Essie Bellfield, first Black Mayor of Orange, TX and Southern University alumna, died at 89
'Bellfield gave 100 percent for Orange' says residents. She passed away Sunday, Jan. 23
The night she was elected as Orange mayor in 1998, Essie Bellfield won by fewer than 100 votes.
But she figured she deserved 100 percent of the ballots cast.
“I think everyone came (to vote) because of me,” she said. “I’m female. And I’m Black.
“They came out to vote for me … and they came out to vote against me. Everyone was a beneficiary.”
Bellfield passed away Sunday, Jan. 23 at age 89.
She was Orange’s first and still only female mayor and she was the first African-American mayor in city history.
“I’m a double minority, but I don’t think that way,” she said that May 1998 night after she defeated future Mayor Brown Claybar with 51.56% of the vote. “I see all people as people. I don’t see color or sex.”
Bellfield’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 5 at Salem United Methodist Church, 402 W. John Ave.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, well-wishers should donate to their favorite charity in her name.
Though she’s gone, no one who knew her will ever forget Bellfield.
“She was my role model,” said Rutha Clark, 80, who met Essie when she was 18 and chauffeured her around to club meetings across the South and, in recent years, to the store.
Bellfield was born May 6, 1932 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but grew up in Jennings, Louisiana, where her father was a lumberjack and her mother was housekeeper for owners of a rice mill.
Her family moved to Orange, where Bellfield’s mother worked for some of the city’s top families, including County Judge F.W. Hustmyre. Essie resided under those families’ roofs and grew up among their children.
“Her mother’s name was Ollie, but we called her ‘Big Momma’ and she worked at ‘the big house,’ said Clark.
“That’s what we called the house. They had an upstairs apartment behind the big house.”
Bellfield attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she stayed in the home of Willie Mae Benton, who spent time residing in both Orange and Baton Rouge and ultimately worked with Bellfield at Orange Memorial.
After earning her degree, Bellfield worked at the Galveston hospital before returning to Orange.
The future mayor headed up the housekeeping department for Orange Memorial Hospital for years.
The service to others exhibited by her mother and practiced in her hospital job was further exemplified by Bellfield’s membership in a handful of women’s service clubs and religious orders.
In her travels with those or civil rights organizations, or representing the city, Bellfield was always Orange’s No. 1 salesperson.
“She was a person who was always interested in her city,” said Clark, who was campaign treasurer for Bellfield’s run for mayor.
She loved her family.
Bellfield outlived her youngest daughter, Colletta, who died at 64 in 2016. Magna, named after the Magna Carta, is 70.
“Essie loved her children and put them up on a pedestal,” Benton said. “I have nothing but good things to say about her.
“You can write a magazine on Bellfield.”
Read entire story by Dave Rogers at The (Orange) Record
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