A self described social activist, Ester King, son of David and Vergie Mae King, was born on June 26, 1943, in Magnolia Springs, Texas. He grew up in the Acres Home community of Houston and graduated from Carverdale Junior-Senior High School in 1962. He enrolled in Bishop College in 1962, entered the military in 1964, and returned to college in 1967 at Texas Southern University. While a student at Texas Southern, King began his lifelong involvement in the struggle for human rights. He joined student movements at Texas Southern and the University of Houston as they began to expand beyond issues of campus life, and he became part of a new generation of community activists that constructed the bridge between the civil rights movement and the black consciousness movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. King and his wife Leallia married about 1970. They had a son and a daughter.
As a cultural nationalist, King promoted the study and celebration of African and African American history and culture as key elements in liberation struggles of African peoples. Through his study he was able to connect the struggles of many people with his own. He engaged people in the analysis of these struggles through media programs, visits to high school and college campuses, and public affairs programs like those of the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center in which he remained very active throughout his life. He was also often featured as a commentator on programs such as Pan African Journal and Connect the Dots on Houston radio station KPFT.
As an activist, King participated in most of the social movements that took place in Houston since the 1960s. His causes included business disinvestment regarding South African apartheid, worker’s rights in city government, housing rights for residents of Allen Parkway village, rights for immigrants, protection against police misconduct, the Texas anti-death penalty movement, rights for internally displaced persons of the Gulf Coast, and the rights of Palestinians. He also encouraged the creation of community-based institutions to spearhead community development. He was a founder of the National Black United Front and active in Afro-Americans for Black Liberation.
Participation in electoral politics was also a part of his activism. In 1981 he ran unsuccessfully for the Houston city council. He served as the campaign manager for the first major African American candidate for Houston mayor in 1983. His efforts were noteworthy because of the people’s forum he organized after the election to develop a plan of action for the campaign supporters. After 1983 he was allied with the campaigns of most progressives seeking office in Houston or Harris County as well as those seeking office on the state or national level. His counsel was also sought by elected officials as well as candidates.
King was also employed as a boilermaker at a local oil refinery for twenty-six years. He retired in 2008. Ester Lee King died in Houston on September 1, 2011. Kofi Taharka, chairman of the National Black United Front, described King as “a pillar in the social justice and activist community.”
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Houston Defender, September 8, 2011. Houston Chronicle , September 5, 8, 2011. “Our Beloved Brother Ester L. King—Sunrise: June 26, 1943–Sunset: September 1, 2011” (http://www.shape.org/Tribute%20To%20Our%20Beloved%20Ester%20L%20King.html), accessed May 21, 2013.
Activism and Social Reform
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Franklin D. Jones,
“King, Ester Lee,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 13, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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