Lullelia Walker Harrison, educator, community servant, and civil rights activist, was born on January 24, 1913, in Houston, Texas, to Franklin Pierce Walker, Sr., and Etta (Day) Walker. Lullelia was the oldest of three children. Her father was a master carpenter and boat builder who ventured to Texas from Franklin, Louisiana, in search of work opportunities in the early 1900s. Examples of his craftsmanship can still be found in the Fifth Ward community. Her mother was a direct descendant of Isaiah Cates Day for whom the city of Dayton, Texas, is named.
Lullelia’s parents settled in the Fifth Ward community of Houston and contributed significantly to the development of the area. The family joined Mount Vernon Methodist Church, now one of the historical institutions and landmarks in the Fifth Ward. Lullelia remained a member of the church until her death and served as church historian and a board of trustee.
In the early 1930s Lullelia Walker married Alexander Crystal Harrison, and the couple had two sons—Charles “Tex” Harrison and Alexander Crystal Harrison II. Her husband served as a regional manager for General Foods, Inc., and was a small business operator most of his life. The Harrisons’ oldest son Alexander served as a regional manager for General Foods, Inc., and youngest son Charles was affiliated with the Harlem Globetrotters as a player and coach for fifty-plus years.
Education remained a significant focus of Harrison’s endeavors throughout her long life. She attended Houston public schools and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. She earned a baccalaureate degree from Wiley College and then conducted graduate studies at the University of Chicago and Texas Southern University. Wiley College eventually awarded her an honorary doctorate.
While attending Wiley College, Harrison, at the age of sixteen, joined Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., in 1929. Throughout her years of service, she held numerous leadership positions, received countless awards, and raised funds for the sorority’s endeavors. She held the following positions: 12th International Grand Basileus (national president), southern regional director, national executive secretary, coordinator of national projects, founder and national director of Amicae, and national historian. In addition to being a Golden Life Member of the sorority, she was an active and faithful member of the Lambda Zeta Chapter in Houston. During her tenure as national historian, she wrote the book, Torchbearers of a Legacy: A History of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. 1920-1997 (1998).
As a civil rights activist, Harrison helped tear down racial barriers and was also known for her dynamic and eloquent speaking. In 1946 postal worker Heman Marion Sweatt was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin’s law school because of race. The NAACP Houston chapter filed a lawsuit against the school, and during the case, Harrison and others testified before the Texas legislature to gain support for the creation of a state university for Blacks in Houston. A year later, the Texas State University for Negroes (renamed Texas Southern University in 1951) was established. Harrison (as the only female on the committee) later spoke before the legislature again in support of the Heman Sweatt Victory Fund to help establish the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
Harrison’s professional career encompassed teaching and counseling young people. She taught English for one year at Colbert School in Dayton, Texas, followed by nineteen years of teaching English at Jack Yates High School in Houston. She also spent seventeen years as a guidance counselor at Ryan Middle School. She retired from Houston Independent School District in 1975.
Harrison was also involved with DePelchin Faith Home for many years and was the first Black to chair the governing board of the Negro Child Center, an office she held for more than twenty years. In this position she initiated the move to equalize board rates for all foster parents and eventually made recommendations to abolish racially-separate boards. Because of her presence, minority representation increased and all programs were integrated.
Harrison’s retirement afforded her an enhanced opportunity to embrace a wide range of volunteer assignments for many diverse organizations. Her enthusiasm and dedication to serving others resulted in a myriad of community service awards including the Community Leadership Service to Agency Award (from Sheltering Arms Senior Services), Savvy Award (from Foley’s and the Houston Chronicle), GAIA Award (from the Houston Grand Opera), Texas Star Award (from the YWCA), and Volunteer of the Year Award (from the United Way of Texas).
As part of her allegiance to community service, Harrison served on the board of directors of more than a dozen organizations including the Houston Chapter of the March of Dimes, United Way of Texas Gulf Coast, Houston Area YWCA, Hester House, and later the Blue Triangle YWCA/Multipurpose Center, Heman M. Sweatt Victory Fund, Florence Crittenton Center, National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women, DePelchin Children’s Center, Houston Advocates for Mentally Ill Children, Sheltering Arms Senior Services, Child Care Council of Greater Houston, Houston League Business and Professional Women, and the Houston Pan-Hellenic Council.
Lullelia Walker Harrison died at Methodist Hospital in Houston on October 11, 2008, and was buried in Houston’s Golden Gate Cemetery. She was survived by her son Charles and seven grandchildren.