Killeen resident Horace Grace is a decorated military veteran and a prominent businessman, but that path was not always a given for him, and he wants young African-Americans to know the same is possible for them.
Grace was raised by his grandparents in East Texas during a time when segregation was the norm.
“There was a time when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I was trying to get a drink of water, and a white boy came and slapped the cup out of my hand and said, ‘You can’t drink at this fountain,’” Grace recalled. “There were just certain other things that came with growing up an African-American boy. When a white lady walked down the street, you walked on the other side and you made sure you didn’t look at her, and that’s just how it was.”
He remembers a time about a year later, when he was picking cotton as a tenant farmer. Grace said he looked up and could not see the end of the row of cotton, and he remembers thinking: “There has to be a better way to make a living than this.”
“I looked over at the man we were tenant farming for, and I saw his beautiful white house and I wondered ‘What can I do to get to live like that?’ And I think we all have to have moments like that,” Grace said.
He said that was one of the defining moments in his decision to try to better himself and his situation.
“I was a regular student,” Grace said. “I wasn’t a favorite or anything, I just went in and out doing my thing. Then, when I got to about ninth grade, I started trying to figure out what I needed to do to stay out of trouble.”
Grace ran and was elected president of his 18-person class, an office he held throughout high school.
It was this office that sparked Grace’s love of politics.
Grace also became involved in New Farmers of America, now called Future Farmers of America, where he learned how to make motions and conduct meetings under the leadership of his agriculture teacher, Marvin Roberson.
Grace went on to become the district president of the NFA, as well as the area president. His title of area president allowed him to run for state office, where he says he learned one of his earliest lessons about politics.
“I got down to Prairie View with my good friend Theodore Johns, and he was going to run for president like I was,” Grace said. “We had this whole campaign going, but I saw him one day, and he was handing out free Coke, and I was just standing there passing out my flyers. It was then that I learned that you better have something to make yourself stand out, because he ended up beating me.”
After high school, Grace received a scholarship to college in Prairie View, where he worked with the Dean of Men as a dorm supervisor before going on to get a master’s degree in agriculture education.
While at Prairie View, he joined the Advanced Reserve Officer Training Corps, where he received $125 per month.
“Being a country boy, the girls didn’t really notice you, but when you put that uniform on, it was a whole different story,” Grace said, laughing. “I remember walking through the student union thinking ‘Oh man, this is pretty cool!’”
Grace graduated and received his commission as a second lieutenant and went on to active duty, where he served four years. After moving up to a rank of captain, he decided to leave the military to see what he could accomplish in business.
He worked as a salesman for Pfizer pharmaceuticals for several years, becoming a top salesman before returning to active duty service. He moved up to the rank of major before being diagnosed with osteoarthritis and given a medical retirement.
Grace then settled in Killeen and started his own business, the Lawn Barber Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance, in 1982. The company was responsible for the landscaping of the Wal-Mart stores in town, as well as Metroplex hospital and other businesses. Grace ran the company until 2007.
His love for politics never went away, and in 1985, Grace became involved in state and local politics, working on multiple campaigns throughout the late 1980s.
He has since served as vice chairman of the Texas Credit Union Commission, advisor to the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, director of the Brazos River Authority, and president of the Greater Fort Hood Area United Way. He also currently serves as the chairman of the Central Texas College Foundation Board, chairman of the Economic Development Committee of the State Chapter NAACP, and the founding director of the Central Texas Alliance of Black Businesses, among numerous other titles.
“It takes time to accomplish the goals you want,” Grace said. “You can’t just be an ‘I want it now’ generation; you have to take the time to learn the skills you need. It may take years, but if a business comes along that says it will get you there quicker, you need to look at what kind of business it is.”
Grace also serves as the founder and chairman of the Center for African-American Studies at Central Texas College, which he started as an effort to promote and further the community’s education about Killeen’s diverse culture.
“We need to learn the history of our culture,” Grace said. “It’s important to understand the roots and what people had to go through. We are standing on the shoulders of the people before us.”
Among other contributions, the Center hosts a lecture series with renowned guest speakers. This year’s event will feature Greg Kimathi Carr, associate professor at Howard University and adjunct faculty member at Howard School of Law. The evening will begin with a meet and greet at 6 p.m. Feb. 28, with a lecture starting at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public, and will take place in the ballroom of the Anderson Building on the CTC campus.
Last year’s lecture, held on the A&M-Central Texas campus, had over 300 people in attendance, and Grace is expecting similar numbers this year.