Word by Jessica Devenyns Photos by Eric Morales
“I’ve been in this house for fifty-one years,” states Delores Duffie. While an impressive claim on the surface, the accomplishment of her tenure in her Cherrywood home is magnified when compared to her list of community posts over the years: community activist, chair of Precinct 127, president of the Maplewood Elementary PTA, and a stint in the county attorney’s office. In east Austin, if there were people who needed a voice, Mrs. Duffie was there.
Surprisingly, it all started with a benign request for letterman jackets. “My kids were in Kealing Junior High, and all the kids in the other schools got jackets but the principal at Kealing didn’t let the kids at Kealing get one,” she remembers. So, in order to try and equalize the playing field for her sons, “I found out then that you could go before AISD’s board, and that’s where I went. From that, it just snowballed. I found out I could go, and I was there at every turn.”
Over the years, Mrs. Duffie has been consistently active in the east Austin community. However, it is not a case of her looking for people to help, they simply appear on her doorstep or plead their case over the phone. “I never went looking for anything,” she says. “They came to me.” Despite the large pool of applicants for her aid, Mrs. Duffie says, “I don’t just go because somebody asks.” For her advocacy, someone’s plea for help must be rooted in truth.
Due to her insistence on veracity, Duffie proudly declared that she never entered a fight without knowing that she was in the right. Perhaps, that is what made her such a formidable opponent in the political realm. Eventually, she says it got to the point where whenever she would pick up the phone or walk into a city council meeting, “it was like, ‘Here comes Delores.’”
Nevertheless, Mrs. Duffie refused to back down. “I guess that’s just the way I am,” she shrugged. It didn’t matter that society was gridlocked by barriers of racism and sexism, for Mrs. Duffie all that mattered were the facts. “I’ve always been able to do what I wanted to do and say what I wanted to say,” she concluded simply. “I would just never work where I couldn’t speak.”
While she was inconsistently compensated for her efforts in the community, Mrs. Duffie doesn’t seem ruffled by the inequity. For her, activism was well worth her time. “[There have] been a lot of children that I’ve been close to, and I have helped,” she recalls. In fact, the ripples of her work are still lapping against her doorstep. The other day, she stepped out to H.E.B. and encountered someone who introduced themselves saying, “You don’t know me, but I know you, and I wouldn’t have finished school if it had not been for you.” And that, Mrs. Duffie says, is her reward.