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Essie Bellfield, a woman who stands tall

By Dawn Burleigh

 

Essie Bellfield is a woman who is willing to speak her mind and will when she sees an injustice.

A campaign has started to encourage the city of Orange to name a building after her. The building in mind, at this time, is the Senior Community Center.

While, the significance of a building being named after Bellfield, would be a testament to the changes she has brought to Orange during her lifetime, is it the best option?

Bellfield has walked during the March and was in the crowd as Martin Luther King Jr gave his infamous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in Washington. D.C.

She has fought for equal rights, encourages others to exercise their right to vote and strives to improve Orange.

Bellfield was the first black and first female to hold the office of Mayor. Until her last campaign for City Council Member, she won every election.

Her involvement with government began many years ago on a park bench in Galveston, Texas.

A park bench is where she began her fight for injustice and became involved with civil rights.

She was told she could not sit on the park bench in a public park because of the color of her skin.

She integrated the park because as she said, “It is a public park, I have just as much right to be there.”

There is a park on 16th Street in Orange, which would be a good option for a park to name after this amazing woman.

Sunset Park is integrated, and she is the one who fought diligently to have a fence installed for the safety of the children playing at the park.

There is another park named after a man of significance, Solomon Johnson Park on the corner of 2nd Street and Turrett Ave. in Orange.

Solomon Johnson was an Orange native who served as president of the Civic Betterment League for 22 years and was referred to as the ‘bronze mayor’ for several years. As ‘bronze mayor’ he attended city council meetings to represent his people in the community even though he was not allowed to vote. He also lead delegates to the Texas Negro Chamber of Commerce and the National Negro Business League. It was during his time as president, the first black police officer was hired. At that time, the officer was only allowed to arrest black offenders.

A housing development was named after Velma Jeter.

Jeter was an educator and civic leader who spent her life promoting and fighting for the rights of all people. A nationally renowned civil rights activist, she became known as the Rosa Parks of Texas. Her father, Jules Dreyfus, was a politician and held the post of Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, of the Louisiana Legislature, until his death. At the age of 12, she moved to Port Arthur, Texas and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1920 as Valedictorian of the class.

As a civic leader, Jeter served on the Council of Aging under Governor Mark White, where he named her “The Yellow Rose of Texas” for her dedication to civic causes. Honored numerous times by the NAACP, she received the Civil Rights Award for her service from 1950 to 1987. Other honors include Black Texan of Distinction in 1970, Sojourner Truth Award, Women of Courage Award, Governor’s Award for Public Service, induction to the Black Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986, and Texas Delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1996. Even after her death in 1998, according to the Museum of the Gulf Coast.

Bellfield’s contributions to Orange have been just as important and significant. It was her innovative thinking to finding solutions to create the changes she has made.

A park with a park bench would lead to future generations to understanding the impact Bellfield has on the city.

 

Dawn Burleigh is editor of The Orange Leader. She can be reached at dawn.burleigh@orangeleader.com