Ernest Boyd McGowen, Sr., minister and Houston city councilman, was born in Lufkin Texas, on August 22, 1925, to Willa Mae and Willie McGowen. He was their only child. After attending public schools, “Ernie,” as he was often called, served in the United States Army. He later attended Prairie View A&M College where he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in industrial science. He married Jewell Louise McDade, whom he had met while at Prairie View. They had four children; one son preceded him in death. McGowen was moved to pursue a career in the clergy and enrolled in Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Eventually, he became the first African-American senior pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, a predominately white congregation in Houston, in the 1990s. Ernest McGowen began his political career as president of the Parent Teacher Association at Kashmere Gardens High School in Houston.
In 1975 McGowen continued his efforts to improve public education when he was elected to the boards of the Houston Independent School District and also Houston Community College. As a member of each board, McGowen had several notable achievements. He led a successful effort to have Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birthday recognized as an official public school holiday. He also engineered collaboration between HISD and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) that led to the establishment of a vocational/technical school in Houston. Ernest McGowen did his part to advance black businesses. He advocated that minority businesses be included in the bidding process for contracts with both Houston Community College and the Houston Independent School District. Additionally, he facilitated the hiring and promotion of several African Americans to top administrative positions.
McGowen was elected to the Houston city council in 1979 as the representative for District B and served until 1993; he was one of the first African Americans elected to this political body. There he advocated for the special needs of women and minorities by campaigning for favorable legislation regarding the Minority & Women Business Enterprise Ordinance (MWBE). His other political achievements included securing equal pay for policemen and firemen. He was also a supporter of equal pay for the sanitation sector and other city employees. While serving as a councilman, he expressed concern with how the city responded to apartheid in South Africa and advocated disinvestment. After leaving the city council, he served as on the Houston-Galveston Area Council for twelve years and became the first African-American president of that body in 1993.
Ernest McGowen died on Sunday, August 26, 2012, at the age of eighty-seven. He was survived by his wife Jewell, to whom he was married for sixty-five years, and three children.