Volma Overton Papers
An Inventory of the Collection
Volma Robert Overton, Sr. was an African American civil rights leader, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP and employee of the United States Postal Service in Austin and Travis County, Texas. He was born to Nicholas and Eliza Edmondson Overton in Maha, Texas, in rural Travis County on September 26, 1924. He was the fourth of nine children. He attended a segregated African American school in Maha and then moved to Austin, Texas to live with relatives while attending L. C. Anderson High School where he graduated in 1942. Soon after graduation Overton was drafted into the United States Marine Corps and served two years in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Overton would later rejoin the United States Army Reserves serving for twenty-eight years and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
After his honorable discharge from the Marines Overton returned to Austin where he met Warneta B. Hill, a Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) student. The couple was married on April 16, 1946, and would eventually become parents to one boy, Volma Jr., and three girls, Florence, Sharlet and DeDra. From 1947 to 1950 Overton attended Tillotson College where he earned a B.S. in chemistry. After working in the service industry for a few years Overton joined the United Postal Service in 1952. It quickly became clear that African American and white postal workers were not treated equally and Overton joined the National Alliance of Postal Workers, a union of mostly African American maintenance and janitorial workers, and served as the organization's president for two years. He began advocating for the rights of African American postal workers, beginning his lifelong career as an advocate for civil rights and equality.
In 1962, the president of the Austin branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Rev. J. L. Dawson, announced he was leaving town and several community members asked Overton to take the position. In his capacity as the Austin branch president he participated in the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. Locally he addressed issues of discrimination starting with integrating the swimming pool at Bastrop State Park in 1963. The three most significant actions Overton took during his tenure as president were advocating for Austin City Council to establish a Human Rights Commission to deal with discrimination complaints; participating as a plaintiff in the school desegregation lawsuit against the Austin Independent School District (AISD); and lead a campaign to bring about single-member districts for Austin city council elections. In April 1964, Overton staged a "read-in" during City Council meeting to protest council's refusal create an anti-discrimination ordinance and establish a Human Relations Commission to address complaints of discrimination. When city council declined to discuss the issue any further the NAACP continued to filibuster the city council meetings and picket outside City Hall. As a result of the continued pressure of the NAACP a Human Relations Commission was eventually established but it would be years before it was a functioning entity and Overton was disappointed that it was only an advisory board. In 1970s, after years of AISD refusing to make meaningful progress in desegregating the school system Overton made his daughter, DeDra Overton, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit with the federal government. In 1980, the U.S. District Judge finally gives approval to the consent decree settling the desegregation suit although disputes over busing continued through the 1980s. And then in 1984 Overton brought a suit against the City of Austin to review whether the City's at-large, majority place system for election of city council member violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. City council responded by putting the prospect to a vote in 1985, the measure failed and the U.S. Fifth Circuit of Appeals eventually dismissed the case in 1989. It took six more votes on geographic representation for the proposition to finally pass in 2012. Overton was also instrumental in the establishment of the local NAACP chapter's credit union in East Austin.
Overton stepped down as the president the Austin branch of the NAACP in 1983 but would continue to advocate for equality and increased educational opportunities for people of color for the rest of his life. In the mid-1970s Overton filed a class action suit against the United States Postal Service for refusing to promote African American employees on the basis of race. The judge eventually threw the case out maintaining there was not enough evidence. In 1979, Overton was appointed postmaster at Cedar Creek, Texas, and served there until his retirement in 1985. Stepping down from a leadership role in the local branch of the NAACP allowed Overton more time to participate in some of his favorite pastimes, ballroom dancing and golf. Overton also served as a deacon and lay leader at the First Baptist Church of Austin, a church he joined in 1963.
Overton was the recipient of many awards for his civil right work including the NAACP Arthur B. DeWitty Award in 1967, The Villager newspaper's Austin Living Legends award, and in 2004 he was one of five civil rights pioneers presented with the first LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Right by the University of Texas at Austin. Overton died on October 31, 2005 and was laid to rest with military honors in the Texas State Cemetery.
Sources: Carolyn Jones, Volma, My Journey: One Man's Impact on the Civil Rights Movement in Austin, Texas (Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1998); Johnnie M. Overton, Handbook of Texas Online ( https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fov02 : accessed 17 December 2018), “Overton, Volma Robert, Sr.”; and Texas State Cemetery (https://cemetery.tspb.texas.gov/pub/user_form.asp?pers_id=10875: accessed 17 December 2018), “Volma Robert Overton, Sr.”
The Volma Overton Papers, dated 1937-2007, are a combination of Austin branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) records and personal materials documenting Overton's personal life and interests. The collection contains correspondence, writings and speeches, legal documents, administrative records, newspaper clippings, flyers, memorabilia, reports, publications, subject files and photographs and is arranged into two series: NAACP Records and Personal Papers. Overton was the president of the Austin branch of the NAACP for more than twenty years and continued to be active in the causes of equality and education for the remainder of his life so there is a significant amount of overlap between the NAACP records and his personal records. As arranged, approximately two thirds of the collection (4 linear feet) are related to the NAACP and one third (2 linear feet) are personal records. Because there was little original order to the collection upon donation efforts to separate the personal materials from the NAACP records were made by the processor to aid researchers, thus may not accurately reflect how Overton viewed the materials.
The majority of the NAACP records (1958-2006) document the activities and efforts of the Austin branch but also include materials distributed to the branches by the Texas State Conference of Branches, Southwest Region and the national organization. Administrative records, correspondence, meeting minutes, financial records, publicity materials, event and conference documentation, legal records, newspaper clippings, and reports highlight Overton's work with the NAACP. The branch records are scattered and do not represent a complete set of records of the activities of the NAACP from the 1960s through the 1980s while Overton was president. It is presumed by the processor that the NAACP branch records contained in this collection were the items that were sent to or used by Overton in his home as much of the materials are addressed to his home address. In the late 1960s the local branch opened an office at the Mount Carmel Grand Lodge building at 1704 E. 12th Street and NAACP began receiving mail at that location. These materials are archived at the Huston-Tillotson University Library.
The Austin branch administrative files are limited and include bylaws; nominating committee's candidate lists and correspondence; an education committee annual report; fundraising campaign workshop report with notes; and membership committee reports from the NAACP national office, lists of members, examples of new member and renewal appeal letters and, most significantly, a large set of membership envelopes dated from 1961 through 1966 with information documenting each member.
The local branch correspondence includes outgoing letters written by Overton, incoming letters, telegrams and letters in which Overton was carbon copied. The majority of the correspondence is dated 1963 through 1966, although there are a few letters dated from the 1970s. The correspondence includes thank you notes to Overton for his "courageous stand on Civil Rights for all citizens"; responses from Senator Yarborough, Senator J. J. Pickle, President Johnson's office, and Governor John Connally regarding their support (or lack of) for the Civil Rights Act of 1964; reports of local activities to the NAACP Regional Secretary; requests for information or speakers from the national office and the Texas Conference of Branches; contribution thank you letters; responses to citizen with complaints of discrimination asking for assistance; letters to politicians expressing approval or disapproval of their votes on civil rights matters; announcements/invitations to meetings and events; and planning details regarding poll tax campaigns. Of significance in the outgoing correspondence is Overton's resignation letter from 1963 (that he later rescinded); letters to the City of Austin mayor, Austin Housing Authority, Austin High School, Texas Selective Service System, and Brackenridge Hospital asking them to address specific issues of discrimination; and reports to NAACP regional secretary about the Austin branch's support of Huston-Tillotson students that marched to City Hall demanding desegregation in March 1964. Of note in the incoming correspondence are letters from parents concerned with conditions at the Austin State School; a response from the United States Air Force concerning servicemen at Bergstrom Air Force Base being barred from joining the NAACP; telegrams from Regional Secretary commending Overton on his efforts to encourage Austin City Council to pass a non-discrimination bill and create a Human Relations Commission and a warning dated July 26, 1964 to "be on alert for racial violence in your community, use every influence to avert it"; and responses from the United States Department of Justice, United States Commission on Civil Rights, and the Veterans Administration regarding Overton's submissions of examples of discrimination. Many of the letters Overton was carbon copied on are concern citizen's complaints of discrimination or responses to racist letters to the editor from Overton's friends and colleagues. And unrelated to his civil rights work there is a letter regarding Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) whose address Overton was trying to obtain, presumably to encourage him to attend the University of Texas.
The local branch meeting minutes are recorded in a ledger and on loose sheets that date from 1959 to 1964. The ledger contains meeting minutes taken when Reverend J. L. Dawson was president of the Austin Branch and continue through the first few years of Overton's presidency. The minutes mostly document organizational business such as elections, arrangements for fundraising events, discussions of ways to increase membership. Also included is a limited amount of political action discussion about desegregating theaters and barbershops, visiting sites checking for discrimination, planning rallies including picketing President Kennedy during his visit in November 1963, questioning the hiring policy within the City of Austin and trying to persuade City Council to establish a Human Relations Commission. In addition to meeting minutes the ledger contains membership lists and financial information such as membership dues and contributions made for special events.
Like much of the NAACP records the financial records are scattered. The years 1958 to 1981 are represented but do not present a complete picture of the branch financial situation. Included are a few bank statements from 1964; an operating statement from 1964; a fundraising event financial report; membership dues receipts; travel and registration expenses for the NAACP conventions; and a single letter concerning filing taxes.
Publicity materials include press releases, an audio recording and newspaper clippings dating from 1963 through 1991. Press releases (1963-1976) announce meeting times, branch members' attendance at the NAACP National conventions, poll tax campaign/drive information and condolences on the assassination of President Kennedy. The audio recording is of Mary Washington and Volma Overton encouraging people to register to vote and to join the NAACP. Overton retained a large amount of newspaper clipping pertaining to the activities Austin branch which are included here.
Events materials consist of a program and a small pennant-style banner from the August 28, 1963 March on Washington attended by Overton; programs and planning materials for the Arthur B. DeWitty Awards Banquet dated 1973 through 2006; correspondence and clippings promoting the City Golf Association's annual tournament sponsored by the NAACP; and assorted programs for other branch sponsored fundraisers and celebrations. Speeches and writings mostly consists of undated, handwritten drafts of speeches by Overton promoting the NAACP and its mission, addressing issues of discrimination against African American citizens in the United States, the goal of equality, and a roast of Gus Garcia.
Materials documenting political actions and lawsuits undertaken by the local branch during the 1960s through the 1980s provide insight into the work of the organization. Included are a newspaper clipping and an invoice from the NAACP lawyer regarding the desegregation of the Bastrop State Park pool in 1963; correspondence, press releases, speeches, newspaper clippings, reports and the proposed ordinances generated during and after the City Council sit-in to pressure the Austin City Council to adopt an non-discrimination ordinance and establish a Human Relations Commission; informational brochures and correspondence concerning employment at the Internal Revenue Service; correspondence regarding a case of discrimination at the Davilla School; organizing documents, correspondence and reports about the Crescent Foundation, a program to retrain and employ disadvantaged persons; and individual grievances related to discrimination in employment, education, and public services. One of the most significant Overton-era local branch contributions was its efforts to desegregate the Austin Independent School District schools through a series of court cases. Included in the collection are materials related to United States of America and DeDra Estell Overton, et al. vs. Texas Education Agency (Austin Independent School) (U.S. vs. TEA); Price et al., vs. Austin Independent School District, et al.; and Yolanda Velasquez Perkins, et al. v. Austin Independent School District. U.S. vs. TEA materials include legal documents, correspondence with the legal team working for the NAACP, the oral deposition of Overton, Tentative Desegregation Plan I and II, and reports and newspaper clippings about the Student Assignment Review Committee and busing. Price et al., vs. Austin Independent School District, et al. case took place after Overton retired from the NAACP but had an avid interest in the outcome of this case because it pertained to the AISD busing plan established after the conclusion of U.S. vs. TEA case. Materials include legal documents, correspondence and newspaper clippings. In the Yolanda Velasquez Perkins, et al. v. Austin Independent School District case Overton was one of the plaintiffs suing because AISD submitted a set of proposed changes in AISD election law and procedures and did not obtain preclearance from the U. S. Department of Justice before holding elections. In addition to fighting school segregation through the court system Overton and the NAACP, along with other interested parties, took the City of Austin to court in an effort to force the City to adopt single member council districts because the at large system was discriminatory motivated. Included are the legal documents, correspondence and newspaper clippings regarding Overton, et al., v. City of Austin, et al. as well correspondence regarding a similar case, LULAC et al. v. Mattox et al., a lawsuit that challenged the system of electing district court judges in several counties in Texas.
In 1969 the Austin branch's charter for the NAACP Credit Union was approved. Included in the collection are a historical narrative written by Overton along with financial reports, notes, forms, membership questionnaire, documents from Southwest Credit Union National Association Management School attended by Overton. The credit union changed its name to East Austin Community Federal Credit Union (EACFCU) in the early 1990s and there is a limited amount of documentation generated by the EACFCU during the time of the merger with the Greater Texas Federal Credit Union.
In addition to Austin branch materials Overton retained materials from the NAACP Texas State Conference of Branches, Southwest Region and the national office. Texas State Conferences of Branches materials are dated from 1962-1987 with the majority of the materials dating from the early 1960s. Included are governing documents, meeting minutes, memorandum, conference materials, and two Youth Council photographs. The Southwest Region materials include a 1958 branch directory, two 1960s newsletters and a biography of Clarence A. Laws, regional secretary. Overton retained much of the materials he collected when attending the NAACP annual conventions including programs, the text of keynote and other speeches, letters sent from politician and other organizations congratulating the NAACP on the accomplishments of the year and clippings from the local newspapers. Overton also saved the national office correspondence to the branches, bulletins and publications regarding the Honor Guard, and audio recording of three membership appeals, and a selection of publications and reports.
The Personal Papers (1937 to 2007) document his education, his religious participation, awards and recognitions he received, relationships with family and friends, his military service, his employment with the United States Post Office, his civic involvement beyond the NAACP, his personal interest in golf and ballroom dancing, and events and subjects/issues of interest to him. As with the NAACP Austin branch records the materials are scattered and do not provide a complete picture of his personal life, but do provide a good idea about what activities and issues were important to Overton and how well regarded Overton was in the Austin community.
Biographical materials include a grade six report card from Maha Elementary School and his 1942 diploma from Anderson High School; administrative records from his service as deacon at the First Baptist Church; recognition of Warneta and Volma's 50th wedding anniversary including a flag that was flown over the United States Capitol at the request of Senator Lloyd Doggett; the book proposal for the biography Volma: My Journey; transcripts from a 2004 oral history interview with Overton conducted by Amy Steiger; and newspaper clippings regarding family reunions. In addition there are several black-and-white portrait and candid photographs including images of Volma with Warneta.
Overton received many awards and certificates of recognition for his civil rights work and was often asked to be a speakers at events which is documented here. Of significance is the correspondence, newspaper clippings, programs and letters of congratulations documenting his acceptance of the first LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Right at the "Civil Rights: from Black & White to Color" symposium held by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. There are also certificates of recognition for volunteering with civic organizations including the Austin State Hospital and Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center.
His employment records span the years 1952 to 2000 and include documents pertaining to his military career, employment with the United States Postal Service and his work as a notary. The military records only include materials related to the various training programs Overton participated in with the United States Army Reserves and do not document his time with the Marine Corps during World War II. The Postal Service materials are limited to a few union publications from the 1960s; correspondence, newspaper clippings and certificates regarding his career advancement and appreciation for "beneficial suggestions"; and the legal documents related to the class action suit against the United States Postal Service for refusing to promote African American employees on the basis of race.
Overton's civic involvement went beyond the NAACP and there is correspondence, publications, administrative records, fliers and programs documenting his participation with Boy Scout Troop #70, the Travis County Grand Jury, The Travis County Democratic Party, The Texas Society to Abolish Capital Punishment and the Oak Springs Elementary Campus Advisory Council. His social activities included golfing and ballroom dancing as exemplified by the included fliers for the Volma Overton, Sr. Invitational Golf Tournament and the programs and photographs of ballroom dancing showcases in which he participated. And lastly, Overton collected a significant amount of publications, newspaper clippings, legal document and other materials that were assembled into subject files related to civil rights and economic opportunity issues, both local and national; the Austin Independent School District; local zoning issues; and various other political and assorted topics. Included are a video recording (VHS) and digital images (.jpegs) of the Herman Sweatt Travis County Courthouse dedication from 2005.
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The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
Donated by Overton family.
Volma Overton Papers (AR.2010.007). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/2010/015
Donation Date: 2010
Initial arrangement by LaToya Devezin in 2018. Final processing and encoding by Molly Hults in 2018.
Born-digital content (.jpgs) was received via optical disk. Born-digital materials were processed by Nikki Koehlert in accordance with the AHC's digital processing guidelines including disk imaging, virus scan, and checksums. As there was no meaningful naming schema the files were renamed in accordance with AHC's naming conventions.
Detailed Description of the Collection
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