Okay, you history buffs and political savants, who was the 36th Treasurer of the United States? Yep, this is a toughie and don’t look down the page at the photo and the caption. Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. You can ask thousands of so-called experts on the U.S. government and they won’t know. This columnist didn’t know even after several clues. Give up? The answer is Azie Taylor Morton and she held this position during the Jimmy Carter administration from 1977 to 1981.
As you can see from her photo, Azie was a Black woman, the first and only one to be the nation’s treasurer. If you go online to see her image, she is often pictured with a piece of currency, denoting her connection with treasury, her role of significance, and the fact that her signature was on each piece of currency.
Born to Fleta Hazel Taylor, a deaf mute on Feb. 1, 1936 in Dale, Texas, or more specifically in St. John Colony, a farming community, she did not know her father and was one of 14 children raised by maternal grandparents. Like her siblings, Azie picked and chopped cotton. Oddly, during her formative years of education she attended a school for the blind and the deaf, which she wasn’t. This was her high school because there was none for African Americans. At sixteen, she graduated at the top of her class.
In 1952, Azie began attending Huston-Tillotson, an all-Black college in Austin, Texas. She was an excellent student and graduated cum laude in 1956 with a bachelor of science degree in commercial education. As a graduate of Huston-Tillotson, she applied for a graduate program at the University of Texas but was denied and told she did not have enough undergraduate courses. Even if she had the required courses the school did not allow African Americans to enroll. She then took a job as a teacher at the Crocker School for Girls, primarily a state-sponsored school for delinquents.
After being employed there for a year, she was hired as Huston-Tillotson’s assistant to the president. Several months later she was tapped to work at the Texas AFL-CIO state headquarters in Austin. President Kennedy then invited her to work for the Committee on Equal Opportunity, and she remained with the committee for 20 years, in various capacities. In 1965, she married James Homer Morton.
When President Carter offered her the opportunity to serve as the treasurer of the U.S. she accepted and held that position throughout his tenure. Moreover, she was a member of the American Delegation to Rome for the Enthronement of Pope John Paul II in 1978 and later chair of the People to People Mission to the Soviet Union and China in 1986. She was an election observer for the presidential elections in Haiti, Senegal, and the Dominican Republic. Also, when the first African/African American Conference was held in Africa she was a representative.
From 1999 to 2001, after she returned to Austin, Azie served on the Austin Housing Authority Board of Commissioner (HACA). Her commitment and dedication to HACA resulted in the creation of the Azie Morton Scholarship Fund for low-income students at Huston-Tillotson. Her membership in organizations was extensive, including Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
She was at home in 2003 when she experienced a massive stroke. She died the following day from complications due to the stroke. Her husband died in January 2003. In 2018, Robert E. Lee Road was renamed the Azie Morton Road as a tribute to her service.