|2/24/2002 Langston a legendary educator
By KEN HALL/Special to the Daily Sun
Born June 8, 1935 to Clarence and Vera
Lacy, Tressie Langston spent her early years growing up in Troup where she discovered a love for sewing from her grandmother.
Sometime later the family moved to Tyler and Tressie continued learning the art of sewing. Having a desire to raise his family in a
small community her father moved them again, this time settling in the St. Louis community on the south side of Tyler. Because there
was no running water or sewage in the house it meant hauling water and using an outhouse.
It was in the St. Louis Community where
Tressie became involved in the 4-H program overseen by the county extension program. Her sewing skills enabled her to enter and win a
regional competition in bedroom improvement. The reward for this endeavor was a trip to Tuskegee, Ala. and the famous Tuskegee
Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington. It was her first trip out of the state.
While attending Emmett Scott High School
Tressie was active in basketball, Tri-Hi-Y, NHA and, of course, 4-H. The school was named after a leader in education and politics. Dr.
Scott was executive secretary of Tuskegee Institute from 1897-1915, during the administration of Washington. From 1919 until his
retirement in 1934 Dr. Scott also served as business manager at Howard University. He was coaxed out of retirement to become the
director of the Sun Shipbuilding Dry Dock Company, Yard No. 4, at Chester, Pa. during World War II, where nearly 18,000 blacks were
employed at its height. Dr. Scott died in 1957.
With a dream to pursue home economics as a
career, Tressie enrolled at Texas College after graduating from Scott. A scholarship from Delta Sigma Theta sorority enabled her to
meet the financial burdens. The entire family was thrilled, because her brother, Clarence Jr., entered Prairie View at the same time.
In the 1950s racism and segregation was still prevalent and a guidance counselor told Tressie the field of
commercial education, her first choice, was not open for blacks. Still holding on to her dreams she decided to become a home
demonstration agent but would also obtain a teaching certificate just in case things did not pan out. Work as a student teacher took
her to Arp Industrial High School where she was an assistant teacher for ninth and 11th grades and teacher for the 10th grade.
In May 1957, Tressie received her bachelor of science in home economics and awarded a Texas teachers
certificate for meeting the requirements to teach in elementary, high school and vocational homemaking. Striking out with her freshly
minted degree Tressie sought work in the extension service program. Finding no openings she then pursued something in the teaching
field, landing a position as homemaking teacher at Cooper High School. Since this was a new program at the school there was only a
half unit to teach. The remainder of her schedule encompassed teaching typing and music.
Fortune smiled on Tressie when a phone call
from her mother on Dec. 1, 1957, told of an extension opening in Navarro County. She was thrilled to hear the news, but it meant
finding a way to get out of her teaching contract at Cooper. The superintendent was not so happy, since this was a new program for
blacks, or "Negroes," and the families had been pleased with her. The school board liked her work, also. He mentioned she
could lose her certification by breaking her assignment, especially since this was her first job, and suggested she think on it a bit. A second meeting proved more fruitful after she explained how
important the move would be to her livelihood. Impressed by her determination permission was granted, and Tressie would gain her
release Dec. 30, 1957.
An interview was scheduled with the
Southern Negro District Extension Agent in mid-December and Tressie got the job as a Negro County home demonstration agent. Preparations
had to be made for the move to Corsicana. Tressie's father helped her find a car and arrangements were made for suitable housing. The
car became her first large financial obligation. Upon arrival in Corsicana, however, the promised lodging was unavailable. Calls were
made to a future co-worker and he set up an appointment with the landlady of another agent, who took her on the spot. With everything
now in place it was time to get to work.
Tressie arrived for her first day of work
at the Navarro County Courthouse on Jan. 3, 1958, and began a journey into an environment full of prejudice, racial hatred and
fear. For the next 33 years Tressie held her head high in spite of the negativity she had to face, overcoming many obstacles along the
On a happier note, Tressie met her husband, Wallace, who lived across from where she rented. Initially shy he was reluctant to approach her, but finally asked her out. In time
they became a couple, and on Aug. 12, 1961 the two became husband and wife. One of many qualities she loved about Wallace was his
understanding of her work requirements -- out of town trips, night work, and interacting with other men in the workplace. Tressie
always sought to better herself, and in 1976 she received a master of science in home economics from Texas Woman's University in
The years spent as an extension agent saw many changes, many of which dealing with the eradication of segregated offices, prejudiced agents, and a general unwillingness
on the part of some to adapt. Even though Tressie was able to advance she nonetheless encountered much difficulty in achieving her
dream: To help people better their lives. In recognition of her efforts she was finally named county chairman of the Navarro County
Extension Service Program in 1980. She also had a forum in the Corsicana Daily Sun, where the public was always informed of the
activities of the service in her weekly "Extension Notes" column.
The many well-deserved accolades given her
include: Distinguished Service Award by the National Association of Extension Home Economists (1974), Superior Service Award by the
State of Texas (1984), Corsicana Community Center Membership Award (1984), Jackson Ex-Students Association Distinguished Service Award
(1985), Corsicana Business and Professional Women's Club recognition for Outstanding Service to the Citizens of Navarro County (1990),
and cited by the Texas Senate with Resolution 30 by Sen. David Sibley for exceptional service to the people of Navarro County
The lasting testament to the dreams of Tressie Lee Lacy Langston can be found in the joy she had in helping many area young people involved in the 4-H programs overcome the
hardships of segregation and poverty.
Even after retiring from the extension
agency in 1992 Tressie continued to be active in the community until her passing on Jan. 11, 2000. Her presence is very much missed by those who knew and loved her.
Ken Hall is an occasional contributor to
the Daily Sun.
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