Lillian Bertha Horace, writer and teacher, was born Lillian B. Amstead (or possibly Armistead) in Jefferson, Texas, on April 29, 1880. She was the daughter of Thomas Amstead and Macey Matthews. When she was still a toddler, her parents moved to Fort Worth, where she received her early education. She graduated from I. M. Terrell High School and subsequently enrolled at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, where she took courses from 1898 to 1899. Lillian married David Jones in 1900, but the couple had no children and were divorced in 1919.
After her marriage ended, Jones excelled professionally and academically. Like many other young African-American women in the South, Jones started her teaching career before she graduated from college; she taught in Tarrant County schools for six years, including a school in Handley and five in Mansfield. She returned to her alma mater I. M. Terrell High School to teach English in 1911. There she served as dean of girls and established the school’s library. In 1924 she began the school newspaper known as Terrellife and founded the school’s journalism and drama departments.
In 1914 Lillian Jones entered Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University), where she graduated as valedictorian. Although she and other Prairie View students were introduced to Booker T. Washington’s pragmatic philosophy regarding education, she was determined to pursue more advanced education than the South offered at the time. She demonstrated her commitment by enrolling in summer extension courses at the University of Chicago (1917–19, 1928, and 1940), the University of Colorado at Boulder (1920), and Columbia University (1924). From 1921 to 1922 she worked and studied at Simmons University in Louisville, Kentucky, where she served as dean of women and earned a bachelor’s degree.
Ultimately, Lillian Jones returned to Fort Worth to work for the improvement of the African-American community. She was a devout Baptist, teacher, pioneering librarian, and journalist. She was also a member of the Texas Commission on Interracial Cooperation (TCIC), founded in 1920, as well as the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Alphin Art and Charity Club, Progressive Woman’s Club, and the Order of the Eastern Star.
In 1916 Jones self-published her first novel Five Generations Hence, believed to be the earliest novel on record by an African-American woman from Texas. Though an excerpt from her novel appeared in Daring to Dream: Utopian Fiction by United States Women Before 1950 (1995), the complete novel was republished in 2013 in the edited collection, Recovering Lillian Jones Horace: The Life and Writing of Lillian Jones Horace. Through the heroine of the novel— Grace Noble, an educator in a rural African-American community in Texas—Lillian highlighted the importance of economic self-sufficiency, education, piety, and other noble attributes, particularly through the ideas and deeds of intelligent Black women. Like other African-American writers of the post-Reconstruction era, Jones used her novel for a sociopolitical purpose and critiqued the exclusion of Blacks from American life. Her novel was also distinct in its call for a transcontinental dialogue between Africa and America and the concept that American Blacks would eventually return to Africa.
In 1930 Lillian Jones married Joseph Gentry Horace of Groveton, Texas. Her husband later became a minister. In addition to her role as a preacher’s wife, Lillian Horace served as chaplain of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1937; continued to serve as teacher and librarian in Fort Worth; and began working on her second novel, Angie Brown. Her marriage to Joseph Horace ended in divorce in 1946; they had no children. Disappointed by the breakup of her marriage, Lillian Horace nonetheless continued to pursue her desire to write. By 1948 she had finished her first draft of Angie Brown. The following year she attempted, unsuccessfully, to have the book published by Lemuel L. Foster in New York.
Setting aside her earlier dreams of Africa, Horace used Angie Brown to highlight the resiliency of the African-American woman who shouldered the double burden of “being a woman” and “being a Negro.” The novel emphasized the importance of Black female bonding and cross-generational ties. Reflecting oral tradition, the novel’s women used stories to convey wisdom and history. Horace also used Angie Brown to assert that economic progress, in addition to social progress, was essential to Black advancement. The novel’s protagonists are therefore depicted as savers and sound-minded investors despite living in a community where education stopped at the seventh grade.
Horace also authored the biography of Lacey Kirk Williams, a prominent Texas Baptist minister who became pastor of Chicago’s Olivet Baptist Church in 1916, then the largest Black church in the country. The biography, “Crowned with Glory and Honor”: The Life of Reverend Lacey Kirk Williams, was eventually published in 1978.
Lillian Horace died on August 6, 1965, in Fort Worth. Her published and unpublished works stand as important literary contributions to the annals of African American Baptist and women’s history.