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HEGGINS, ELSIE FAYE

HEGGINS, ELSIE FAYE (1934–2000). Elsie Faye Heggins, Dallas councilwoman and civil rights activist, was born on August 20, 1934, in Rusk, Texas. When she was eleven, her parents’ marriage ended, and she and her mother relocated to Dallas. Heggins graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and attended North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas). At approximately the same time she began college, she began working in the real estate business. As her professional work made increasing demands on her time, she quit her course work at the university.

About a year after graduating from high school, Heggins married. The marriage produced two children: a daughter named Joanne and a son named Lovodges. After seven years of marriage, Elsie and her husband divorced. She worked as a post office clerk for seven years and as a real estate agent for sixteen years.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Heggins became active in her community and sought political office. By 1972 she was a board member of the Dallas Legal Services Project and the Crossroads Community Center. She was also co-chairman of the Spence Community Block Partnership and a board member of Black Citizens for Justice, Law, and Order. That year, she made an unsuccessful run for the Dallas school board. In 1978 she won election as Democratic chairman of Precinct No. 3317. Her early political battles included a successful fight to have Interstate Highway 45 redesigned to include off ramps at ground level through South Dallas to serve the residents of her neighborhood. She also lobbied for single-member districts in city council elections and school board elections.

In 1980 Heggins won the District No. 6 seat on the Dallas City Council representing South Dallas. Because Heggins was the first black member of the council without close ties to the white establishment, her election ushered in a new era for the council. She created an opening for other non-establishment and grassroots politicians on the council. During her tenure on the council, she was responsible for a $15 million flood-control project for the Lower Peaks Branch neighborhood of South Dallas. She fought for healthcare for elderly citizens, single-member districts, and recognition of Dallas’s black heritage through the naming of streets and buildings. She gained a reputation as a fiery and sometimes brash and confrontational politician, but she was also known as a caring and sympathetic representative of her district. Heggins regularly had meetings with her constituency in order to allow them to express their concerns. Her primary agenda was to make sure conditions in the southern sector of Dallas improved for its residents.

After two terms on the council from 1980 to 1984, Heggins ran for the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court. She lost the election and decided to retire from politics. She left Dallas for Houston and spent the rest of her life there. In retirement she became a small business owner. In 1990 she was honored as part of the Junior Black Academy of Arts and Letters exhibit, Dallas Black Living Legends: An Exhibition of Portraits.

In Houston, on January 3, 2000, Heggins died due to complications from chemotherapy that she received for ovarian cancer. Although her services were held in Houston, the Dallas community grieved her passing. Heggins is remembered as the first non-establishment council member of the city council from any race whose compassionate character and assertive communication style forever changed the dynamics of Dallas politics.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Dallas Morning News, February 27, 1972. Dallas Post Tribune, January 6, 2000. Dallas Times Herald, May 25, 1980. Sheila Taylor, “The other side of anger,” Dallas Life, February 27, 1983.

Camille Davis

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Camille Davis, "HEGGINS, ELSIE FAYE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhe94), accessed August 22, 2014. Uploaded on January 31, 2013. Modified on May 21, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.