On this day in 1878, eight young men enrolled in the short-lived Alta Vista Agricultural College, the first public black college in Texas. In 1876 the Fifteenth Texas Legislature had authorized an "Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Benefit of Colored Youth" as part of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University). A three-man commission bought Alta Vista Plantation, near Hempstead in Waller County, from Helen Marr Kirby for some $15,000. Texas A&M president Thomas S. Gathright hired Mississippian L. W. Minor as the first principal, and in March 1878 the first students enrolled at a tuition of $130 for nine months of instruction, board, and one uniform. The school was rechartered as Prairie View Normal Institute the following year, and continues today as Prairie View A&M University.
On this day in 1890, future Texas governor and U.S. senator W. Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel was born in Malta, Ohio. He came to Texas in 1925 as sales manager of the Burrus Mill and Elevator Company in Fort Worth, manufacturer of Light Crust Flour. He took over the company's radio advertising in 1928 and hired and named the Light Crust Doughboys, the influential western swing band that featured Bob Wills and Milton Brown. O'Daniel organized his own flour company in 1935 and filed for governor in 1938. Accompanied by his band, the Hillbilly Boys, he attracted huge audiences, especially in rural areas. He won the 1938 election and was reelected in 1940. In a special U.S. Senate election in 1941, he edged Lyndon Johnson in a flurry of controversial late returns. In a desperate reelection fight the next year, O'Daniel charged that the professional politicians, the politically controlled newspapers, and the "communistic labor leader racketeers" were conspiring against him, but he hung on to enough rural and elderly voters to eke out a win. O'Daniel was ineffective in the Senate, however, and by 1948, with public opinion polls giving him only 7 percent support, he announced that he would not run again since there was only slight hope of saving America from the communists. He bought a ranch near Fort Worth, invested in Dallas real estate, and founded an insurance company. He attempted comebacks in the Democratic gubernatorial primaries of 1956 and 1958, but failed to make the runoff on both occasions. O'Daniel died in Dallas in 1969.
On this day in 1926, the Texas Railroad Commission allowed the Phillips Petroleum Company to construct a carbon black plant in the Panhandle. The facility was originally operated by the Western Carbon Company and later owned by the Columbian Carbon firm. Carbon black, produced from natural gas that has more than 1 ½ grains of hydrogen sulfide, became in demand in the early twentieth century, especially in the production of automobile tires. The first carbon black plant in Texas opened in 1923 in Stephens County. By the early 1930s, thirty-one plants in Texas produced 75 percent of the nation’s output. Most facilities were located in the Panhandle, and Texas became the largest producer of carbon black in the country.