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Willie Lee Gay Collection

Identifier: MSS 0006

Scope and Content

The Willie Lee Gay Collection contains the professional and personal papers of teacher and historian Willie Lee Gay. This collection which dates from 1897 to 2012 includes newsclippings, publications, photos, research materials, programs, assorted photocopied images, and organizations that highlight her work as a historian in documenting and preserving the history of African American communities in Houston. This collection contains invaluable research on local houston history and prominent community members.


  • 1897 - 2012


All materials are in English.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from the Willie Lee Gay Collection must be obtained from African American Library at the Gregory School or the appropriate copyright holder.

Biographical note

A Texas historian for the past 30 years, Willie Lee Gay has been a vocal advocate and teacher for documenting the history of African American communities in Texas. In 1976, Gay made a concerted effort to save the historic Covington House in Third Ward from destruction. Dr. Benjamin Covington, a prominent African American doctor of the early 1900s, hosted such luminaries as Booker T. Washington and singer Marian Anderson at his home. Despite her efforts the historic structure was destroyed in the interests of redevelopment. She would use this experience as motivation to preserve other historic properties, determined never to let this happen again.

As a history teacher in Houston, she was never content to teach strictly from a textbook. Her teaching style incorporated an interdisciplinary approach, where students would conduct site visits, demonstrations, and hands-on research that involved students proactively. Her philosophy was to instill a passion for history and to make it real and relevant for her students. She founded the Junior Historian Club at the Carter G. Woodson Junior High School. Besides teaching, she became actively involved in many organizations that were dedicated to preserving history, such as the Harris County Heritage Society, the Harris County Historical Commission, and the Houston Preservation Alliance.

Her working relationship with former Governor Ann Richards led to her appointment as the first African American Commissioner of the Texas Historical Commission (1991-1997), where she dealt with historic preservation issues on a state-wide level. Ms. Gay currently continues her work of historic preservation in Houston and has contributed many entries on African Americans in the Handbook of Texas, a multidisciplinary encyclopedia of Texas history.


4.5 Linear Feet (9)

Arrangement note

This collection is arranged into eighteen series by material type and subject. The correspondence sereis is further arranged into two subseries. Items in boxes 4-7 are arranged at folder level.

Series I: Correspondence, 1968-1998; Subseries I: General Correspondence; Subseries II Greeting Cards and Invitations

Series II: News clippings

Series III: Research Notes

Series IV: Churches

Series V: Publications

Series VI: Funeral Programs

Series VII: Reports and Reprints

Series VIII: Ephemera

Series IX: Photographs

Series X: Organizations and Institutions

Series XI: Programs

Series XII: Artifacts and Realia

Series XIII: Legal Documents, 1915-2001

Series XIV: Flyers

Series XV: Maps and Diagrams

Series XVI: Miscellaneous

Series XVII: Christia Adair Materials

Series XVIII: Career

Acquisition Information

Donated by: Willie Lee Gay


Materials added to Willie Lee Gay Collection: August 2013

Digitized Materials

A portion of this collection has been digitized and is available through the Houston Area Digital Archives. Please view the digitized material at:

Related Collections

RG 0026 Harambee Club Collection

MSS 0013 Thelma Scott Bryant Collection

PH 0027 Willie Lee Gay Photograph Collection

MSS 0109 Christia V. Adair Collection

MSS 0158 Willie Lee Gay Collection

MSS MSS 0151 Willie Lee Gay and Carter G. Woodson Junior Historian #244 Collection

MSS 0452 Thelma Scott Bryant and Ira B. Bryant Papers

MSS 0155 Olee Yates McCullough Papers

The Houston Metropolitan Research Center holds related materials in the following collections:

MSS 1002 Rodney Ellis

Processing Information

Processed By: Vince Lee, October 2009; Addition processed by: Sheena Wilson, October 2017.

MSS 0006 Willie Lee Gay Collection
An Inventory of her Records at the African American Library at the Gregory School, Houston Public Library
Vince Lee
October, 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the African American History Research Center Repository


African American History Research Center
Houston Public Library
1300 Victor Street
Houston, Texas 77019
Houston History Research Center
Houston Public Library
550 McKinney St.
Houston, Texas 77002