Black Colleges

By: Michael R. Heintze

Type: General Entry

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: September 30, 2020

After the Civil War Black Texans discovered that the abolition of slavery did not carry with it any guarantee of social, political, or economic equality. This became painfully evident during the course of Reconstruction as many White Texans refused to accept African Americans as equals and worked systematically to keep them in a segregated, second-class status, as near to slavery as possible. Especially troubling were the actions of Texas lawmakers who, between 1866 and 1900, erected an elaborate network of segregation laws that effectively deprived Blacks of their rights as citizens. Beginning with the Constitution of 1866, laws were written barring Blacks from voting, holding public office, and serving on juries. Laws segregating public facilities, such as railroad cars, theaters, restaurants and hotels, also appeared. Not surprisingly statutes were also passed ensuring that the state's educational system was kept separate and, it was obvious, unequal. During the 1870s and 1880s many White Texans were opposed to the idea of providing extensive educational opportunities for Blacks. They also were against the idea of integrating the public schools. Many held strong convictions, reinforced by the works of several popular nineteenth-century social scientists, that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites and unable to master more than the most basic of educational skills. Such individuals argued that providing higher education to the former slaves was a waste of the state's resources. Others feared that education would make Blacks difficult to control or would reduce the pool of cheap agricultural and industrial labor. Some were concerned about the social interaction and intermarriage that might result from school integration.

In spite of opposition, however, efforts to further Black educational opportunities moved forward. During the initial phase of Reconstruction, the Freedmen's Bureau took the lead in establishing elementary and secondary schools for the former slaves. By May 1866 the bureau had set up more than 100 schools across the state. Though staffed primarily by White Southerners, bureau schools were an affront to many White Texans and were the object of much criticism and hostility. Where funds and volunteers permitted, White Northern religious denominations also established elementary and secondary schools. Groups such as the Freedmen's Aid Society, the American Missionary Association, and the American Baptist Home Mission Society were in the vanguard of these early efforts. Such Black communions as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church sought to Christianize and educate the former slaves. Northern philanthropists and the churches soon realized, however, that little headway would be made until Texas had a large cadre of Black leaders, including teachers. This required that the benefits of higher education be made available to the Black population. The 1870s and 1880s were a dramatic and somewhat romantic period in the history of Black higher education. Driven by religious and moral zeal, Northern missionary and religious groups established dozens of colleges across the South. In most states the efforts of these groups predated the establishment of public Black colleges. This was the case in Texas where the first Black private college was established in 1872, while the state's first public Black college did not appear until 1878.

The first Black college established in Texas was Paul Quinn College, founded in Austin in 1872 by a small group of circuit-riding pastors of the AME Church and named for a bishop who served the church on the western frontier from 1844 until his death in 1873. The college was founded to develop ministers and train freedmen to assume the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. After operating unsuccessfully in a church building for five years, the school was moved to Waco, where it struggled to survive as a trade school. There students were offered courses in blacksmithing, carpentry, tanning, saddlery, and other basic skills.

Wiley College was established in Marshall in 1873 by the Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Together with the Methodist Episcopal Church, the society sought to prepare African Americans for citizenship through a wide range of educational and relief efforts. By 1869 it had founded fifty-nine elementary schools across nine Southern states. By 1878 the society had founded twenty colleges, seminaries, or medical schools in eleven Southern states. Wiley College was named for one of the society's foremost figures, Bishop Isaac D. Wiley, a Pennsylvanian who gained prominence in the Methodist Episcopal Church as a missionary in China and as a minister in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. When the Civil War began, Wiley was a vocal supporter of the Union war effort and the drive to abolish slavery. At the end of the war he involved himself in efforts to Christianize and educate the former slaves. Wiley was a charter member of the Freedmen's Aid Society and went on to serve as its vice president and president.

Tillotson College, established in Austin in 1877, was originally named Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute. It opened to students in January 1881. The school was founded by the American Missionary Association and initially offered elementary, secondary, and college training. Tillotson was only one of several educational ventures sponsored by the AMA, which was itself the result of a merger in 1847 of several White Northern missionary groups. Before and after the Civil War, the AMA worked to eliminate caste limitations and was active in the promotion of education. Beginning in 1858, the AMA established eight colleges, including Atlanta University, Fisk University, and Hampton Institute. Tillotson College was named for George Jeffrey Tillotson, a retired Congregationalist minister from Hartford, Connecticut, who raised over $16,000 and purchased several acres of land in Austin for the establishment of a collegiate and normal school.

State-supported higher education for African Americans began in 1878 with the foundation of Prairie View State Normal School (now Prairie View A&M University). The school came about as a result of the Morrill Act of 1866. Prairie View A&M, located between Hempstead and Houston, was established to provide agricultural and vocational training to Blacks. As a part of Texas A&M University, it received part of the federal funds designated for land-grant colleges in Texas. In the 1880s Prairie View expanded its curriculum to include teacher training. Since many Whites were opposed to more extensive educational offerings for Blacks, Prairie View remained essentially an agricultural, vocational, and normal school until 1901. Before that time Prairie View was hardly the branch university promised in the Constitution of 1876. Many Black leaders thought the constitution had promised a classical university similar to the University of Texas. Although a Black university was proposed and authorized by ballot in 1882, no action was taken by the Texas legislature to begin construction. While Blacks pressured legislators to found a university, most Whites lobbied lawmakers simply to expand the role of Prairie View. In 1897, as pressure increased from such groups as the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas (see TEACHERS STATE ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS), the legislature passed a bill authorizing the use of 50,000 acres of public land for the establishment and maintenance of a Black state university at Austin. The Texas Supreme Court, however, in Hogue v. Baker (1898), invalidated the action by prohibiting the land commissioner from appropriating more land for educational purposes (see LAND APPROPRIATIONS FOR EDUCATION). By 1899 it became clear that a separate Black university would not be built. In 1901 Prairie View was authorized to begin teaching college courses in classical and scientific studies.

In 1946 state lawmakers began to worry about the implications of a lawsuit involving Heman M. Sweatt, a graduate of Wiley College who had been denied admission to the law school at the University of Texas. Sweatt filed suit in Texas district court which ruled that either equal facilities must be provided within six months or Sweatt must be admitted to the University of Texas. The legislature responded by establishing a makeshift law school in Houston. As the famous Sweatt v. Painter case continued to unfold, state leaders decided that a university for Blacks was needed to help preserve segregation in higher education. In 1947 the state took over Houston College for Negroes and restructured it as Texas State University for Negroes. In 1951 its name was changed to Texas Southern University.

Bishop College was founded in Marshall in 1881 by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. The society had been founded in 1832 to assist in evangelizing the West. At the beginning of the Civil War the society became interested in the plight of Southern Blacks and became a leader in spreading the Gospel and furthering education in the South. By 1881 the society had established five colleges, including Morehouse College, Benedict College, and Bishop College. The drive to found a college for Black Baptists in Texas was led by a White educator, Nathan Bishop, a native New Yorker and graduate of Brown University who became an innovator in public education. After his retirement in 1858, Bishop used his wealth and the remaining twenty-two years of his life helping the disadvantaged. In 1872 Rufus C. Burleson, president of Baylor University, appealed to Bishop for assistance in building a Black Baptist college. Several years later Bishop agreed to help, but died before the funds could be sent. His wife, Carolina Caldwell Bishop, also supported the idea and later contributed $10,000 to the American Baptist Home Mission Society to begin the project. The society sent S. W. Marston, the district secretary, and Allen R. Griggs, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Dallas, to select an appropriate location. After visiting Dallas, Houston, Austin, Marshall, Texarkana, Little Rock, and Shreveport, they settled on Marshall. The decision was prompted by the enthusiasm of the Baptists in East Texas, the dense Black population there, and the presence of a Black Baptist high school called Centennial College. Local supporters raised $1,600 and purchased ten acres for what was initially called South-Western Baptist College. In 1880 forty more acres were added and the school was renamed Bishop College. The process was completed when Centennial College merged with Bishop, thus giving the new school the nucleus of its first student body.

Guadalupe College, a Black-owned and Black-operated institution, was founded in 1884 by the Guadalupe Baptist Association. Its first campus was five acres near the county courthouse in Seguin. In 1914 the school was moved to the western edge of town to a site donated by San Antonio philanthropist George W. Brackenridge. Guadalupe College sprang from a squabble between the White Baptist Home Mission Society and Black Baptist groups in Central and South Texas. Its founding resulted from the society's decision to locate Bishop College in Marshall. Many Black Baptists were unhappy that the college had not been founded in their region of the state. In response Black Baptists founded Hearne Academy in 1881, Guadalupe College in 1884, and Houston Academy in 1885. Between 1888 and 1893 Black Baptists repeatedly asked the Home Mission Society to support both Bishop and Guadalupe College. When the society refused to support more than one college in Texas, Black Baptists formed the General Baptist Convention and gave their full support to Guadalupe College.

Mary Allen College in Crockett was founded in 1886 on ten acres of land provided by local residents. An adjoining 260 acres was later donated by James Snydor of Illinois. The school began in a vacant hotel rented by supporters. The two-year school, originally known as Mary Allen Seminary, was established for the education of Black women by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen. It was named for Mary E. Allen, wife of the board's secretary. Mrs. Allen had been instrumental in persuading the board to found a school for women in Texas. Largely through the efforts of Samuel Fisher Tenney, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Crockett, the Board of Missions picked Crockett as the site of the college.

Texas College, on 101 acres of land just north of Tyler, was organized in 1894 under the auspices of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1909 the college was renamed Phillips University in honor of the exceptional service of CME bishop Henry Phillips. Supporters objected to the new name, and the college took back its original name in 1917. Texas College became the state's third Black-controlled institution to be founded by a Black church.

In March 1898 the Episcopal Church established St. Philip's College in San Antonio. St. Philip's was one of only four Black colleges founded by the Episcopalians. These schools ultimately fell under the control of the American Church Institute for Negroes, which was established in 1906 to promote educational activities for the church. St. Philip's was unique because its founders did envision it as a center for liberal-arts instruction. Instead, it began as a vocational institution and has remained one for most of its history. The person most closely responsible for the foundation of the school was Rev. James Steptoe Johnston, bishop of the Missionary District of Western Texas. Concerned that the Episcopal Church had done little to further the education of Blacks, Johnston determined to establish an institution in San Antonio. In 1897 he organized a girls' sewing class in the rectory of St. Philip's Church. In 1898 he purchased a lot behind the church and commissioned the construction of a two-room schoolhouse. When completed, St. Philip's Industrial School opened with courses in cooking, sewing, and house-cleaning.

In 1900 the Freedmen's Aid Society founded its second college in Texas. The institution capped a twenty-four-year struggle that began in 1876, when Andrews Normal School was opened in Dallas. After failing to attract sufficient support there, Methodist leaders moved the school to Austin. In 1883 Richard S. Rust, secretary of the Freedmen's Aid Society, purchased six acres of land on the east side of Austin. Shortly afterward, Samuel Huston—a wealthy landowner from Marengo, Iowa, for whom the college was later named—got the enterprise under way by donating $9,000. Another Methodist supporter, H. S. White of Romeo, Michigan, gave a 500-volume library. In the early 1890s work was authorized to begin on the construction of a building. The foundation was completed when funds ran out in 1893. Only sixteen years later could the structure be completed. The basement was enclosed in 1898, and Reuben S. Lovinggood was sent to begin classes two years later. With little money and few students, he managed to develop the school's enrollment and curriculum. By 1905 a few college-level courses were being offered.

Like the establishment of Guadalupe College, the founding of Butler College in Tyler resulted from independent action on the part of local Black Baptists. The East Texas Baptist Association founded Butler College in 1905. The school was originally named East Texas Normal and Industrial Academy and offered only elementary education and a few classes in sewing. In 1924 it was renamed in honor of its first president, C. M. Butler.

The last of the Black denominational colleges to be founded in Texas was Jarvis Christian College. The Christian Women's Board of Missions of the Disciples of Christ established the school in 1912 in the small East Texas town of Hawkins. Like most of the White Northern denominations, the Disciples of Christ sent missionaries into the South with advancing Union armies. Seeing the need for more Black clergy, the church decided to establish schools for general and religious education. In all, the Disciples of Christ established five schools across the South. Jarvis Christian College traces its beginnings back to 1910 when James J. and Ida Van Zandt Jarvis of Fort Worth donated 456 acres near Hawkins for the establishment of a Black college. Mrs. Jarvis's long-time involvement in the Christian Women's Board of Missions led to the gift. The school was named Jarvis Christian Institute in the Jarvises' honor.

In addition to the colleges founded during this period, a number of other so-called colleges offered limited educational opportunities for Black Texans. These schools, however, never provided college-level work. While it seems certain that they all hoped to rise to such a stature, all of these institutions failed to do so for lack of funding, personnel, or other obstacles. One of the earliest of these was Centennial College which provided high school training in Marshall from 1875 to 1881 before merging with Bishop College. The Black Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention founded Hearne Academy in 1881. In 1909 the academy moved to Fort Worth where it continued as an elementary and secondary school under the name Fort Worth Industrial and Mechanical College. In 1885 Black Baptists founded an elementary and secondary school called Houston Baptist College. From 1901 to 1928 the Black General Baptist Convention of Texas provided precollege instruction at Central Texas College in Waco. Similar training was offered at Conroe-Porter Industrial College which opened in 1903. Black Baptists established Brenham Normal and Industrial College in 1905, but the institution offered mostly elementary courses. R. L. Smith, president and founder of the Farmers' Home Improvement Society, founded a school in 1906 at Ladonia called the Farmers' Improvement Society Agricultural College. By 1913 the St. John's Regular Baptist Association, with the support of White Baptist ministers in Austin, founded St. John's Industrial Institute and Orphanage which provided domestic and elementary instruction through the early 1940s, then ministerial and missionary training into the 1950s. The building was destroyed by fire in 1956. In the early 1900s near Oakwood, Black Baptists founded Boyd Industrial Institute. The school operated until 1919 when a fire destroyed the building. In 1925 the Primitive Baptist Church selected Mexia as the site for St. Paul Industrial College. In Palestine around the turn of the century, the Northeast Texas Christian Convention established an elementary school called the Christian Theological and Industrial College.

Over the years the curricula of the Black colleges in Texas changed significantly. During the 1880s, the course offerings were affected by the prevailing racial attitudes of Whites and by the rising tide of vocationalism, popularized by Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Booker T. Washington. The vocational model clashed with the classical or liberal arts model desired by many Black teachers and students. While business and government leaders succeeded in pressuring Black public colleges to adopt extensive vocational curricula, most private colleges, including those in Texas, developed only limited vocational programs. Besides the costs associated with maintaining vocational courses, many Black college leaders feared that if everyone emphasized industrial training, African Americans would be restricted to the status of semiskilled factory and agricultural workers. By the mid-1950s, vocational training had virtually disappeared at the private Black colleges. While Prairie View maintained its traditional land-grant emphasis, an increasing number of its students chose degree programs in such areas as education, business, and science.

Throughout their history the Black colleges of Texas struggled to develop adequate financial resources. Since most Whites were either apathetic or hostile toward them, state and philanthropic support for these schools remained limited. Consequently, Black colleges drew much of their support from the most impoverished segment of Texas society. This support took the form of church gifts and tuition and fees. Black colleges operated in a climate of severe austerity and financial uncertainty. While organized philanthropy helped, the colleges were constantly seeking ways to increase revenue. Every Black college president had special fund-raising plans. College choirs and quartets traveled the state recruiting prospective students and soliciting donations. Shortages of funds also prompted colleges to join together in joint ventures. By the 1930s Bishop, Wiley, Paul Quinn, Prairie View, and Jarvis Christian were sharing the cost of faculty, speakers, and special entertainment. In spite of all their efforts, however, none of the Black colleges succeeded in developing a sound financial base or extensive endowments. In most cases these schools managed from one year to the next by juggling a shifting combination of church gifts, tuition revenue, and philanthropic grants. When financial burdens became too great, or when they were faced with a financial crisis, college officials were often compelled to make difficult choices. Financial troubles forced Paul Quinn College, for example, to move from Austin to Waco in 1877. After operating in Waco for 113 years, Paul Quinn moved to Dallas in 1990. In 1937 a fire in the administration building brought about the end of Guadalupe College. St. Philip's College, which had struggled to survive as a two-year vocational school, was finally taken over in 1942 by the San Antonio Board of Education. Between 1945 and 1947 Tillotson College and Samuel Huston College merged. In 1961 Bishop College moved its campus from Marshall to Dallas. With a $20 million dollar debt and only 300 students, Bishop College ceased operations in 1988. Financial problems, caused by declining enrollments, forced the closure of Butler College in 1971 and Mary Allen College in 1972. From the 1960s on, as Texas institutions of higher education became increasingly desegregated, the historically Black colleges watched their enrollments decline as Black students took advantage of the wider range of educational opportunities.

One of the enduring strengths of these institutions has been the dedicated service of their teachers and administrators. Again and again, these individuals displayed the courage and creativity to help their institutions weather internal as well as external problems. They also left their mark on Texas history by preparing thousands of students to become productive members of society. The lives of such professors such as Melvin J. Banks (Bishop College), J. W. Frazier (Samuel Huston College), Melvin B. Tolson (Wiley College), Ira Reid (Texas College) and Venita C. Waddleton (Jarvis Christian) were characterized by self-sacrifice and professional dedication. Presidents such as Joseph J. Rhoads (Bishop College), W. Rutherford Banks (Texas College and Prairie View A&M), Dominion R. Glass (Texas College), Reuben S. Lovinggood (Samuel Huston College), and Mary E. Branch (Tillotson College) were legendary for their tireless efforts to advance their institutions. The Black colleges in Texas have made and continue to make positive contributions to the enrichment of the state's social, economic, and political fabric. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these institutions shouldered much of the responsibility for all levels of Black education. Had it not been for these institutions, a majority of the state's Black youth would have remained illiterate. Though poorly funded and often maligned, these institutions provided educational opportunities very similar to those found at other colleges and universities in the South. They successfully prepared thousands of students to become clergy, teachers, lawyers, physicians, dentists, and other professionals. Many of their graduates went on to make significant contributions, not only in their fields or professions, but also to the Black community in general. Examples of prominent graduates include Mildred Jefferson (Texas College), who became the first female graduate of Harvard Medical School; Allen C. Hancock (Texas College), who served as dean of Jarvis Christian College and later president of Texas College; David Abner, Jr. (Bishop College), who became president of Guadalupe College; J. R. E. Lee (Bishop College), who became president of Florida A&M University; singer and composer Jules (Julius) Bledsoe (Bishop College); NAACP activist John H. Wells; folklorist J. Mason Brewer (Wiley College); civil-rights activist James L. Farmer, Jr. (Wiley College), who helped found the Congress for Racial Equality; Heman Sweatt (Wiley College), whose lawsuit played a central role in desegregating graduate and professional schools; and Barbara Jordan (Texas Southern University), who was the first Black graduate of Boston University Law School (1959) and who served during the 1960s and 1970s in the Texas Senate and the United States Congress.

Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of Negroes in Texas, 1528–1971 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973). Alwyn Barr and Robert A. Calvert, eds., Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981). Michael R. Heintze, A History of the Black Private Colleges in Texas, 1865–1954 (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Tech University, 1981; published as Private Black Colleges in Texas, 1865–1954 [College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1985]). Lawrence D. Rice, The Negro in Texas, 1874–1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971). George Ruble Woolfolk, Prairie View (New York: Pageant, 1962).

  • Education
  • Private Four-Year Colleges and Universities
  • Public Four-Year Colleges and Universities
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • San Antonio
  • East Texas
  • East Central Texas
  • Tyler
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Michael R. Heintze, “Black Colleges,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 27, 2022,

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August 1, 1995
September 30, 2020

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