While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

WILLIE, CARRIE SYKES (1891–1990). Carrie Sykes Willie, teacher and one of the first black women in Texas to attain a college degree, was born in Haughton, Louisiana, on January 31, 1891, the youngest of four children of former slaves Enoch and Henrietta Sykes. Her father was illiterate, and her mother had only rudimentary reading and writing skills, but they made formal education a priority for their children. Seeking the best schools available for them, the family lived in several areas of Louisiana before settling in Marshall, Texas, in the early 1900s. There Sykes used his skills as a blacksmith to gain employment at Wiley College. The struggling black institution was unable to pay him a regular salary but agreed to provide part of the tuition for his daughter's education at Wiley in exchange for his labor. Carrie enrolled in Wiley in 1910. She cleaned teachers' homes and took in laundry with her mother to finance her education. In 1921, after eleven years of study, she earned her bachelor's degree in liberal arts. Soon after her graduation she married Louis James Willie, a Pullman porter with an eighth-grade education. The couple moved to Dallas in 1925, where they raised their five children. Mrs. Willie taught in the Dallas Independent School District for a few years but then chose to concentrate on educating her own children to prepare them for college. She established an informal school in her home to supplement their work in math, literature, geography, and history; her husband often joined the classes also. Despite depression-era hardship Carrie Willie consistently encouraged her children to attend college; she set aside as much money as possible to assist in this endeavor. All of her children did continue their schooling, including two sons who attended their mother's alma mater. Her children earned ten degrees of higher education among them, and each one established a successful professional career. At the time of Mrs. Willie's death, she had seen two sons become successful business leaders, one a dentist, one a professor of sociology at Harvard University, and her daughter a teacher. Carrie Willie was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and participated in the National Council of Negro Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Young Women's Christian Association. She died on October 18, 1990, in Syracuse, New York, where she had moved a year earlier to live with her daughter. Following her funeral in Dallas, she was buried there in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. She was preceded in death by her husband in 1978 and was survived by her daughter, four sons, and numerous grandchildren.

Dallas Morning News, October 23, 1990. Dallas Times Herald, October 24, 25, 1990.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, "WILLIE, CARRIE SYKES," accessed July 03, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwitw.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...