2007 Hall of Fame Inductee
Verna Lee Booker Hightower (deceased)
Verna Lee Hightower was born on June 26, 1930 in the small town of Spring, Texas to Arthur Booker and Alvirita Wells Booker (Little). Early on, she earned the nickname of “Boots” because of her love for horses and the outdoors but it was after she married her husband, Ted Hightower, that she began riding regularly and training horses.
Verna was a vibrant personality who trained tenaciously on the barrels both morning and nights and soon gained a reputation as a fearless rider, bedecked in her tailor-made cowgirl apparel, never slowing down when approaching the barrels.
In Houston, where she and Ted purchased their home, the Diamond L Ranch rodeo arena was where Black Cowboys and Cowgirls came from around the United States to compete and where Verna first gained exposure for the excellent Cowgirl talent she displayed. She was one of the Diamond L Ranch rodeo’s most competitive riders.
On the Black Rodeo Circuit, Verna competed on the national level in Okmulgee and Henrietta Oklahoma. She was also successful among other rodeo circuits such as Simonton, Texas and Pasadena, Texas. She won first places in barrel racing on her horse “King” on numerous occasions and she became the “poster girl” for locally produced rodeos. Verna and Ted were proud owners of several horses that they trained themselves for competition in barrel racing, cutting and showing.
Verna taught her six children a healthy respect for riding and ranch animals. One daughter, Dee Dee, won or placed in a number of barrel racing competitions, prior to her sudden death. Verna and son, Gerald, showed two horses (Glamour and King) in the “Western Pleasure” event at the 1969 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in the Astrodome. Both Verna and Gerald were recipients of prize ribbons for this event. After more training from Verna, Gerald was able to show one of the family’s quarter horses in the American Quarter Horse Cutting Contest in which he received a ribbon in the Halter Class. It is “best known” that Verna’s family was the first African American family listed as “trainers” and “owners” of livestock shown in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Verna has made exemplary contributions to the Western Heritage through participating in various rodeo activities. She was also the first of her race to become a member of the Girl’s Rodeo Association (GRA). With this membership, Verna was entitled to participate in the larger rodeos in which she earned points that qualified her to compete nationally. It is another fact of historical significance that Verna was the first African American woman to participate in the Barrel Racing competition in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo during the years of 1969 and 1970, which was held at the Houston Astrodome in those years. Other memberships included the National Colored Rodeo Association (N.C.R.A.), and the Southwestern Rodeo Association, Inc.
Verna’s death in August, 1970 came much too soon for all that knew her. Her love for horses and athletic cowgirl abilities is still talked about today among many African American cowboys and cowgirls. Her photo still appears on some rodeo posters in Texas. Indeed, Verna Lee Hightower was a pioneer among the Western Heritage and her courageous spirit opened doors for the many rodeo athletes of color that have participated in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Verna and her family were faithful members of St. Stephens Missionary Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Verna was an accomplished pianist, and often played for her husband when he sang during church services and events. Additionally, Verna was a strong advocate of civil rights, and in 1963 she and Ted successfully sued Houston Independent School District, to allow their children to attend the nearby white schools. Until her death, Verna was employed as a Medical Assistant at the Lyons Avenue Medical Clinic in the 5th Ward area of Houston.
As when Verna was living, Ted and his wife, Lucille, have kept their home and stables a gathering place for the Diamond L. Ranch Riding and Roping Club, stabling horses and maintaining other horses for pleasure riding, family, friends, and others that do not own horses.
Verna’s surviving five children are Lewis Hightower, Alvirita Hightower Thomas and Gilbert Hightower of Houston, Gerald Hightower of San Antonio, and Christine Hightower Fortson of Seattle, Washington.
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