Spears, Nelda Ann Wells (1946–2018)

By: Sheena Lee Cox

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 2019

Nelda Ann Wells Spears, civic leader and first African American in Texas to serve as a county tax assessor-collector, was born in Austin, Texas, on July 14, 1946, to Lucy Jean (McArthur) Wells and Adolphus Alvin Wells. Spears grew up in East Austin, attended Kealing Junior High School, and graduated from L. C. Anderson High School before earning her bachelor’s degree in English from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and her master’s degree in communications from Memphis State University. She was an active member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Before her two decades-long tenure as a county tax assessor-collector, Spears worked in various offices in Austin. She was human resources director in the General Land Office and in the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. She served as the director of personnel and training for former lieutenant governor Bob Bullock and held leadership positions at the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Texas Department of Community Affairs. On August 1, 1991, Spears was appointed to the position of Travis County tax assessor-collector. She was the first African American to hold the office of county tax assessor-collector in the state. Spears was elected five times, which made her the third longest serving tax assessor-collector in Travis County history. She retired in 2011 after twenty years of service.

Spears dedicated her life to public service and was a celebrated leader in the African American community. She was known for her mentorship to black youth and women in the county. She was a founding member of Executive Women in Texas Government, which served to help young women pursue state leadership positions. Spears also held influential roles in the Austin Women’s Center, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Texas County and District Retirement System.

Spears was married twice during her lifetime. She had one son, Trent Adolphus Allen, with her first husband, Joe Allen, and one daughter, Amy Virginia, with her second husband, Anthony Spears. Nelda Ann Wells Spears passed away in Austin on March 20, 2018, after battling a short illness. She was survived by her children and seven grandchildren. Her funeral service was held on March 26, 2018, at the Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church, which her grandmother helped found in 1930 and where she was a lifelong member. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Austin. Her son, Trent Allen, created and directed a documentary film dedicated to his mother’s life’s work: Tax, Title, and License: The Nelda Wells Spears Story. In 2018 Travis County commissioners voted to name the county tax office at 5501 Airport Boulevard in Austin after Spears.

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Austin American-Statesman, November 26, 1991; October 20, 1992; March 21, 2018. “Nelda Ann Wells Spears,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/188177296/nelda-ann-spears), accessed February 13, 2019. “Nelda (Wells) Spears,” King-Tears Mortuary, Inc. (https://www.king-tearsmortuary.com/notices/Nelda-Spears), accessed February 13, 2019. “Travis County tax office mourns death of former Tax Assessor-Collector Nelda Wells Spears,” Travis County Tax Office, News Release, March 20, 2018 (https://tax-office.traviscountytx.gov/images/tax_assessor/pdfs/news/NEWS_180320NeldaWellsSpears.pdf), accessed February 13, 2019. 

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Women
  • Politics and Government
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Austin
  • Central Texas

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

Sheena Lee Cox, “Spears, Nelda Ann Wells,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/spears-nelda-ann-wells.

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May 1, 2019

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