Black History Month Highlight: Elizabeth Byrd, Wyoming Politician

Elizabeth Byrd teaching in Cheyenne, WY. September 1967, American Heritage Center, Harriett E. Byrd Collection, Coll. #10443, Neg# 29475.

We continue our celebration of Black History Month by drawing much-deserved attention to Elizabeth Byrd.  She was another Wyoming “First,” in that she was the first African-American to serve in the Wyoming House of Representatives, as well as in the Wyoming Senate.

A Wyoming native, Byrd was born in Cheyenne in 1926.  She attended and was graduated from Cheyenne High School in 1944.  She enrolled in West Virginia State College, which is a “historically black college” and was at the time one of the most prestigious institutions in the U.S. for students of color.   Elizabeth Byrd graduated and sought work back home in Wyoming.  She found a position at the Fort F.E. Warren Air Force Base and taught elementary school there for decades.  In 1976, Byrd enrolled in a Master’s program for elementary education at the University of Wyoming.  Her professional life took a different course with her first bid for political office.

Elizabeth Byrd with Gov. Mike Sullivan signing Martin Luther King Jr. Day legislation, March, 1990. Elizabeth Harriett Byrd Papers, Accession Number 10443, Box 3, Folder 6

She ran for a seat in the House in 1980 on a Democratic ticket and served two consecutive terms before running for state Senate in 1988. She won that race as well.  Her years in elected office are most know for her successful efforts to persuade the state of Wyoming to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a holiday.   In Wyoming, the third Monday of January is known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day/Wyoming Equality Day.

The American Heritage Center holds the papers of Elizabeth Byrd among its collections.  If you’d like to look at the inventory for this collection, you can view it online.

Also, check out our “In Pursuit of Equality” virtual exhibit which addresses the influence of Wyoming women on effecting change and equality in the state.  Each of the three women–Nellie Tayloe Ross, Thyra Thomson, and Elizabeth Byrd–profiled in the exhibit employed political participation in elected office to further the cause of equality for Wyoming residents.

–Rachael Dreyer, Reference Archivist

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