Born in 1930, Kathlyn Joy Gilliam took Dallas by storm as both a civil rights activist and a champion for education. As a mother of three, Gilliam found herself advocating for both her children and the community in the pursuit of equal access to quality education. Her life mission was to eliminate educational disparities for youth in heavily populated minority neighborhoods.
From a young age, Gilliam was a political activist. She served as the president of the then segregated Dallas City Council PTA school board in the 1960s and as the secretary of the Texas Congress of Colored PTAs in the 1970s. Gilliam was also one of the many plaintiffs in a leading federal case to desegregate Dallas public schools, in addition to being a founding member of the Political Congress of African American Women.
In 1974, Gilliam was elected the first African American female trustee of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). She served as a trustee for 23 years and lead the group as president of the board for the 1980-1982 term.
Gilliam’s advocacy in the Dallas educational movement still shines on today. In October 2011, the school board voted to name a school after her – the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy. Gilliam’s passions also included strengthening her beloved community – sunny South Dallas, where she resided for nearly all her 81 years. She was a founder of the Clean South Dallas/Fair Park, Inc. – a litter abatement and beautification project, and other countless movements in the South Dallas area. Gilliam championed the citizens of South Dallas and believed in the majesty and restoration of the community.
In 2021, Gilliam’s legacy still lives on through the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Museum – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to preserve and continue her civil rights and educational reform efforts. The museum provides a safe and inspiring environment where community members can help build a solid educational foundation for children and youth, while developing community and business leaders for generations to come. The Museum displays Gilliam’s awards, books, writings, photos, and serves the community as a learning center providing a Youth Debate Team, a meeting space, and a reading resource room that hosts students and community members in a common space. Its goal is to expand its offering to include guided reading programs, computer literacy initiatives, and summer reading camps. The museum has served as a meeting place for teaching and learning – inspiring and training a new generation to practice Gilliam’s strategies for creating more learning opportunities for our youth; empowering the South Dallas community to renew its greatness and pursue new avenues for community development.
In 2020 and 2021, the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Museum was devastated by two fires, causing significant damage to the landmark’s structure. As their friend and neighbor, the State Fair of Texas would like to encourage you to join us in spreading the word about the Museum or supporting them as they rebuild. If you’re able to make a donation to the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Museum any amount is appreciated, and you can do so online at Kathlynjoygilliammuseum.org/support.
Together, we can ensure Kathlyn Gilliam’s legacy shines on for decades to come.