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Austin Beginnings: An Exhibit of Memorable Austin Firsts
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First Year Firsts: 1839
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Photo: Henry Green Madison
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bullet: next itemPop quiz: who was the first black city council member? If you said Berl Handcox, you are not looking far enough into the past. The first black city council member took office on February 1, 1871, when reconstructionist Governor E.J. Davis reorganized the council and appointed shoemaker Henry Green Madison (1843-1912), from Ward 5, as an alderman. Madison's occupations included farm laborer, shoemaker, and policeman. The first elected black city council member was William G. Wilson, from Ward 10, who served as alderman from 1883 to 1884 and who was later the principal at East Austin Public School. By the way, Berl L. Handcox was the first elected black city council member under the Manager-Council form of government. Photo of Henry Green Madison courtesy of the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.

Photo: Emma Long
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bullet: next itemIt was 1948. A woman in Austin could vote, but she could not serve on a jury; she could not enter into a contract; she could not bring a suit in her own name. Despite this situation, in 1948 Emma Long became the first woman city council member -- also the first woman to be elected to any major city council in the state. She served on the council for over 16 years; during her 1967-1969 term she was Austin's first woman Mayor Pro Tem. Personal adversities did not thwart her desire to serve in public office: the first time she ran for council, her youngest son was 6 weeks old; when she filed for her race in 1963, she was confined to a wheelchair with a broken hip.

"…the Establishment said [we like] to have Emma Long [on the council] because she lets us know what is going on at City Hall, and she keeps [the Council] honest, but we wouldn't like to have 5 of her." Emma Long interview with Joe O'Neal, June 10, 1974.

"To my knowledge she has always been completely honest, and honesty means frankness which can sometimes be painful, depending on where you are standing. But you always knew exactly where Councilwoman Long stood…and sometimes it was on your neck." Cactus Pryor, Austin American-Statesman, April 13, 1969.

Photo: John Trevino
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bullet: next itemAt 27 years old, John Trevino became the first paid "anti-poverty" worker at Austin's first neighborhood center, The East 1st Neighborhood Center. In 1975, he became the first Hispanic city council member. In 1978, by selection of his fellow council members, he became the first Hispanic Mayor Pro Tem. As if that weren't enough firsts, he became the first Hispanic mayor of Austin for three months after the resignation of Carole Keeton Rylander in February of 1983. Trevino served on the city council for 13 years.

Photo: city council
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bullet: next item"I decided to run for mayor because I've always had the feeling that I really like to be where the action is." Carole Keeton Rylander, the first woman mayor of Austin, ran for office in 1977 against nine male candidates. Besides that first, she was the first woman to be President of the Austin School Board, the first Austin mayor elected to three terms, and the first Austin mayor to be the President of the Texas Municipal League. Rylander's interest in public office may have begun when whe was young and her father, Dean of the University of Texas Law School for twenty-five years, would give her "bedtime cases" instead of bedtime stories.

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