By Norma Adams-Wade
In the previous part I column, we discussed the legendary Black Dallas educator Norman Washington Harllee (c.1847/1853-1927) for whom the historic local N. W. Harllee Elementary School was named in 1928, the year after Harllee died. That incredibly-beloved school operated for 84 years until it closed under district budget cuts in 2012 – despite strong community objection.
The neighborhood institution reopened in 2015 and is now the N. W. Harllee Early Childhood Center, still at its original site 1216 E. Eighth St., across from the prominent Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center.
In this part II, we highlight some of the other Harllee family members whose achievements helped make this Black Dallas family a proud and true dynasty.
Florence Louise Harllee Phelps (4/18/1904 – 6/3/1999) was N. W. Harllee and wife Florence Belle Coleman Phelps’ daughter and one of their three children. She made her own illustrious history in Dallas. She graduated from Howard University and began teaching in Dallas in 1925 then earned three master’s degrees and completed other post-graduate studies.
She became a social worker in 1929 and was DISD’s first Black social worker. She helped establish the Graduate School of Social Work at University of Texas at Arlington and was the first Black professor at that graduate school. She established various state-level initiatives in social worker training and was a founder of Alpha Xi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in Dallas.
She was a director at Wiley College Extension School at Dallas and helped carry out adoptions at Hope Cottage Children’s Bureau in Dallas. She died at age 95, less than a month after the death of Dallas civil rights lead- er John C. Phelps Jr., her devoted caregiver and husband of 72 years.
John Clarence Phelps Jr. (Aug. 26, 1902 – May 16, 1999) was an exemplary husband and father, was front and center when many important Dallas Black community civic and business organizations were being formed. He was an insurance agent, Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce founding member, vice-president of the historic Progressive Voters League, and campaign manager in 1940 when Maynard Jackson Sr. was the first Black to run for the Dallas school board.
During World War II he chaired the Black community War Bond campaign, and in the late 1940s after WWII, he led the effort to get the first Black mailmen hired in Dallas. To cognize his many other civic and civil rights achievements in 1986, Magna Vista Park and Recreation Center in Oak Cliff were renamed John C. Phelps Park and Recreation Center and hiking Trail in his honor.
One point of distinction is that Dallas basketball great Chris Bosh says he has fond memories of practicing basketball at Phelps as a youth. Phelps was age 96 when he died.
Lucy Harllee Phelps Patterson (June 21, 1931 – June 15, 2000) — daughter of John Phelps Jr. and Florence Harllee and granddaughter of N. W. Harllee – was born in Dallas and graduated from Booker T. Washington H. S. at age 14.
In 1973, she became the first African-American woman elect- ed to the Dallas City Council, followed in 1975 by the iconic Juanita Craft who served with her on the council. Patterson, a Howard University and University of Denver graduate, followed her mother’s path into social work.
She advanced to administration in several Dallas County and nonprofit agencies. She was an associate professor of sociology at North Texas State University and a professor at Bishop College. She was appointed by two U. S. Presidents to White House commissions and was the first She died at age 68.
So, blood lines can produce powerful legacies that keep on giving. The Harllee-Phelps dynasty is certainly an example.
Norma Adams-Wade, is a proud Dallas native, University of Texas at Austin journalism graduate and retired Dallas Morning News senior staff writer. She is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and was its first southwest regional director. She became The News’ first Black full-time reporter in 1974. firstname.lastname@example.org