Vera Mulkey
Vera Mulkey

Vera Jo Smith Mulkey has made contributions to society through a life of giving, moral virtues and perseverance.

Vera Jo Smith Mulkey was born in 1936 in Austin, Texas, at the height of the Great Depression. At the time of her birth, many Americans, and especially African American females faced a dismal future of poverty with few choices in education and professional development.

Despite the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration’s federal aid programs during the depression to relieve unemployment, the vast number of government opportunities brought little advantage to Austin’s African American community. Black unemployment in Austin was high and opportunities were scarce for black students with ambition. Vera became one of those few ambitious students who was encouraged by her grandmother, Daisy Selmon, who owned a small farm where Vera spent every summer about 120 miles northeast of Austin near Nomangee, Texas, population less than 500 hundred when Vera was born and only 600 today.

Daisy Selmon Vera Mulkey's Grandmother
Daisy Selmon
Vera Mulkey’s Grandmother

“My grandmother said to always know I am somebody, to carry myself like I am somebody and do something with myself like I am somebody,” Vera said. “I listened to my grandmother, even though I wasn’t sure what I could do or what any little black girl in the south in the 1940s would be allowed to do. So, I studied hard and tried to make the best grades I could so my grandmother and my parents would be proud of me; and I have always tried to be a good person.” Vera’s legacy is so significant that she is part BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way about the contributions of 12 African American women who made a cultural difference in the history of Long Beach California.

Long Beach City College

Long Beach City College

BTLW is an educational project that includes an exhibition of historic photographs, document reproductions, artifacts, papers and memorabilia of women who were firsts in their careers. Vera Mulkey was the first African American to hold the position of Chief of Staff for the City of Long Beach, California. Vera achieved this career advancement with training at Long Beach City College, where she studied sociology.

Lorene Smith, Vera Mulkey's Mother
Lorene Smith, Vera Mulkey’s Mother

When Vera was a little girl, she learned from her mother the importance of sharing the little they had with other poor struggling neighborhood families. Vera’s parents grew weary of living on the fringe in East Austin–walking to distant downtown employment, where many black men shined shoes or worked as janitors and hard laborers, while women sweated over department store pressing tables.

Vera Mulkey, 1952 Anderson High School Austin, Texas
Vera Mulkey, 1952
Anderson High School
Austin, Texas

The struggle became too great even for Vera’s parents, due to no available work or low wages requiring multiple jobs that kept them away from their child for long periods. When Vera was a sophomore honor roll student and a majorette at Austin’s Anderson High School, her parents decided to leave Austin and, like many working poor of the Jim Crow impoverished southern United States, moved West to Long Beach, where they felt they would be able to find work at decent wages, own a home and educate their daughter.

Vera did not want to leave her school in Austin, but her parents promised that if she continued to make good grades in California, she would be able to attend a good college. Vera enrolled at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California, and continued her honor roll work.

Long Beach Unified School District Personnel Commission

Long Beach Unified School District Personnel Commission

The transition from segregated Anderson High School in Austin to the integrated Polytechnic High School in the Long Beach Unified School District was difficult for Vera. She was not at all certain that she was prepared academically to complete with California students. “I was lonely at Poly,” Vera said. “Everything was different. I didn’t have any friends when I first got here, so all I did was study. And studying became a habit., a good habit, though.”

Before graduating from Polytechnic High School in 1954 as an honor student, Vera was recruited by Pepperdine University, a private, nonprofit, coeducational, integrated research university, affiliated with the Churches of Christ. Based on its student criteria, the university offered Vera a scholarship as an award for her academic achievements, her exemplary civic conduct and moral character.

Vera Mulkey, 1954 Graduate, Polytechnic High School Long Beach, California

Vera Mulkey, 1954
Graduate, Polytechnic High School
Long Beach, California

After high school graduating , Vera attended California State University, Long Beach, until she had to go to work full time. Eventually, after marriage and raising a family, she earned an Associate’s Degree in sociology from Long Beach City College in 1978. She began her professional career as a medical administrator for the late Dr. Charles Terry and then went on to become manager of a Psychiatric Services Medical Clinic in Downey. Vera became the first African American female to hold the position of Chief of Staff for the City of Long Beach, serving the Sixth District’s Councilman, Clearance Smith. This was the last position she held before her retirement. Vera Mulkey also was a constant presence on the Long Beach Unified School District Personnel Commission for 15 years and much of her service was a Chairperson.

“M mother taught me respect, respect for myself, first of all, and certainly respect for other people,” said Vera, who has earned many humanitarian awards and professional honors over the course of her life and career. “My mother taught me to be honest and to be myself. I have tried to carry that respect with me throughout my life. In learning to respect myself and to respect others, I believe I can call myself a lady.”

Pepperdine Letter from Dean Robert Harrell’s Office Expressing disappointment that Vera could not attend Pepperdine

For 61 years, Vera Jo has saved the Pepperdine Letter from Dean Robert Harrell’s Office expressing disappointment that she would not be attending Pepperdine

From Vera Mulkey’s Memoir:

“The most significant thing that happened to me soon after I arrived in Long Beach was a scholarship to Pepperdine. Unfortunately, my parents, examining the situation, were simply not able to defray the cost beyond the scholarship, which covered tuition. Pepperdine was a very expensive school. While the college offered some employment opportunities on campus, the administration’s strong recommendation was that they didn’t really want their freshmen to engage in employment. They felt that employment might negatively impact their studies.

So, to my disappointment, I was not able to use the Pepperdine scholarship. Receiving that scholarship was very significant to me because I was new to California. I was new to Long Beach. To be able to come to Long Beach, California, and have that kind of honor was important to me and was very important to my parents as well. But I recognized our financial situation and just had to move on.

Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University

I really have to back up when I think about the Pepperdine scholarship. I sometimes wonder what I would have been able to do with my career had I been able to attend Pepperdine. I think my focus would have been somewhat different than it was. In my career, I would like to have been able to devote more time to furthering my education.”

Leadership Long Beach Long Beach, California

Leadership Long Beach
Long Beach, California

The BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way (BTLW) Exhibition opens Tuesday, September 29, 2015, 4-7:00 p.m at the Long Beach Public Library (101 Pacific Avenue, Long Beach CA) Atrium Level. Be sure to see the BTLW FaceBook Page for details. While you’re there, be sure to LIKE their page. The overall project sponsor is Leadership Long Beach.

Sponsors – Partners – Donors


Leadership Long Beach – Project Sponsor

Port of Long Beach – Premier Signature Sponsor

Robin Perry & Associates – Signature Sponsor

Supervisor Don Knabe – Signature Sponsor

Arts Council for Long Beach – Signature Sponsor

Molina Healthcare – Signature Sponsor

City of Long Beach – Partner

LA County Sheriff’s Department – Partner

Historical Society of Long Beach – Partner

Long Beach Public Library – Partner

Long Beach City College – Partner

Long Beach Unified School District – Partner

Pepperdine University – Partner

International Realty – Donor

Chick-fil-A Towne Center Long Beach – Donor

Andy Street Community Association – Donor

Tuttle Cameras Long Beach – Donor