LeRoy, Erma DeLoney (1911–2006)


By: Tiana Wilson

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 2021

Updated: November 2, 2021


Erma DeLoney LeRoy, labor organizer, civil rights activist, and political mobilizer, was born on January 21, 1911, in Fort Bend County, Texas. Little is known about her early life. In 1930 she lived with an aunt and uncle in Houston and attended Jack Yates High School during segregation. After graduation, possibly in 1931, she attended Prairie View College (later Prairie View A&M University), where she received a bachelor of science degree and later did graduate work in counseling. In December 1938 she married Moses LeRoy, who worked as a railroad gang boss for Southern Pacific Railroad and was a labor union leader. The couple had a daughter, Carol, and lived in Houston’s Third Ward.

In the 1940s Erma and her husband heard African American historian Rayford Logan speak at Jack Yates High School in Houston and were inspired to become civil rights activists. They were members of the Houston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Under the leadership of Lulu B. White, the local branch successfully campaigned for pay equity for African American educators (see EDUCATION FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS). The local branch also challenged disfranchisement by the white primary prior to the United States Supreme Court case Smith v. Allwright (1944) and pushed for education equality in Sweatt v. Painter (1950). Erma LeRoy served as an officer of the Houston branch and worked as an aide to White and considered her a close friend and political mentor. In 1947 LeRoy served as assistant recording secretary under Christia Adair for the NAACP Texas Conference of Branches. In one of the first African American bids for state political office in the twentieth century, LeRoy ran in a special general election for the Texas House of Representatives in January 1948 after J. Searcy Bracewell resigned his office to run for the Texas Senate.

LeRoy’s political activism spanned the 1950s and 1960s during which she helped mobilize Black voters in Houston, advised younger activists, and worked with the Harris County Council of Organizations (HCCO), a cross-class coalition of African American groups to build electoral power. The coalition also advocated development of Black community institutions, including the Blue Triangle branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association, for which LeRoy was an officer. In 1952 LeRoy campaigned for Ralph W. Yarborough in his bid for the Democratic party nomination for governor against Allen Shivers.

In 1961 Leroy worked as a political organizer for Democratic candidate Maury Maverick, Jr., to fill the U. S. Senate seat vacated by Lyndon B. Johnson. She traveled as a representative of the Texas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to campaign on Maverick’s behalf in Fort Worth, Waco, along the upper Texas Gulf Coast, and in smaller Black communities throughout the state. She stressed to Black voters the importance of electing a senator who would vote for a $1.25 minimum hourly wage and strong civil rights legislation. As a member of the Texas Council of Voters, a Black political nonpartisan organization, she endorsed White Houston attorney Don Yarborough for governor in 1962; however, the organization, then led by W. J. Durham, failed to reach consensus and did not officially endorse a gubernatorial candidate. She also headed voter registration drives on behalf of Voters of Texas—Enlist (VOTE), a statewide coalition of civil rights and labor groups; was secretary for the Harris County Democratic party; and served on the State Advisory Committee on Civil Rights.

In July 1961 LeRoy served on the Texas AFL-CIO steering committee, which prepared the organization’s agenda and direction while it was a part of the statewide Democratic Coalition. That year she also served on the Progressive Youth Association’s advisory board and the Houston Sit-in Foundation board. While a member of the Texas AFL-CIO, LeRoy coordinated and co-directed the group’s African American outreach projects that collaborated with Black student leaders on college campuses. In 1964, with Latane Lambert, LeRoy traveled to historically Black colleges and universities in East and North Texas to urge students to vote. From 1965 to 1972 she also served as president of Houston’s Lulu B. White NAACP branch. Her efforts and leadership were recognized with several invitations to the White House. On February 12, 1963, with other civil rights leaders, she attended a reception hosted by President John F. Kennedy and his wife to hear a progress report by the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. When President Lyndon Baines Johnson was elected president in 1964, LeRoy was selected as one of the hostesses of the four inaugural balls held in Washington, D. C., in January 1965. In 1966 she served as a delegate at a White House conference on civil rights held by President Johnson.

Erma and Moses LeRoy continued to work as a political team in the 1970s and 1980s, including several voting rights lawsuits against the city of Houston that eventually forced the city council to adopt single-member voting districts. In 1988 Rice University dedicated a $10,000 sociology department research fund in her and her husband’s honor to finance research on voting rights and “the public good.” LeRoy left a legacy that connects Black labor, civil rights, and political mobilization in the early Black freedom struggle. After her husband died in February 1990, she remained in Houston.

Erma LeRoy died on July 8, 2006, in Houston. Her funeral service was held at New Guide Missionary Baptist Church, and she was buried at Paradise North Cemetery in Houston.

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Bruce A. Glasrud and Merline Pitre, Black Women in Texas History (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008). Houston Chronicle, August 18, 1963; February 18, 1968; October 24, 1994. Houston Post, March 4, 1962; June 1, 1966; February 13, 1990. Max Krochmal, Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016). Martin Herman Kuhlman, The Civil Rights Movement in Texas: Desegregation of Public Accommodations, 1950–1964 (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Tech University, 1994). Papers of the NAACP, Part 26: Selected Branch Files, 1940–1955, Series A, Library of Congress. Odessa American, November 7, 1988. Tri-State Defender (Memphis, Tennessee), January 22, 1965. Kannan Vani, The Third World Women’s Alliance: History, Geopolitics, and Form (Ph.D. dissertation, Syracuse University, 2018).

Categories:
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
  • Labor
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston

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

Tiana Wilson, “LeRoy, Erma DeLoney,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/leroy-erma-deloney.

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November 1, 2021
November 2, 2021

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