“Back in the day, I remember going to Houston near the Cypress area, and there was some Texas state troopers that would be parked on the right side of the road. They looked so tall and of course, they were White. But, I would always say when I get up, I want to be a state trooper. Even during my elementary days when the teachers would ask you what you wanted to be. I would always say, ‘I want to be a police officer.'”
– Chief Wilton White, Jr., Eagle Lake Police Department
By Rebecca S. Jones
A native of Hempstead, Texas, Wilton White, Jr. was birthed to Georgia Mae Taylor and the late Wilton White, Sr. His fondest memories as a child was spending time during the summer at his grandparents’ house. His grandfather, Harry Taylor was a hard-working mechanic and farmer, who taught him how to ride horses and the basics about working on engines. White also recalls watching Country Western shows with his grandfather and envisioned himself becoming a cowboy when he got older.
He was educated in the public-school system. During his high school years, he was active in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) – a work program which allows students with enough credit hours to leave school and work. He said, “In school I wasn’t really athletic. I was too short for basketball; too slow for track; and too little for football; but, I found something I could do and that was the military.”
After graduating from Hempstead High School in 1979, he became a commercial driver for Wilmice Vending Company and Sherwin-Williams Painting Company. In 1982, he enlisted in the United States Army. White said, “As it turned out I had a knack for that military stuff. I went in there and started working out and running and went from 125 pounds, when I graduated high school to 190 pounds when I came out of the military. Even though I was asthmatic, I never let that stop me. I would buy shorts with pockets and would put my inhaler in my pocket. Whenever I felt myself having an attack, I would give myself a few puffs and keep going.”
Although White entered the military as a Diesel Mechanic he quickly emerged as a leader. He perfected the skill of shooting his rifle, so much so, that he earned a badge for being a sharp shooter. He also rose to the rank of Sergeant within a two-and-a-half-year time span, amidst receiving other medals and commendations. During his tenure there, he devoted four years of service in Regular Duty and served another two years in the Texas National Guard; before receiving an honorable discharge in 1988.
Upon being discharged from the military, White felt the strong need to continue his education before re-entering the workforce. Accordingly, he moved to Fort Hood and matriculated at Central Texas College, where he earned an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. Following, he relocated to Houston and secured employment at Armored Transport Texas. While picking up and delivering money to varying enterprises in the city; he decided the time had come for him to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a police officer. Thus, he enrolled at the University of Houston – Downtown and began his studies to obtain licensure. He would work during the day and attend class at night. His sacrifice was rewarded in December of 1989, as he attained his license to become a certified police officer in the state of Texas.
Thereafter, he applied with the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, the agency was experiencing a four-year hiring freeze. Motivated to accomplish his dream, he went on to apply at the Brenham Police Department in Brenham, Texas. Initially, White was told there were no openings available. At the time, the department only had one African-American police officer, Mr. Bill Mays. Fortunately for White, Mays retired shortly afterwards. Subsequently, he was called back by Brenham PD who offered him the position. After happily accepting the invitation, he began working as a police officer just a month after earning his license.
White maintained an unblemished record during his four-year tenure with the Brenham Police Department. While there, he served on the Interview Board and became a Field Training officer before applying with the Texas Department of Public Safety. Consequently, he was hired on with the Department of Public Safety in January, 1994. He continued his professional legacy of excellence, during the 13 years he dedicated to the department – serving on the Interview Board and as Field Training Officer to both male and female troopers.
As a Texas state trooper, White received many awards and accolades for his service. He was recognized with the Driver’s Safety award, for having written over 760 speeding tickets – more than any other officer in the region. Also, in 2004, he was hit by a drunk driver while working for the DPS and was seriously injured to the point, that he was off work for nine months. As a result, he was summoned to Austin to receive the Star of Texas award presented by then-Governor Rick Perry. Having “won the war, but lost the battle,” is how White described his transition from State Trooper with the DPS to becoming Lieutenant of Operations at Prairie View A&M University.
As such, Lt. White began working in this capacity in April, 2007. He devoted over a decade to the Prairie View community before retiring in 2018, with a combined sum of 27 years of experience serving in law enforcement. Although Lt. White had accomplished much, he still felt a void within. He said, “I had to clean my heart because I had been overlooked twice for the Chief position at Prairie View. So, when I got to where I could retire, that’s what I did. Because, I felt I had done everything throughout my career that I could, to become Chief; but, that wasn’t where God wanted me to be.”
While enjoying retirement, one of White’s friends contacted him and shared that Eagle Lake Police Department was in search of a Chief. He encouraged White to apply. Following the urging of his friend, White applied but never heard anything back from the agency. After some time passed, his friend reached out to him again and told him that the search for a Chief had begun again. This time, White was reluctant to apply due to his first experience. However, after relenting to the constant urging of his friend, Gus, he decided to apply on a Friday evening.
The following Monday, White received a call and was asked to meet with the City Manager that Thursday. He complied and was informed that he would be considered for the position after completing the company’s requirements. The rest literally became history!
Last month Chief Wilton White, Jr. was sworn in as the official head of the Eagle Lake Police Department. This feat establishes him as the first African-American to serve in the position in the agency which was established in 1888. When asked how it feels to accomplish his lifelong dream, Chief said, “It feels wonderful! This is the last dream I wanted to accomplish, I always said, ‘this would be the last thing I did, before I got out of law enforcement. It’s a small agency and I have a lot of young guys under me and the people here have been great; they have welcomed me in, and it has been good.”
Words of Wisdom
When asked about any advice he could offer members of the Black community, Chief revealed the following. “I am a stickler for following rules and procedures. My mom used to always say, ‘There are rules wherever you go.’ And I’m finding our youth now, are so outspoken to where they don’t want to follow the rules. I used to do a little bit of teaching, and I tried to teach on both ends. I tell officers what not to do and also, I like talking to students.
So, I would tell officers that it makes the violator upset when they make contact with the driver and don’t explain to them why they are being stopped. I find a lot of officers get into trouble doing that. When I ran the streets, I would tell them, ‘I’m trooper so and so with DPS, and the reason you are being stopped is because… I never asked them if they know what they did, I just tell them because I knew why I stopped them. But a lot of officers will stop them and won’t tell them.
Then I see students or young people who have their radio too loud. So, I tell them, ‘When an officer approaches you, turn your radio down, let your window down and listen to what they have to say.’ The best thing I can tell people is that, on the side of the road, the police are not trained to let you win. The best thing to do is get his badge number and it’s up there. You don’t even have to talk to him, you can look up there, see his name tag and badge number; you can take a picture of it and get with his superiors later. But, all of that screaming and cursing on the road is only going to get you a few places – dead or arrested. And neither one is in that person’s favor. But I have always tried to treat people decent, I love respect.”
Personal Facts about The Chief
In 2006, White went back to further his education at Mountain State University in Beckley, West Virginia. As a student there, he received the President’s Award twice and graduated Magna Cum Laude in his class. Ultimately, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Administration Criminal Justice. Currently, he is studying to complete a Master’s degree in Critical Incident Management, of which is only several credits from fulfilling.
In 2009, White lost his wife Rita, to pancreatic cancer. He has two sisters, Lawrence White and Wilona Brown. Chief is the proud father of two children, Wilton Jeffery, Vernalia Manuel and an adopted daughter he calls his own, Ashley Simon.
The Chief remains ever grateful for the impact his mother, Georgia and grandfather, Harry had on his life. He said, “I had a strong mother and grandfather. My grandfather was a hard-working guy. He was a mechanic and a farmer, and he taught me a lot. And my mother made it so, when you turned 18, you had to leave her house. She kicked you out of the nest and it made you grow up.