Bellfield set to continue service
By Dave Rogers
For The Record
After more than half a century in politics, Orange pioneer Essie Bellfield says she’s ready for more.
That’s why she’s running for another term on the Orange City Council.
Bellfield, 84, Orange’s first (and still only) female and African-American mayor from 1997-2000, was moved to run for another term as city council member in 2012, when District 3 was created.
In May, she will run for re-election to that seat for the second time.
She will be opposed by registered nurse Terrie Salter and business owner Michael Smith, neither of whom were born when Bellfield accompanied Martin Luther King, Jr., on the March on Washington in 1963.
“I’ve been in politics since the Fifties,” she said, adding that she didn’t plan to spend much on this latest campaign.
“I’m not going to spend any money,” she said.
“I have a lot of signs and things [from earlier campaigns], but I’m not going to worry about signs.
“If they want to vote for me, fine. If they don’t, fine.”
Bellfield was born in 1932 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where her father was a lumberjack, and her grandfather a railroad worker and sometimes circus performer for Ringling Brothers, before Barnum bought in.
She went to high school in Jennings, Louisiana and college at Southern University in Baton Rouge.
Her mother came to Orange to work as a live-in cook in one of the city’s top neighborhoods after World War II. When Bellfield came to visit her mother during summer vacations from school, rooming was arranged by other civic leaders. She recalls living in the homes of at least three judges.
She says she began her working career in 1951 as an elevator operator for a Galveston hospital and made it into administration there before moving back to Orange.
She worked as an executive in the housekeeping department at UTMB in Galveston and at Orange Memorial Hospital.
“I’m so upset about the [Orange] hospital,” Bellfield said, alluding to cutbacks by Baptist Hospital that have left only a few departments operating.
“I was there when they made that thing brick.”
Besides eight years at the Galveston hospital and 25 at Orange’s, Bellfield found time to work in downtown Orange at the Peppermint Parlor, an ice cream shop run by her mother in the 1960s.
“We had 20 different flavors of ice cream when they didn’t have that in Orange,” she said. “I still have my red and white aprons.”
Mostly, though, she doesn’t see colors.
“People know me in Orange. There’s no such thing as black and white. I always try to do what’s good and right for Orange,” she said.
After marching for voting rights in the 60s, Bellfield is upset that more people don’t vote every opportunity they get.
“I believe in people being able to vote,” she said. “I don’t tell them how to vote, unless I’m running.”
Among her highlights in Orange government were the building of a children’s playground at Lions Park and oversaw the construction of a fire station on MLK.
Recently, she has been behind fencing around Sunset Park to make it more safe for children. One of her pet projects is getting more street lights on MacArthur Drive.
“There are not enough lights on the street,” she said. “Three people have been killed there.”
A member of the Salem United Methodist Church for six decades, Bellfield plans to stay busy.
How can she not?
“People know me,” she said. “They know what I’m for, what I’ve done.”