Azie Taylor Morton: The One and Only

Today’s post was written by Billy R. Glasco, Jr., archivist at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

Since the dissolvement of the Freedman’s Bank, the peculiar history of financial institutions and the African American community has been woven into America’s cultural fabric.  This is why the appointment of Azie Taylor Morton to President Jimmy Carter’s administration was, and still is revolutionary.  On September 12,1977, President Carter appointed Azie Taylor Morton Treasurer of the United States.

3/4 portrait in black and white
Portrait of Azie Taylor Morton, US Treasurer, 1977-1981

Azie Taylor Morton was born in the rural town of Dale, Texas on February 1, 1936.  Morton once stated, “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.” (Canfield, 2001)  Morton was raised along with 14 other children by her maternal grandparents in Caldwell County, Texas.  Like many areas in the rural South in the mid 20th century, there were no high schools for African Americans in small towns like Morton’s hometown of Dale.  Morton moved 30 miles to Austin to attend the Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan school where she graduated at the top of her class at the age of 16.

After being denied admission to The University of Texas due to the state’s segregationist educational policies, Morton began her career as a teacher at the Crocker School for Girls.  After a year, Morton served as assistant to the President of Huston-Tillotson University.  Morton would go on to work at the Texas AFL-CIO headquarters in Austin.

Morton’s work with the AFL-CIO garnered the attention of the John F. Kennedy administration.  In 1961, President John F. Kennedy offered her a position with the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.  Morton would go on to hold several positions during her 20 year tenure with the EEO.

One Dollar Bill showing signature of Azie Taylor Morton

On September 12, 1977, Morton was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as the 36th Treasurer of the United States.  Morton was the first and only African American to hold the position.  Morton’s duties as treasurer included being the depositary officer of the United States with regards to gold, Special Drawing Rights, and financial gifts to the Library of Congress.  Morton also oversaw the United States Mint and Bullion Depository.  During her tenure as Treasurer, Morton’s signature also appeared on all Federal Reserve Notes.  

While serving as Treasurer of the United States, Morton also was a member of the American Delegation to Rome for the Enthronement of Pope John Paul II, Election Observer for Presidential elections in Haiti, Senegal, and the Dominican Republic.  After serving under the Carter Administration, Morton returned to Austin where she served on the Austin Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (HACA) from 1999 to 2001.  HACA would honor Morton by creating the Azie Morton Scholarship Fund to assist low-income residents who attended her alma mater of Huston-Tillotson University.

Azie Taylor Morton’s story is a story of perseverance and empowerment.  Morton, a sharecropper from rural Texas who became the Treasurer of the United States is a testament to how one can defy unfair circumstances to become the champion of your own destiny.

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