Willie, Carrie Sykes (1891–1990)

By: Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: September 29, 2020

Carrie Sykes Willie, teacher and one of the first Black women in Texas to attain a college degree, was born in Haughton, Louisiana, on January 31, 1891, the youngest of four children of former slaves Enoch and Henrietta Sykes. Her father was illiterate, and her mother had only rudimentary reading and writing skills, but they made formal education a priority for their children. Seeking the best schools available for them, the family lived in several areas of Louisiana before settling in Marshall, Texas, in the early 1900s. There Sykes used his skills as a blacksmith to gain employment at Wiley College. The struggling Black institution was unable to pay him a regular salary but agreed to provide part of the tuition for his daughter's education at Wiley in exchange for his labor. Carrie enrolled in Wiley in 1910. She cleaned teachers' homes and took in laundry with her mother to finance her education. In 1921, after eleven years of study, she earned her bachelor's degree in liberal arts. Soon after her graduation she married Louis James Willie, a Pullman porter with an eighth-grade education. The couple moved to Dallas in 1925, where they raised their five children. Mrs. Willie taught in the Dallas Independent School District for a few years but then chose to concentrate on educating her own children to prepare them for college. She established an informal school in her home to supplement their work in math, literature, geography, and history; her husband often joined the classes also. Despite depression-era hardship Carrie Willie consistently encouraged her children to attend college; she set aside as much money as possible to assist in this endeavor. All of her children did continue their schooling, including two sons who attended their mother's alma mater. Her children earned ten degrees of higher education among them, and each one established a successful professional career. At the time of Mrs. Willie's death, she had seen two sons become successful business leaders, one a dentist, one a professor of sociology at Harvard University, and her daughter a teacher. Carrie Willie was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and participated in the National Council of Negro Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Young Women's Christian Association. She died on October 18, 1990, in Syracuse, New York, where she had moved a year earlier to live with her daughter. Following her funeral in Dallas, she was buried there in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. She was preceded in death by her husband in 1978 and was survived by her daughter, four sons, and numerous grandchildren.

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Dallas Morning News, October 23, 1990. Dallas Times Herald, October 24, 25, 1990.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • General Education
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Women
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, “Willie, Carrie Sykes,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/willie-carrie-sykes.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995
September 29, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: