Austin lost one of its great educators and civil rights leaders on Saturday, September 28 when Mrs. Willie Mae Kirk died at the age of 92. Best known for her roles in Austin politics and as a teacher, Mrs. Kirk actively fought discrimination whether in the classroom or community. Born in Manor, Texas, Mrs. Kirk attended Old Anderson High School and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1947 from Sam Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University). She retired from teaching school in 1982, the same year her husband Lee Kirk died. She received numerous honors and appointments, including an appointment to the first Civil Rights Commission for the city. The City of Austin renamed the Oak Springs Branch Public Library in her honor in 2012.
Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement, said, ” It is difficult to estimate how much we owe Willie Mae Kirk for her efforts in civil rights. Without her efforts, the Carver Museum and Library would not be the beloved institution it is today. The Mother’s Action Committee she co-founded along with Bertha Means in 1963 played an important role in integration in the city. Mrs. Kirk remained an active leader and role model for the Austin community until the very end of her life.”