Reby Cary, Fort Worth’s first black school board trustee and a World War II veteran, died Friday night at the age of 98. He leaves behind a legacy of political, cultural and educational achievements.
“He was an activist from the heart, and he was not afraid,” said Cary’s long-time friend and former Star-Telegram columnist Bob Ray Sanders, who now works at the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce.
Cary was a man of many firsts. He was the first black man elected to the Fort Worth school board in 1974 and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1979.
Cary went to I.M. Terrell High School before attending Prairie View A&M University. He joined the Coast Guard and fought through five campaigns in World War II and was a very proud military man, Sanders said. Sanders pointed out that Cary died on the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
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Cary’s father, Smith Cary, established Rising Star Baptist Church in Fort Worth and Cary grew up in the church, listening to sermons and services that started in the morning and lasted well into the afternoon.
In a 2014 interview with the Star-Telegram, Cary credited God for any blessings that came his way and said his mom kept him on the straight-and-narrow path.
In 1969, Cary started an assistant history professorship along with a position as the dean of student affairs at UTA. Within two weeks, he started fighting what he called the racist symbols that were prevalent on campus. At the time, UTA’s mascot was a Rebel soldier and Confederate flags flew around the university.
“He was one of the main ones who helped bring down that rebel flag and changed the mascot from the Rebel to the Mavericks,” Sanders said. “He was a fighter, he was not afraid of anything.”
In 1974, Cary was the first black man elected to the Fort Worth School Board. He also held leadership positions in the Frederick Douglass Republicans of Tarrant County and Texas Council of Black Republicans. He also founded the Frederick Douglass Republicans of Tarrant County group in 1985.
Sanders said Cary wrote over 20 books on one of his greatest passions: the history and legacy of black men and women in Fort Worth.
“He wanted to tell black America’s story and black Fort Worth’s story,” Sanders said. “There was a time in Fort Worth when blacks were making incredible achievements he wanted that to be reflected. He wanted people to know about those pioneers, the doctors, lawyers and others who contributed but who never got the attention or honors they deserve because they lived in a segregated society.”
Devoyd Jennings, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, said Cary treated him like a son.
“He’s been a mentor of mine for most of my adult life,” Jennings said. “He was a pioneer.”
Jennings said Cary was a true trailblazer in politics and economics, and he always supported the Black Chamber of Commerce.
“He always supported the chamber’s initiative — if we become strong business leaders, we can become strong leaders in other disciplines,” Jennings said.
Former Fort Worth City Councilman Bert Williams said he has been friends with Cary since the 1960s.
“There’s just so much you can say about him,” Williams said. “He’s been the kind of guy who is fighting for the rights of people ever since I’ve known him.”
Cary was active in his church and countless organizations until he became sick around Thanksgiving this year, Sanders said.
Cary held positions in various organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Youth Services Bureau of Tarrant County, Fort Worth Minority Leaders and Citizens’ Council, Boy Scouts of America, United Way of Tarrant County, Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, Tax Appraisal Review Board of Tarrant County, and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.
“Whenever people asked about the history of Fort Worth, I would send them to Reby and he accepted them and invited them into his house and showed them documents,” Sanders said. “He was a doer and not just a talker.”