Kathlyn Joy Gilliam was born October 16, 1930 in Campbell, Texas. As a young girl in the early 1940s, her family moved to Dallas. Kathlyn graduated from Lincoln High School in 1948, and inspired by her own mother’s civic engagement, became active in her community. Gilliam was actively involved in the fight for civil rights in Dallas, focusing mainly in the domain of education. Kathlyn was part of many civil rights organizations within Dallas. She served as the last president of the Dallas Council of Colored Parents and Teachers. She also held leadership positions in the Texas Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, and was a member of the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers.
When she had her son bused to North Dallas school, she consistently sat at PTA meetings and advocated for integration. According to her son, he “never felt abused in those situations” because his mother made sure it did not happen.
After years of playing a major role in civil rights work in Dallas, she was elected to the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) board of trustees in 1974 and was the first black woman to hold this position. Kathlyn later became the first black woman elected president of the board, a term which she served from 1980 to 1982. She remained on the board until 1997 and continued her work with the South Dallas community. She helped found and lead community organizations like Clean South Dallas/Fair Park and the Dallas chapter of the Political Congress of African American Women.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Article 2 reads that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race...”. Kathlyn Joy Gilliam advocated for schoolchildren to be able to attend the same Dallas schools as their white counterparts without fear of retribution. During her time with civil rights organizations in Dallas and in leadership positions in DISD, she was a strong proponent of court-mandated school busing in order to facilitate desegregation in Dallas schools, even when her white colleagues thought it was a radical response.
The City of Dallas recognized Kathlyn Joy Gilliam’s contributions to the education system in Dallas and in October 2011, DISD opened a new college preparatory high school in Dallas, named the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy. Gilliam attended the dedication ceremony before passing away in December 2011.
The City of Dallas designated the Gilliam House, where she resided for most of her life, as a historical landmark in 2015. The house was turned into a museum and community resource center the same year. Located in the heart of South Dallas, near I-45, the museum has a youth debate team, who have traveled nationally to compete, and a reading room to support reading initiatives and maintain student achievement levels.
 Mia Gomez, “Gilliam, Kathlyn Joy Christian (1930-2011)”, Handbook of Texas Online, Accessed March 27, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gilliam-kathlyn-joy-christian .
 Tawnell D. Hobbs, Ananda Boardman and Norma Adams-Wade, “Kathlyn Gilliam, civil rights advocate and first black woman on Dallas ISD board, dies,” Dallas Morning News, December 11, 2011. https://www.dallasnews.com/news/obituaries/2011/12/12/kathlyn-gilliam-civil-rights-advocate-and-first-black-woman-on-dallas-isd-board-dies/
 Gomez, “Gilliam, Kathlyn Joy Christian (1930-2011)”.
 Jim Schutze, “Kathlyn Gilliam, Dallas ISD Pioneer and South Dallas Activist, Has Died at the Age of 81,” Dallas Observer, December 12, 2011. https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/kathlyn-gilliam-dallas-isd-pioneer-and-south-dallas-activist-has-died-at-the-age-of-81-7127410
 United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10, 1948.
Jim Schutze, “Kathlyn Gilliam, Dallas ISD Pioneer and South Dallas Activist, Has Died at the Age of 81,” Dallas Observer, December 12, 2011. https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/kathlyn-gilliam-dallas-isd-pioneer-and-south-dallas-activist-has-died-at-the-age-of-81-7127410 (accessed March 28, 2021)
Mia Gomez, “Gilliam, Kathlyn Joy Christian (1930-2011)”, Handbook of Texas Online, Accessed March 27, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gilliam-kathlyn-joy-christian. (accessed March 27, 2021)
Tawnell D. Hobbs, Ananda Boardman and Norma Adams-Wade, “Kathlyn Gilliam, civil rights advocate and first black woman on Dallas ISD board, dies,” Dallas News, December 11, 2011. https://www.dallasnews.com/news/obituaries/2011/12/12/kathlyn-gilliam-civil-rights-advocate-and-first-black-woman-on-dallas-isd-board-dies/ (accessed March 29, 2021)
The Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Museum, “Museum Programs”, Accessed March 27, 2021. https://kathlynjoygilliammuseum.org/programs (accessed March 27, 2021)