NOTE FROM THE CEO
When I stepped into the role of CEO and owner at talkStrategy, I knew that I had the huge responsibility to foster a brave space coupled with an inclusive agency culture open to all perspectives. I don’t take this responsibility lightly. I am proud of the team we have built, each person bringing their own perspectives to the work, to the enrichment of the agency and to each other as individuals. Beginning this month, we will embark on a year-long journey to learn more about each other, explore new perspectives, and have candid conversations. As communications professionals, our role is to help brands navigate the modern channel ecosystem. We hope this endeavor will introduce new thinking, making us better communicators, better stewards of the ecosystem, and frankly better humans. To ensure we have diverse perspectives, the exploration will be spearheaded by rotating members of our team of talkStrategists. I hope you join us over the next weeks and months, as well as join in the dialogue.
Let's talk: Hattie Elam Briscoe
During this Black History Month we are taking the time to acknowledge and honor Black professionals who have made contributions to the Marketing and Communications industry as a whole, as well as recognizing those who are history in the making. Next, we’re highlighting the resiliency and advocacy of San Antonio’s Hattie Elam Briscoe.
Hattie Elam Briscoe, Lawyer, Educator and Cosmetologist
Hattie Ruth Elam Briscoe (1916–2002) was the first Black woman to graduate from St. Mary’s University School of Law.
Briscoe was born to William Perry and Cloral (Burton) Elam on November 12, 1916, in Shreveport, Louisiana and she was raised in Marshall, Texas. She graduated from Central High School (now Pemberton High School) with high honors, earning herself a one-year scholarship to Wiley College where she met her husband William M. Briscoe. Although they married on October 12, 1940, they kept their marriage secret until school ended in May 1941 because the administration did not allow married women to be teachers. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she taught fourth grade in Wichita Falls for four years before relocating to San Antonio to join her husband.
In 1945, Hattie attended Hicks Beauty School and became a licensed beauty operator and instructor at the popular Briscoe’s Beauty Salon on Pine Street in San Antonio. There she taught classes with her husband, who was a barber. While teaching at Hicks Beauty School as well as Wheatley High School (the only public high school for African Americans at the time in San Antonio) Briscoe earned her master’s degree from Prairie View A&M College by 1951. In March of the same year, Briscoe was wrongly terminated from Wheatley High School for unclear reasons. Concerned parents and local residents quickly wrote letters and signed a petition sent to the San Antonio Independent School District Board requesting her reinstatement.
The issue received the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and led to the formation of the Committee on Teacher Security by friends Rev. John Deleon Walker and Dr. Ruth Ann Bellinger. Dr. Bellinger recognized Hattie’s potential for practicing law and recommended she apply for law school. Not able to return to her teaching job, Briscoe took the civil service exam, then entered St. Mary’s University School of Law. While a student there, she was told by a professor that women and African Americans “should not go to law school.” By January of 1956 she was the university’s first Black graduate. She graduated first of her class at age 40, and was the only Black woman attorney in Bexar county for the next 27 years. Initially, she handled criminal cases, including one murder case in 1959 where she was hired as a special prosecutor by the widow of an unarmed Black veteran who was killed by a police officer. The case received national attention in Jet Magazine.
Although Briscoe faced numerous instances of discrimination, she persevered. She served as Bexar County’s first special prosecutor, and she was a member of the National Association of Defense Lawyers in Criminal Cases, Texas Bar Association, Nation Association of Black Women Attorneys, San Antonio Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and more. Hattie Briscoe won many awards including Superior Achievement in the Field of Law and St. Mary’s Distinguished Law Alumna. Over time Briscoe chose to focus on family and probate law, which she learned to prefer. She practiced for 40 years and retired at the age of 81 in December 1997.
When Hattie graduated from St. Mary’s University Law School her husband bought her a black and white Cadillac as a graduation present, and it became her trademark. Hattie was an avid bridge player and her favorite song was “Inseparable” by Natalie Cole, because she said it described how she felt about her husband.
Thank you for taking to the time to learn more with us about the impact of Black professionals in the field. Stay tuned throughout the coming months for more moments of reflection and homage. Follow for more talkStrategy storytelling at @wetalkstrategy.
MS 67, Hattie Elam Briscoe Papers, 1937-1997, MS 67, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.