Julia Catherine Thomas Hester, teacher and community activist in Houston’s Fifth Ward, was born in Dublin, Laurens County, Georgia, to James A. and Nettie (McCall) Thomas. Sources vary regarding the exact year of her birth. Her death certificate gives the date of December 18, 1881, but census records list several different and conflicting ages: thirty-three years old (1900 census), thirty-five years old (1910 census), forty-four years old (1920 census), and forty-eight years old (1930 census). Julia Thomas married Alexander Z. Hester on December 28, 1892, in Laurens County, Georgia. They had no children.
By the 1900 census the Hesters were residing in Houston, and Julia was listed as a school teacher and Alex as a cotton sampler. Hester devoted her career to teaching and helping others. During her life in Houston, she served on several committees, including state leader of Heroines of Jericho, a woman’s auxiliary to the Negro Free and Accepted Masons of Texas; chairwoman of the Advisory Committee in Colored Girls’ Work during World War I; and member of the Emancipation Park advisory committee. During their more than forty years living in Houston’s Fifth Ward, Hester and her husband were leaders in the community and provided their home as a safe environment for adolescents to keep them off the streets. She and her husband were active in Payne Chapel African Methodists Episcopal Church in Houston.
Hester died on December 20, 1940, at her residence of forty-seven years. She was buried at Paradise Cemetery in Houston. In 1943 the Houston Community Chest and Council established a neighborhood community center in the Fifth Ward, and a bi-racial board selected the name, “Julia C. Hester House,” to honor the contributions Hester made to the community.