Harriet Elizabeth Byrd

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Harriet Elizabeth Byrd
Member of the Wyoming Senate
from the 8th district
In office
1988 - 1992
Member of the Wyoming House of Representatives
from the 44th district
In office
1981 – 1988
Personal details
Born Harriet Elizabeth Rhone
(1926-04-20)April 20, 1926
Cheyenne, Wyoming
Died January 27, 2015(2015-01-27) (aged 88)
Cheyenne, Wyoming
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) James W. Byrd (1947-2005)
Residence Cheyenne, Wyoming
Alma mater West Virginia State College (B.A.)
University of Wyoming (M.A.)
Profession educator

Harriet Elizabeth Byrd (April 20, 1926 – January 27, 2015) was an American politician from Wyoming, and was the first African American elected to the Wyoming Legislature.[1]


She was born Harriet Elizabeth Rhone in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and was the daughter of Robert C. "Buck" Rhone, a first class mechanic for Union Pacific Railroad, and Sudie Smith Rhone, a homemaker. Her paternal grandfather Charles J. Rhone first settled in Wyoming in 1876, where he worked as a cowboy and railroader in Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming. She graduated from Cheyenne Central High School in 1944. Three years later, she married James W. Byrd on August 8, 1947, who would later become the first African-American police chief in Wyoming in 1966.[2] The couple had three children: Robert, James, and Linda; and six grandchildren. Their son, also named James W. Byrd, has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives since 2009.

Byrd graduated with a bachelor's degree in education from West Virginia State College, a historically black college in Institute, West Virginia in 1949, and returned to Wyoming in order to apply for a teaching job with the Laramie County School District, but was denied employment because of her race. She was subsequently hired as a civilian instructor in the Department of Administrative Services at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. In 1959, the Laramie County School District reversed its earlier decision and hired her as an elementary school teacher based in Cheyenne for 27 years. In 1976, she earned an M.A. degree from the University of Wyoming.[1][2]

Byrd served in the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1980 to 1988, and in the Wyoming Senate from 1988 to 1992, becoming the first African-American to serve in both houses.[1] During her career in the state legislature, she sponsored legislation establishing a state holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., achieving a partial victory in 1991 through the establishment of the Martin Luther King, Jr./Wyoming Equality Day which is popularly recognized as King Day in the state. Other legislation she sponsored included requiring the use of child safety restraints, expansion of available handicapped parking, and establishment of social services programs for adults.[3]

Following her retirement from the Wyoming Legislature in 1992, she lived with her husband James W. Byrd in Cheyenne, Wyoming, until his death on December 5, 2005.[4] Byrd died on January 27, 2015 at her home in Cheyenne, Wyoming.[5][6]


  1. ^ a b c BlackPast.org-Remembered and Reclaimed-Byrd, Harriet Elizabeth "Liz" (1926-)
  2. ^ a b University of Wyoming-UW Profiles Harriet Elizabeth "Liz" Byrd
  3. ^ Biography of Harriet Elizabeth "Liz" Byrd-African-American & Diaspora Studies-University of Wyoming
  4. ^ Harriet Elizabeth Byrd Timeline-Made in Wyoming (PDF)
  5. ^ "Liz" Byrd, first black woman in Wyoming House, dies at 88"
  6. ^ Harriet Byrd Obituary Wyoming Tribune Eagle