She was born to a hearing impaired and mute mother in 1936. She never knew her father. It is possible that Azie Taylor’s mother was a victim of sexual assault of which her birth was a product. Because she was African- American and because she was poor, not much is truly known about her childhood in Dale, Texas, other than she picked cotton and was raised by her maternal grandparents.
Although Dale was in proximity to Austin, it did not have schools for African- American students. Azie’s grandparents saw their granddaughter’s natural curiosity, and ability to retain information and enrolled her in the only school that was available to her at the time, a charity-sponsored school called the Texas Blind, Deaf and Orphaned School. Taylor’s teachers quickly noticed that the shy girl was naturally gifted in the area of mathematics and mastered her other subjects so quickly that she became a high school graduate at the age of 16. Uncertain of what to do with her education because her only frame of reference to making a living was cotton farming, Azie sought the wisdom of her math teacher who had become a mentor.
With help and encouragement from a teacher who believed in this poor, seemingly forgotten young girl, Azie enrolled at Huston-Tilloston, Austin’s all-black college where she majored in math. As a cum laude graduate, Taylor’s skill was noted by the faculty. She applied to graduate school at the University of Texas. Her application was denied, not because she lacked the ability to attain an advanced degree, but because at the time, UT did not allow African- American women into its graduate school. Disappointed, but determined not to allow this setback to keep her from success, Taylor became a teacher, modeling the traits that she had seen in her high school math teacher as she taught at a school for delinquent girls before being hired by Huston-Tilloston as an assistant to the president. A bigger opportunity knocked and Taylor answered, becoming a staff member at a major Texas labor union.
After taking this job, Taylor married James Morton. The Mortons were each gifted in the areas of math and finance. Their skills led them to Washington, D.C. where they became involved in politics. Azie Taylor Morton served on the Committee on Equal Opportunity Employment developed by President John F. Kennedy for more than two decades. In 1977, 41-year-old Morton became the Treasurer of the United States. Yes, the signature on paper currency from the years 1977-1981 was that of one who was the daughter of a deaf, mute, intellectually disabled mother, an unknown father, who was raised by poor, uneducated grandparents who believed in her, and challenged by teachers who knew her potential Azie Taylor Morton. She was the first African- American to ever possess the title of Treasurer of the United States.
Despite her important title and the fact that she would remain involved politically until 2001, Morton never forgot about her family. She and her husband raised two daughters and Morton challenged her daughters to do good for others without expecting anything in return. Morton established programs to assist young women who much like herself, would never be able to obtain an education if not for assistance from others. The Mortons frequently opened their home on holidays to young girls who were homeless or estranged from their families. They provided gifts of books, clothing, furniture and financial assistance to girls who needed these things to make it in college. Azie would never accept payment, but would request of those who benefitted to better their own lives so that they could benefit others. One of the ideals that she upheld and instilled in her own daughters and in many other young ladies was this, “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 challenged all of her girls to resolve to use their gifts to make their lives and the lives of others better in every way.
Her life began in poverty with very few believing that she would be able to master basic skills or live anywhere besides her grandparents’ farm. With the faith of her grandparents, the encouragement of her teachers, and an internal resolve to make a positive difference, Azie Taylor Morton not only left her mark on American history, but also on countless generations.
Plant your feet on a firm foundation. Find your cheerleaders. Seek out opportunities that will make a difference in your own life and in those of others.
Also, if anyone has a dollar bill from 1977-1981 with Azie’s stamped signature, I’ll trade you a $5 bill for it.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.