Azie Taylor Morton Biography
Treasurer of the United States, civil servant
Azie Taylor Morton is distinguished as the only African American ever to hold the post of Treasurer of the United States. Appointed by President Jimmy Carter on September 12, 1977, Morton served as the United States' 36th Treasurer until January 20, 1981. Along with the Secretary of the Treasury, the Treasurer must sign Federal Reserve notes before they can become legal tender, thus Morton's signature was on U.S. currency for three years. Her work as U.S. Treasurer was preceded by many years of public service, and her upstanding character and giving spirit are well known in her Texas community. In spite of an underprivileged childhood, Morton's amazing accomplishments along with her gracious spirit give hope to those less fortunate. "It isn't luck, and it isn't circumstances, and it isn't being born a certain way that causes a person's future to become what it becomes," Morton said in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work. Her life's work is a strong testimony to her belief that a person can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
Azie Taylor was born on February 1, 1936, in Dale, Texas, to Fleta Hazel Taylor. Morton said in a speech to the student body of a small college in South Carolina (as quoted in Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work), "I was born to a mother who was deaf and could not speak. I do not know who my father is or was. The first job I ever had was in a cotton field." Morton was raised by her maternal grandparents, and because there was no high school for African Americans in Dale, she attended high school at a charity-sponsored school for black children in Austin called the Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School. She graduated there at the age of 16 with high grades, and enrolled at Huston-Tillotson, an all-black college in Austin, where she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in commercial education in 1956. Although she applied to graduate school at the University of Texas, her admission was denied on the grounds that she did not have enough undergraduate courses. Her admission was then denied for the undergraduate courses she needed based on Texas University's policy of not allowing African Americans into its undergraduate programs. In spite of this emotional setback, Azie began a fulfilling and successful forty-five year career. "Nothing has to remain the way it is if that's not the way a person wants it to be," Morton was quoted in Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work.
Morton spent a short time teaching at a state-supported school for delinquent girls after she graduated from college in 1956. After this, she returned to her alma mater to serve as assistant to the president of the college for a short time. In 1957 she applied and was hired as a staff member for the new Texas AFLCIO, a major labor union. She later moved to Washington to serve on President John F. Kennedy's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, beginning twenty years of service in the public sector that culminated with her appointment in 1977 as Treasurer of the United States. As Treasurer, Morton was responsible for the receipt and custody of government funds.
Morton also served on several important foreign affairs committees during her political career. She was a member of the American Delegation to Rome for the Enthronement of Pope John Paul II, and chair of a People to People Mission to the Soviet Union and China. She was also an Election Observer for the Presidential elections in Haiti, Senegal, and the Dominican Republic, and a representative to the first African/African American Conference held in Africa.
At home, Morton served on the Austin Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (HACA) from 1999 to 2001. On the PRWeb Web site, James L. Hargrove, Executive Director of HACA said that Morton "was a leading voice in the push for awarding scholarships to low-income residents." Consequently, the HACA set up the Azie Taylor Morton Scholarship Fund after her death, donating $5,000 in her name to provide scholarships for low-income students attending Huston-Tillotson College. Through this scholarship Morton will be remembered as a person who worked across racial, religious, and ethnic lines, and loved working with young people. In the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, Lavon Marshall, friend and colleague of Morton, said, "She tried to share with them her hardships growing up and tried to encourage them to do better."
In addition to her political career, Morton was one of the directors for a company called HIV-VAC, a Nevada corporation that conducts HIV research. She also served on the Citizens Fund Board of trustees for ten years, from 1991-2001, including five years as chair. At the time of her death, she was manager of Ram Bookstore, an independent store that served Huston-Tillotson students. She was president of Exeter Capital Asset Management Co., and a member of Schlotzsky's Deli board of directors. She had also previously served on the boards of Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers, St. Edward's University, the National Democratic Institute, and Austin Children's Museum. "She was a no-nonsense kind of woman but at the same time a caring woman," said Texas state representative Dawnna Dukes in the Austin American-Statesman. "She taught you that you could be a woman and an African American and succeed regardless of the obstacles before you."
Azie Taylor married James Homer Morton on May 29, 1965. The couple had two daughters, Virgie Floyd and Stacey Hurst, who later brought them two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren. James Homer Morton died in January of 2003. Morton's daughter Stacey recalled in a prize-winning essay posted on the Soulciti Web site that her mother used to invite students into their home who were unable to spend holidays with their families, and to provide furniture, clothing, and gifts to students who could not afford them. She did all of these good deeds, and "asks for nothing in return," her daughter wrote. "My father passed away in January 2003," Stacey says, "and she has suffered the loss of her life companion of 37 years. In the midst of the mourning, she is managing to financially support the weddings of both my sister and myself—within the same year—despite the loss of financial support provided from my father." Azie Taylor Morton passed away only months after her husband, on December 7, 2003 from complications of a stroke.
Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work, Health Communications, 1996.
Austin American-Statesman, December 9, 2003.
"Azie Taylor Morton, 1936-2003," soulciti, http://soulciti.com/morton (September 25, 2004).
"The Housing Authority of the City of Austin Dedicates Scholarship for Low-Income Students to Azie Taylor Morton," PRWeb, www.prweb.com/releases/2004/7/prweb145217.htm (September 26, 2004).