Those of you who live in the Houston area are likely familiar with the city of La Grange. It is a picturesque city of 5,000, located on the Colorado River about halfway between Houston and Austin. For those of my generation, it was best known as a mandatory lunch stop to get an incredible chicken-fried steak that hung off the edges of the plate at the Cottonwood Inn.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, La Grange is 55% white, 35% Hispanic, 8% black and 2% other. I could not find good numbers for the ethnic breakdown of registered voters, but locals told me that whites normally make up about 80% of the voter turnout in city elections. Donald Trump won Fayette County, of which La Grange is the county seat, by just under 80% of the vote. There are 20 churches in La Grange, nearly four times the national average on a per capita basis. Less than 20% of adults have a college degree. To many in the media and the national intelligentsia, La Grange should represent everything that is wrong with America. But a funny thing happened on the way to the stereotyping.
This year, La Grange’s long-time mayor, Janet Moerbe, decided to step down and not run for re-election. Three candidates filed – a white male, a white female and a black female. The black female, Jan Dockery, won the election with nearly 60% of the vote. The runner-up, Sarah Mabry, called election night to congratulate Dockery and told the local newspaper how much she appreciated the county’s election administrator for running a fair election. The white male received 1% of the vote. [Click here for story from the Fayette County Record. ]
Prior to being elected mayor, Ms. Dockery had worked in the front office at the elementary school for many years. As a single mother she had also worked as a check-out clerk at the local HEB and as a waitress.
I asked several La Grange residents about the election and if they were surprised that the town had elected a black woman as mayor. “Oh no, everyone here loves her.” “She is one of the hardest working, kindest people I have ever known.” “She is very smart.” When it comes to Mayor Dockery, it appears that the citizens of La Grange truly judged her not by the color of her skin but the content of her character.
Our Founders declared that all men are created are created equal. Granted our country has regularly and miserably fallen short of that great ideal. And I suspect the Mayor Dockery could share stories about her life in LaGrange that would be less uplifting than her recent mayoral victory.
But the good people of La Grange have just demonstrated, Americans are more complicated than the left-right, red-blue and black-white-brown boxes into which the media, pollsters and pundits want to sort us. They have also reminded us that our country is a work in progress – but with an emphasis on the word “progress.”