Remembering Houston civil rights activist Beatrice Green

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A civil rights legend who lived to be 108 was laid to rest Friday. Beatrice Lehman Green may not be a household name, but she helped make Houston and our state more equitable for everyone.

Green moved to Houston from Louisiana in 1939 looking for work.

Family and friends described her as a gentle soul, but with the toughness to fight against segregation and discrimination, not just in public facilities, but in politics and even church. As a life-long Lutheran, Green went looking for a church in her new city.

"She went to Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston," said John Williams, a friend. "And they said 'I'm sorry, we can't let you in through the front door, you have to come in the back.'"

Green didn't go back. Instead, she helped build a new Lutheran church for African Americans in the Third Ward.

Using donated lumber and their own labor, "within three or four years they co-founded Holy Cross Lutheran Church," said Williams.

She also became involved in civil rights, pushing for equality in Houston, then traveling to Austin on the weekends with other activists.

"They would pack a lunch on Friday," Green's cousin, Deloris Johnson recalled. "Sit out on the Capitol grounds all Friday night, Saturday night and come home Sunday until Blacks could vote. That was in the late 50s and early 60s."

Once the voting rights bill passed in 1965, Green immediately became involved in city and county politics, working the polls until she was 94. She also had a mantra.

"She would always tell us to get out and vote. Get out and vote," said her great-granddaughter Kionna Lemalle. "So, I don't take that lightly."

When Green arrived in Houston, she was looking for a job. She was hired by a prominent Houston family to take care of their children and act as an assistant, including a man who went on to hold one of the most powerful positions in the world.

Former Secretary of State James Baker was only nine when she came to his home. It was a relationship that would last the rest of their lives, despite the fact that they had very different political views.

"I think it was a different world, but they talked a lot," said Williams. "She taught him lessons of honesty, integrity, the power of love, the importance of Jesus Christ in your life and he carried that with him throughout his life."

It was Baker who introduced her to former President Barack Obama when she was 105, and family members said Obama told her that her life's work helped to get him elected as the first Black president.

Green's cousin, Sharon, described their last time together.

"She died that Tuesday, and the Sunday before, he came to see her to say goodbye to her. To tell her that he loved her. He cried and told her goodbye. How he appreciated what she did for him."

Baker, who is now 91, delivered the eulogy at Green's funeral, and talked about the huge impact she had on his life.

There is another moving part to her funeral service.

"The beautiful part about this story is that now at 108, when she passed away, she's got the final service, Williams said. "It will be at Trinity Lutheran Church, the same congregation that wouldn't let her in the front door when she was young, is making sure that she leaves the earth through the front door of their church."

Follow Melanie Lawson on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.