MORTON, AZIE TAYLOR (1936–2003). Azie Taylor Morton, first African American to serve as United States treasurer, daughter of Fleta Hazel Taylor, was born at St. John Colony in Dale, Texas, on February 1, 1936. She once told a college audience, “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.” She was raised by her maternal grandparents, and because her community had no high school for African Americans, she attended high school at the Texas Blind, Deaf and Orphan School, a charity-sponsored school for black children in Austin.
After graduating at age sixteen, Morton attended Huston-Tillotson College in Austin, graduating cum laude in 1956 with a bachelor of science degree in commercial education. She applied to graduate school at the University of Texas but was denied admission because she allegedly needed more undergraduate courses. When she applied to enroll in the undergraduate classes, she was refused admission because the university did not enroll African Americans.
Morton’s first job was teaching in a school for delinquent girls. After a year, she worked briefly as assistant to the president of Huston-Tillotson. By 1958 she was working as an administrative assistant at the Texas AFL-CIO in Austin, a post she held until 1961. From there, she moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as administrative assistant and community relations specialist for the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, created by executive order of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Subsequently, she became a complaint investigator and conciliator for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was created under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While in Washington, she married James Homer Morton on May 29, 1965. They had two daughters, Virgie and Stacey. From 1968 to 1971 she served as director of social services for the Model Cities program in Wichita, Kansas.
Morton worked as special assistant to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1971 until 1977, when she joined the staff of the U.S. House District Committee. On September 12, 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her U.S. treasurer, a position she held until January 20, 1981. During her tenure, she was responsible for the receipt and custody of government funds; her signature was printed on U.S. currency.
She also served in various foreign affairs capacities; she was an observer for presidential elections in Haiti, Senegal, and the Dominican Republic and was a representative to the first African/African American Conference held in Africa. Morton was part of the American delegation sent to Rome for the enthronement of Pope John Paul II and chaired a People to People Mission to China and the Soviet Union.
Active in Democratic Party politics throughout her career, she served as vice chairperson of the arrangement committee and deputy conference manager for the 1974 Democratic Conference on Party Organization in Kansas City. She worked as deputy convention manager for the 1976 Democratic National Convention and was a member of the DNC’s Compliance Review Commission in 1975 and 1976.
(Pictured above: $1 bill with Azie Morton-Taylor’s signature on the bottom left hand side)
After leaving the United States Treasury post, she worked for an investment firm in Washington before returning to Austin in the early 1990s. She was president of Exeter Capital Asset Management Company and co-owned and operated an independent bookstore that served Huston-Tillotson students.
Morton also served on several boards of directors. These included businesses such as HIV-VAC, a Nevada corporation involved in HIV research; the Austin-based Schlotzsky’s Deli; Wendy’s Hamburgers; and Citizens Funds, a mutual funds company where she served from 1991 to 2001, including five years as board chair. Among the nonprofit boards were St. Edward’s University in Austin; the nonpartisan National Democratic Institute that worked to strengthen democratic institutions worldwide; and the Austin Children’s Museum. She also served on the Austin Housing Authority Board of Commissioners from 1999 to 2001. The housing authority established a scholarship fund in Morton’s name after her death and donated $5,000 to award scholarships to low-income students attending Huston-Tillotson University. She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first Greek-lettered sorority established by African-American college women, and a lifelong member of the Baptist Church.
Morton died on December 7, 2003, at St. David’s Hospital in Austin from complications from a stroke she suffered the previous day at her home in Bastrop County.