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More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:
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Galveston Island has a compelling history when it comes to formal education, the school system, and teachers. Galveston's own Jessie McGuire Dent was a hero of the African American civil rights movement.
Born in 1891, she was a school teacher, a civil rights activist, and a champion of equal pay. Notably, she was among the founders of the prestigious Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. This organization has worked to empower women and minorities worldwide since its inception in 1913. As a young woman, she attended Central High School in the segregated city of Galveston and graduated in 1908. She then attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she would become one of the twenty-two women to found Delta Sigma Theta. Along with the other founders, she marched in the woman's suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., in 1913, wearing her cap and gown to symbolize the importance of education in the African American community.
Upon returning to Galveston, she was hired to teach English and Latin at Central High School, and in 1924, she married Thomas H. Dent, a Galveston civil rights attorney. Together, they helped form the Colored Independent Voters' League in 1930. Dent was the Dean of Girls for Central High School throughout her career. She was active in the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the NAACP, and the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs. She was also a great advocate of equal pay for African American teachers, and in 1943 she filed a petition requesting that Black teachers, administrators, and secretaries be paid the same amount as their White counterparts. This petition was initially denied, but Dent and her attorney persisted. After negotiations with the court, the school board was given until the fall of 1945 to equalize salaries fully, and Dent's advocacy was successful.
Unfortunately, Dent passed away in 1948, but her legacy lives on. In 1999, Galveston recognized her activism and civil leadership by naming the McGuire-Dent Recreation Center at Menard Park in her and her father's honor. The Gamma Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority of Galveston also established the Jessie McGuire-Dent Scholarship Fund. In 2021, state legislator Toni Rose introduced a resolution to recognize Dent for her role as a Delta Sigma Theta Sorority founder. An organization that contributes to the betterment of the state, the United States, and other nations.
Jessie McGuire Dent was a pioneer and a hero; her legacy will continue to be remembered and honored. She was a woman who dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of women and African Americans, and she should be an inspiration to us all.