White, Lulu Belle Madison (1907–1957)

By: Merline Pitre

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: March 31, 2021

Lulu (or Lula) Belle Madison White, teacher and civil rights activist, was born in 1907 in Elmo, Texas, to Samuel Henry and Easter Madison. She attended elementary and high schools in Elmo and enrolled in Butler College in Tyler. Later she moved to Houston, where she met and married businessman Julius White. The couple raised two foster children. Shortly after her marriage, White enrolled at Prairie View College. After receiving a bachelor's degree in English, she embarked on a teaching career in the Heights, a Black community on the outskirts of Houston. Before White could be considered for a teaching post in the Houston Independent School District, she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Her husband had been a member of the Houston NAACP for some time and had been the plaintiff in several White primary cases. White resigned her teaching post in the Heights community and devoted all of her time to the NAACP and its struggle to eliminate the state's White primary in the early 1930s. Until the late 1940s White served the NAACP as director of the Youth Council, fund-raiser, and organizer of new chapters throughout the state. In 1939 she became the president of the Houston chapter upon the death of C. F. Richardson. In 1943, under her fund-raising leadership, the Houston chapter became the largest in the South, and White became the first paid executive secretary. Her seven-year tenure in the post brought her state and national attention. After the Supreme Court handed down its 1944 decision in Smith v. Allwright, which finally outlawed the White primary, White was at the forefront of educating Blacks to vote. When the NAACP looked for a case that would integrate the University of Texas in 1945, White chose the plaintiff, Heman Marion Sweatt, and, with the legal core of the NAACP, pursued the case of Sweatt v. Painter to the Supreme Court. Sweatt later credited White's leadership for maintaining his own resolve. White was also in the vanguard of the movement to get equal salaries for Black and White teachers. When local Blacks reported cases of discrimination in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Lulu White was the one who responded. Politically liberal, White joined James Frank Dobie, Sweatt, and others in 1948 in an effort to get Henry Wallace's Progressive party on the presidential ballot in Texas. White's friendships with Walter White, Daisy Lampkin, Thurgood Marshall, and Roy Wilkins enabled her to exert influence on the NAACP nationally. She resigned as executive secretary of the Houston chapter in 1949 and became state director of the NAACP. She remained in the latter post until her death on July 6, 1957, possibly of heart failure. She was buried in Houston. The week before her death the national NAACP established the Lulu White Freedom Fund in her honor.

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Michael L. Gillette, "Heman Marion Sweatt: Civil Rights Plaintiff," in Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times, ed. Alwyn Barr and Robert Calvert (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981). Michael L. Gillette, "The Rise of the NAACP in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 81 (April 1978). Houston Informer, July 13, 1957.

  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Women
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
  • Education
  • Educators
  • English and Journalism
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Merline Pitre, “White, Lulu Belle Madison,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/white-lulu-belle-madison.

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December 1, 1995
March 31, 2021

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