Maude Evangeline Craig Sampson Williams, civil rights activist, NAACP leader, educator, suffragist, community organizer and leader, was born in Texas in February 1880 to George Washington Craig and Marie (Sanders) Craig. Her father was a grocer, and the family lived in Austin while she was growing up. The Craigs sent a number of their children to college, and in 1900 Maude Craig graduated from Prairie View State Normal College (now Prairie View A&M University), the state college for African American teachers. Maude Craig moved to El Paso in 1904 and became a teacher at the Frederick Douglass School in that city.
Maude married Edward D. Sampson on June 8, 1907. Maude Sampson was one of the founding organizers of the Parent’s Organization at the Douglass School. In 1914 she was among the founders of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, a local civic organization for black women that was part of a national network of black women’s clubs. During World War I she organized and participated in a variety of war work activities, including events for African American soldiers stationed near El Paso.
From 1917 to approximately1924, she served as vice president of the El Paso chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This NAACP chapter was the first established in Texas when it organized officially in 1914. Edward Sampson was also an active member.
A few months after she was elected to the NAACP board, Sampson held a meeting in her home on June 12, 1918, for local black and white women to meet and discuss woman suffrage and upcoming election information. The meeting included a number of officers from the El Paso Equal Franchise League—the local white woman suffrage organization and the city's member of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, which was the state’s National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) affiliate. The El Paso Herald reported that the white suffragists gave talks on topics including "registration and how to register" and information on the formation of "negro [auxiliaries] to the National Suffrage League." That night, the El Paso Negro Woman's Civic and Enfranchisement League formed at a meeting at the African American Masonic Temple.
Sampson was elected chairperson of the African American women’s league, and among the group’s twenty officers were Esther Calvin Nixon, Viola Washington, Leona White, and multiple others associated with the local NAACP. Sampson spoke at numerous meetings on woman suffrage in El Paso in the following weeks. In the meantime, in preparation for the upcoming 1918 July Texas Democratic party primary, for which recent state legislation provided women the opportunity to vote, the county's Democratic executive chairman asked Belle C. Critchett, the recording secretary and former president of the El Paso Equal Franchise League, to suggest the names of a few women to serve as clerks in the county election. In addition to gathering a number of white women's names, Critchett asked Sampson for a few names of African American women with interest in serving as election clerks. According to Critchett, the county chairman “indignantly” turned down the black women's names. In a letter to TESA Corresponding Secretary Edith Hinkle League, Critchett recounted how she had to rescind her request of Sampson.
Sampson wrote to NAWSA executive Maude Wood Park in June 1918 to enroll her local league as an auxiliary branch to the national suffrage organization. Following Sampson's request, a series of letters flew back and forth between white NAWSA and TESA leaders, including national president Carrie Chapman Catt and Texas president Minnie Fisher Cunningham. NAWSA amended its constitution the year before, in 1917, to keep African American leagues from directly associating with the national organization because white suffrage leaders feared that it would upset southern campaigning and members. The only way local groups could affiliate with NAWSA by this point was directly through their state's association.
When Catt wrote to the TESA leaders, the NAWSA president was enormously blunt. She stated, “I presume that no colored women’s leagues are members in southern states, although I do not know positively that this is true…. I think in some northern states, individual colored women are direct members. Of course, these women in the North are women with a good deal of white blood and are educated women, otherwise they would not be asking auxiliaryship.”
Furthermore, Catt wrote, “The question has not been publicly fought out in our association, for the reason that the memberships come through the state and the states have not found it difficult to settle their own problems along this line. The constitution was amended last year, so that such a club as Mrs. Sampson’s, could not come into the National Association directly.”
Finally, Catt advised that, while it was a state decision, TESA leaders should inform Sampson that they "will be able to get the vote for women more easily if they do not embarrass you by asking for membership." When Cunningham responded to Sampson, she informed the El Paso civil rights leader that since the local group's application for membership was the first of its kind, it required delegate action, and the next convention would not be until the following spring. The TESA president went on to say that she hoped the federal amendment would be ratified by then, insinuating that TESA would not have to act. There is no record of Sampson’s response, or if she gave one directly. She did not, though, shy away from future political involvement.
Two years later, as the Nineteenth Amendment moved along through the last few states, Texas primary election season came around again. Alongside white and black women, Sampson served as a precinct campaign organizer for the prohibition candidate in the Democratic primary, Robert E. Thomason. Thomason was the favorite among many suffragists across the state—including Cunningham and Critchett, the latter who also served as a precinct chair. Like African Americans across the state, Sampson’s future primary participation was restricted further when the Texas legislature implemented a law in 1923 that defined voting access in primary elections as for whites only (see WHITE PRIMARY).
Maude Sampson played a life-long role in the El Paso NAACP. After her husband Edward died on March 12, 1926, she married local dentist Emerson Milton Williams on May 10, 1929. During those years and after, the El Paso NAACP won two Supreme Court of the United States cases, Nixon v. Herndon (1927) and Nixon v. Condon (1932). Both rulings, pursued by the same plaintiff Lawrence Aaron Nixon, played a major role in overturning the state’s white primary structure.
Emerson Williams passed away in 1947. By the 1950s Maude Williams was in her seventies as she served as chair of the Legal Redress Committee of the El Paso NAACP. She was enormously productive in the role. The local paper reported regularly on her activities, including her public inquiries into the public housing shortages for African Americans, the city’s subdivision plans that threatened black homeowner’s property values, and her questioning of city expenditures on recreation facilities for the black community.
In the fall of 1954, only months after the first Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, Williams’s committee planned their next move. Maude Williams and Thelma Joyce White, the valedictorian of the city's black high school, arrived at Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso), associated with the segregated University of Texas system, to register White for classes. Williams carried with her the registration fees supplied by the NAACP chapter. White was denied registration and turned away due to the state’s laws segregating its schools at all levels. Subsequently, the local NAACP filed a lawsuit in the U.S. district court that demanded the desegregation of Texas Western, White v. Smith. In July 1955 Judge Robert Thomason ruled to desegregate Texas Western. Among the first class of African American students was Joseph Louis Atkins, whose lawsuit against North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas) eventually led to the desegregation of that school shortly after Texas Western.
In June 1957 Maude Williams moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to live with her two sisters, Ruby Craig King and Katie Craig Jones. On March 13, 1958, Maude Williams was struck by a truck and killed as she crossed the street in Oklahoma City. Services were held in Fuller Funeral Home in Austin, and she was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Austin near many of her siblings and her parents. In 1968 the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance in El Paso created a Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of Lawrence A. Nixon, Maude Williams, Leroy W. Washington, and other civil rights leaders from the community for a student attending the University of Texas at El Paso.