The Greater Houston area has lost a Texas political icon and one of its prominent community leaders on April 29th, as the Honorable Rep. Albert Ely Edwards passed away of natural causes at the age of 83. Rep. Edwards was a former Democratic Houston legislator, who was most famously known for introducing the bill that made Juneteenth a state holiday in Texas.
Rep. Edwards was born in Houston, Texas on March 19, 1937. He was the sixth child out of 16 children, born to Reverend E. L. Edwards, Sr. and Josephine Radford Edwards. Rep. Edwards graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School, in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward. After graduation, he went on to attend Texas Southern University (TSU), where he earned his B.A. degree in 1966.
Rep. Edwards entered the world of politics at the age of 41, when he was first elected to the Texas State Legislature in 1979, representing House District 146. One of the first major goals he wanted to accomplish upon being elected was ensuring the establishment of a state holiday that would recognize the emancipation of slavery.
In 1979, Rep. Edwards, who is commonly referred to as the “Father of the Juneteenth Holiday” in Texas, introduced a major piece of legislation that would officially recognize Juneteenth Day. That legislation was eventually passed by the Texas State Legislature and then signed into law by the governor. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an annual holiday in fourteen states of the United States. Celebrated on June 19th, it commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas.
As a veteran member of the Texas Legislature, Rep. Edwards served on three of the most influential committees. He was the Chairman of the Rules and Resolutions Committee, Chairman of Budget and Oversight of the Ways and Means Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Edwards also created and served as Chairman of the Texas Black Legislative Caucus from 1991-1997, and later served as elected Chair of the Democratic National Committee Black Caucus, where he held that position for six years. He later served as Vice-Chair for ten years.
Rep. Edwards was a 13-term elected member of the Texas House of Representatives, having represented House District 146 from 1979 to 2007, and again from 2009 to 2011. Local businessman Borris Miles unseated Rep. Edwards in a Democratic primary runoff election in 2006, but Rep. Edwards reclaimed his seat in 2008. Edwards went on to lose two consecutive Democratic primary races to Miles in 2010 and 2012, subsequently ending his political career.
Rep. Edwards served as a member of the board of Push International Trade Bureau of Operation PUSH in Chicago, Illinois from 1983 to 1989. He also served as the Texas State Chairman for Reverend Jesse Jackson’s campaign for President of the United States in both 1984 and 1988. In 1986, Rep. Edwards founded “Operation Justus”, a community-based organization that serves as a referral service for persons with social problems and concerns. In 1987, he was arrested in Houston and went to jail for peacefully demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa. Others demonstrating on the national level included Reverend Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory, Aretha Franklin, Harry Belafonte along with many others. In 1989, he traveled to Mozambique, Johannesburg, and Angola, South Africa on a peace-seeking mission.
Though deeply involved with local issues, Rep. Edwards remained active in many issues outside the Texas State Legislature. While serving in the legislature, Rep. Edwards founded his own real estate company and was also a mortgage broker. He was called to ministry in 1997 and received his Doctor of Divinity degree from World Bible Christian University in San Antonio and became an ordained minister. He was a loyal member of Progressive New Hope Baptist Church.
In 1999, Rep. Edwards was appointed to the Texas Emancipation Juneteenth Cultural and Historical Commission by Governor George Bush. He co-authored House Bill 1016, making June 19th, “Juneteenth” a paid state holiday. Today, the “Juneteenth” holiday is celebrated by many people in several states across the country.
Rep. Edwards now rests from his earthly toils and challenges, and is survived by three children -Al Edwards II, Alana Edwards and Jason – as well as grandchildren and seven of the 16 siblings to carry on his work and his legacy.
There will be a private funeral service held on Friday, May 8th at 10:00 am. Due to social distancing, only immediate family will be attending the service. The service will be live streamed on Facebook Live and YouTube. Rep. Edwards will be buried in a private service at the state capitol cemetery.