Mrs. John Ella Lewis-Carroll was born April 20, 1932 to the late James C. Lewis and Hannah Jerusha Galloway in the Shankleville Community of Newton County, Texas. She was born to a family that was tightly knit and full of Christian values. She was the second child born to the Lewis family and at an extremely early age was enamored with books and the desire to learn.
John Ella at an early age felt her purpose and calling was education. She truly enjoyed reading and excelled by graduating early. Due to her desire to further her education, in 1949, she enrolled in Prairie View A & M College of Texas which is now known as Prairie View A & M University. In 1953, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and minored in elementary education. She later continued her education at Prairie View and the University of Texas Systems. In 1959 she earned her Master of Arts degree in English from Prairie View A & M College of Texas and minored in drama.
Her first teaching experience was at Emma Wallace High School in Orange, Texas under the tutelage of her uncle and educator Charles Lewis. John Ella returned to Newton County and continued her teaching career in the Weirgate Community which was not far from Shankleville. Being a native, she was able to impact many lives in these communities and surrounding areas.
John Ella moved to the Houston metro area to continue her teaching career. Being someone who was highly recommended for an English teaching position, Professor Edward Franklin “E. F.” Green had his eyes on her, offered her a job in Baytown and she accepted a classroom teaching position as an English teacher at George Washington Carver High School, which at that time served as the school for black students during segregation.
I personally had an opportunity to take an English class from her while attending Carver High School. She was an extremely intelligent (very smart) woman who spoke proper English and taught her classes with finesse. The manner in which she spoke (proper English) reminds me of how I and many others enjoyed listening to the late Barbara Charline Jordan deliver her speeches. Jordan was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern African American woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. John Ella didn’t have the same forceful type voice that Jordan had, however she was one of the most proper talking individuals that I’ve ever had an encounter with.
John Ella’s move to the Houston area also resulted in meeting her soul mate, Mr. John Carroll, Jr. and on February 23, 1963, the year I graduated from Carver High School, they were married at the Church of God in Shankleville. This is a community that is predominantly black, has a rich history, a Texas historical marker and has its own historical society.
While living in Houston, the Carrolls resided in the Third Ward Community and remained married until her husband’s passing on October 3, 1997. The Carrolls were proud parents of two children, John Wesley III and Jan Carroll of Houston, Texas.
In 1967, due to integration, the Carver High School closed as a high school and she took a position at Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown. While at R. E. Lee, she held various positions; English Department Chair, Debate Team Sponsor and Local Director of the Future Teachers of America to name a few. She was also awarded “Teacher of the Year” and received the “Outstanding Excellence Award” for Texas High School Teachers. She spent summers at Prairie View University teaching college English and held a staff position for the Upward Bound Program. Remember what I have said many times before in my articles about the teachers we had at Carver, Mrs. John Ella Lewis-Carroll was one of those highly educated, intelligent, dedicated and beloved teachers at Carver and later at Robert E. Lee High Schools.
John Ella retired from Goose Creek CISD while working at Robert E. Lee in 1999 after 38 years of devoted service. Throughout her career and after retirement, she would not hesitate to share corrections in grammar, usage, and sentence structure if necessary. Retirement simply didn’t slow this woman down. She enjoyed spending time in her gardens and sprucing up her property. She enjoyed giving her time and talents to different organizations within the community and especially her church, and was often considered a model citizen, great neighbor and a helping hand in the Third Ward – River-side Terrace Community.
John Ella maintained her devotion to her churches, church family and her love of God. This all started during her early years at Mount Hope Baptist Church in Shankleville and remained true to form at Trinity UMC. She had been a proud member of Trinity UMC for more than 55 years. She held positions on the Administrative Board, Council on Ministries, United Methodist Women and was a devoted Sunday School Teacher.
John Ella will be remembered for the manner in which she cherished love, the love of family and her faith in God. She was a protector of not only her immediate family, but her extended family as well. She provided guidance and insight to countless people always sharing the best advice from both experience and her faith in God.
John Ella, also known to many as Johnnie, Momma, Gramma, “T”, Sis, Aunt John Ella, Cousin John Ella, Ms. John Ella and “The Boss” transitioned peacefully June 2, 2019.
She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband of 34 years, Mr. John Carroll, Jr.; one sister, Azzie Lee Miles; and two brothers, Jesse James Lewis and Charlie Lewis.
Funeral arrangements were handled by Cook-Butler Funeral Home in Pearland. She was laid to rest at Paradise Cemetery South, Pearland.
Mrs. Carroll’s spirit is impossible to capture or describe in words; she was a formidable woman of great intellect and heart. Actually, she did not accept compliments gracefully. Perhaps that was her way of letting us know that she could not be manipulated by her students. Her love for us and her determination to fill us with knowledge and confidence, however, could not be mistaken. In our innocence (ages 15 to 18), we learned to understand and embrace her manner of appearing “no nonsense”, but we felt her gentleness and protectiveness underneath.
Her diction and posture were wonderful to behold. She spoke clearly and purposefully, accentuating concepts she wanted us to remember. Mrs. Carroll would have us diagram a sentence on the blackboard and identify parts of speech, ensuring agreement between subjects and verbs, adjectives, etc. We learned how to speak in front of our classmates without fainting. Our written essays were returned with suggested improvements on awkward wording with, positive and encouraging comments.
Today, we have computers that can correct our spelling and supply grammatical constructions. What we learned was the foundation of the language, grounding that was invaluable in building our ability to think and analyze. As unsophisticated teenagers, we could not name what was taking place as our growing brains developed. We just knew that Mrs. Carroll was smart and we wanted so much to learn what she was teaching us. More than anything, we wanted to make her smile that subtle, suppressed expression of approval of our performance.
Her humor was phenomenal, especially when some of the boys came up with incredible excuses for why an assignment was not completed. She would not shame anyone. Instead, she would ask a series of ready questions that would swiftly debunk the deception. The girls were a bit more subtle with their excuses, but they received the same treatment. Although she did not crack a smile during these exchanges, we would break up in laughter over the way she systematically taught us that she could not be “played.”
Mrs. John Ella Lewis-Carroll was our role model for what could be achieved by determined black girls and boys who were willing to make sacrifices and work hard. She spoke her truth on all matters that she felt required a comment. She showed us that there was a powerful way to do that without losing one’s composure or attacking another person’s character. As adults, we have learned how important her example was.
I would be remiss to leave out the team of teachers, men and women who worked with her. God provided us a team of angels during a very difficult period of segregation and discrimination. Together, those teachers formulated a game plan for us to follow in order to be successful. They complimented each other and modeled mutual respect for each other. Thank you, Lord, for sending us your very best. Rest well, Mrs. Carroll. We love you.
J. Warren Singleton is a local historian and resides in Baytown.