Oscar DuCongé

The first African American mayor of a major city in Texas, Oscar DuCongé rose to local prominence through his civil service and selfless dedication to improving life for all Wacoans.

Born in Pass Christian, Mississippi, on April 19, 1909, Oscar DuCongé spent the majority of his childhood in New Orleans. The ninth of fourteen children, DuCongé went to work at an early age, sweeping floors and cleaning utensils in the barbershop where his father worked. His mother taught music and gave sewing lessons in their home. DuCongé later said his family’s budget was operated as a “community chest,” with the girls working at home, the boys getting odd jobs to pour into the pot, and his mother disbursing the funds as needed. The family’s thrifty ways enabled DuCongé and nine of his siblings to receive college educations.

DuCongé earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Xavier University in New Orleans in 1931. He married his childhood sweetheart, Mary, who was better known by her nickname Kitty, in 1937. Just a few years later in 1942, he was drafted into the US Army. After completing his basic training in Alabama, DuCongé was assigned to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, were he worked in the finance department. When his regiment was transferred to Italy, he volunteered for combat duty. Assigned to an infantry unit, he came under fire in the Italian Campaign before he left the service in September of 1945.

Following his service overseas, DuCongé returned to school to get a master’s degree in social work in 1946 from Atlanta University, and completed other postgraduate work at Southern University in Baton Rouge, University of Pittsburgh, and Xavier University while Mary completed her own studies.

When Oscar received a job offer from the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Waco in 1948, the DuCongés picked up their lives and moved to 1209 Preston Street (as indicated on the Waco History map), quickly becoming involved in civic life in the city. DuCongé left his job at the VA in the 1950s in order to co-own and operate the Doris Miller Memorial Park. He served as the secretary-treasurer of the park from 1955 until 1972. In June of 1966, he was named director of Neighborhood Centers for the Economic Opportunities Advancement Corporation (EOAC) in Waco. Although the position did not pay much, it presented an opportunity for DuCongé to become involved in social work again and to tackle the issue of widespread poverty. Six years later, his job title was changed to director of community programming.

When DuCongé ran but failed to obtain a seat on the school board in 1970, constituents drafted him to run for city council in 1972. Defeating his white opponent, high school administrator M. D. Ritcherson, DuCongé earned the affection of his ward and the respect of his council colleagues. He ran unopposed in 1974 to retain the seat.

The respect DuCongé garnered on the council led to his election as the city’s mayor. As reported by the Dallas Morning News on April 13, 1974: “Black and Catholic, DuCongé was selected this week by his white fellow councilmen to serve as mayor of this predominantly Baptist city which in the past has been white ruled.”

DuCongé saw the vote of his colleagues as indicative of societal changes sweeping the nation in that late civil rights era and sought to serve as the mayor of the whole city rather than of one faction. He dedicated his time as mayor to improving the lives of as many people as possible. After leaving the council in 1975, DuCongé remained active in civic affairs and charity in Greater Waco, promoting racial harmony and fighting to eradicate poverty. He passed away on July 26, 1978.

A dedicated civil servant, Oscar DuCongé set a precedent for overcoming racial divisions and endeavoring to make the community a better place for all citizens. 

Images

Civil Servant

Civil Servant

Although he received a great deal of respect for becoming the first African American to head a metropolitan municipality in Texas, the bulk of DuCongé's contributions to civic life in Waco came through his work for the Economic Opportunities Advancement Corporation (EOAC). This organization developed out of national efforts to address the two most prominent issues in American society in the mid-twentieth century: racial tensions and widespread poverty. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Class of '27

Class of '27

Here Oscar DuCongé is pictured (far right) with the six other graduating high school seniors of the class of 1927. Thanks to his parents' efforts and his own work throughout his primary schooling, DuCongé went on to receive a bachelor's degree from Xavier University. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Staff Sergeant DuCongé (c. 1944)

Staff Sergeant DuCongé (c. 1944)

After completing basic training in Alabama, DuCongé was slated to attend officer training school. However, after being rejected from his top choices because of health concerns, he was sent to Fort Huachuca in Arizona. The base hosted the Ninety-Second and Ninety-Third Infantry Divisions, the African American contingents of the segregated US Army. Before his discharge form the the military in 1945, DuCongé achieved the rank of staff sergeant. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

New Orleans Ball (c. 1946)

New Orleans Ball (c. 1946)

DuCongé's wife Mary, known as Kitty, was also viewed as a leader in the community, as well as a socialite. The couple's combined civic and volunteer work became a shaping force in the community towards overcoming racial divisions, eradicating poverty, and improving the life of all Wacoans. This photograph was taken of Oscar and Kitty (left) at a dance in New Orleans shortly before they moved to Waco. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Social Worker

Social Worker

DuCongé decided to pursue graduate studies in social work following his military service for multiple reasons, the first being purely practical. He needed to develop a career that would put food on the table for himself and his wife while she finished her graduate studies and the GI Bill provided funds for him to return to school. Additionally, his graduate work allowed him to pursue theories of social work which he previously had developed in the 1930s. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Political Ambassador

Political Ambassador

Part of DuCongé's responsibilities as mayor included representing Waco to communities outside of Texas. Although he preferred to remain in the city and devote his time to community work, DuCongé frequently traveled throughout the nation for conferences and other meetings. Here is is pictured outside the capital building in Washington, DC circa 1974. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

A Fitting Testimony

A Fitting Testimony

Former Waco mayor Karl May and Rev. James R. Anderson, pastor of St. Paul AME and professor at Paul Quinn College, organized a testimonial dinner at the Waco Convention Center in May of 1975 to honor DuCongé's commitment to the city.The dinner was widely attended by city officials and DuCongé's supporters, and his successor, Mayor L. Ted Getterman, read a proclamation in his honor. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Honored Wacoan

Honored Wacoan

DuCongé's service was formally recognized following his retirement in 1975, as well. He received multiple awards for his efforts as mayor, the most prestigious being the Liberty Bell Award. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

Working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Oscar DuCongé tells of the work he did while working with the Domestic Relations Court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1948, prior to moving to Waco. | Source: DuCongé, Oscar Norbert, interviewed by Thomas Lee Charlton, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Making the Move to Waco

Oscar DuCongé explains how he got his job at the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Waco in 1948. | Source: DuCongé, Oscar Norbert, interviewed by Thomas Lee Charlton, April 3, 1975, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Supervisor of Neighborhood Centers

Oscar Norbert DuCongé speaks of his first tasks at work as the Supervisor of Neighborhood Centers in Waco, Texas. | Source: DuCongé, Oscar Norbert, interviewed by Thomas Charlton, May 30, 1975, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Terri Jo Ryan, “Oscar DuCongé,” Waco History, accessed May 23, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/120.
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