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Ralphael O'Hara Lanier becomes first president of Texas Southern University

July
02
1948

On this day in 1948, Ralphael O'Hara Lanier, who had earlier served five years as dean of Houston Colored Junior College and more recently as United States Minister to Liberia, became the first president of the Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University). The university was established by the Fiftieth Texas Legislature on March 3, 1947. The intent of the legislature was to offer the state's black citizens a university equivalent to the University of Texas, in accord with the "separate but equal" principle of segregation. Lanier had a record of leadership in higher education, which made him a good selection for the new university. His administration, however, was troubled with both internal and external difficulties. As president, he had to face divisiveness between students who opposed a separate black college and wished to attend the University of Texas and students who pushed for the establishment of a first-class, yet segregated, black university. Lanier enjoyed the general support of African Americans, but the white establishment and a small group of black intellectuals opposed him. Local newspapers launched a series of attacks on him throughout his tenure, alleging poor administration, unskilled personnel, fiscal irresponsibility, communism, and general confusion on campus. Lanier opposed the autonomy of the law school on campus, feeling that it would generate the perception of two separate universities. A local American Legion post called for the governor to start an investigation of the university. In 1953 a committee of Houston citizens was appointed to study the situation and report to the governor. The committee reported that the charges were unfounded, and that under Lanier's leadership the university had expanded in terms of student enrollment, curriculum, and physical facilities. The report, however, stated that the existence of two leaders, Lanier in charge of academics and John Robinson in charge of fiscal matters, was awkward. Robinson resigned. Despite the difficulties he faced, the university not only survived, but grew under Lanier's leadership. Nevertheless, after seven often turbulent years at Texas Southern, he left the presidency. There has been some debate over whether he resigned freely.

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