Friends and allies of former Dallas School board president Kathlyn Gilliam quietly mourned her death early Sunday afternoon. She had fought a 13-month battle with cancer.
Gilliam, 81, was the first black woman in history to serve on the Dallas school board, elected in 1974 after a court battle to end white domination of the board. Her 23-year tenure on the board included a two-year term as the board's first black president serving from 1980-'82.
Before joining the board she was a stalwart of the long battle to desegregate Dallas schools, a process that dragged on longer here than in cities in the Old South.
On the board, Gilliam was always decorous but strong-willed and assertive, a style that often infuriated the old leadership and earned her a number of well-financed opponents, all of whom she defeated until finally losing her seat to Ron Price in 1997.
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Gilliam remained active in community organizing in South Dallas through groups she helped found and lead, including Clean South Dallas/Fair Park and the Dallas chapter of the Political Congress of African-American Women.
This year the school district opened a new college preparatory high school adjacent to the University of North Texas at Dallas named the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy. Joyce Foreman, a friend and political ally of Gilliam, said Sunday evening that Gilliam's family and friends, who all knew she had been suffering, were gratified she had lived long enough to attend the October 8, 2011, dedication of the school named for her.
"She never forgot South Dallas," Foreman said.