By Carol Christian
Mickey Leland would no doubt be dismayed to see poverty and hunger on the rise in America.
The late U.S. congressman, who succeeded Barbara Jordan in representing Houston’s historic 18th Congressional District, died 25 years ago Thursday in a plane crash in famine-stricken Ethiopia. He was leading an international delegation, fulfilling his duties as chairman of a committee he pushed to create — the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Hunger.
In addition to his congressional duties, Leland had made it his personal mission to help others, especially in the fight against hunger.
That fight continues in his name through two organizations at his alma mater: Texas Southern University in Houston’s Mickey Leland Center for Environment Justice and Sustainability at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs; and the Mickey Leland Center on World Hunger and Peace, wich is the custodian of his papers, photos and other records.
On the 20th anniversary of his death in 2009, Leland’s widow, Alison Leland, and State Sen. Rodney Ellis recalled in a Chronicle editorial that the delegation was on its way to oversee the delivery and distribution of famine-relief supplies when the plane he was aboard crashed, killing 16.
“Although he loved Houston, Leland’s efforts, vision and the size of his heart could not be confined to the boundaries of his congressional district or this nation,” his widow and Ellis wrote five years ago. “Leland understood that the struggle for basic human rights – food, clothing, shelter and health care – was necessarily a global one. Leland dedicated his life to giving back, championing the causes of the poor and disempowered.”
George Thomas “Mickey” Leland was born Nov. 27, 1944, in Lubbock. He graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School in Houston’s Fifth Ward and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern.
The university is now the largest research repository of political documents and artifacts of Texas’ 18th Congressional District. The Leland Center houses the Mickey Leland Archives, a collection of his papers and other documents donated to the school by his widow.
Alison Leland is now a political science professor in the University of Houston Honors College.
Mickey Leland served in the Texas Legislature from 1972 until being elected to the U.S. House in 1978. The site of his first legislative office in the 3800 block of Cavalcade is now part of Mickey Leland Memorial Park, dedicated in 2000 by the Harris County Park System.
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