Legislative Advocacy Program and the International Festival.  She helped children who had been abused with her involvement in Child Advocates of Fort Bend.  I remember Sonal’s joy of life and infectious smile.  She spent nearly two hours at our home helping Nancy get dressed in formal Indian clothing for a traditional Indian wedding.  Sonal and Anne made us and continue to make us Fort Bend Strong!

Who do you know from Fort Bend that we should honor, celebrate and remember during Women’s History Month?   Please let me know –  I may include your honoree in one of my Fort Bend Strong columns.