John W. Hargis, the first black to receive an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, one of three children of Otis Hargis, was born in Austin on December 23, 1935. He was valedictorian of his class at Anderson High School in 1953, then attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he studied medicine. After deciding instead to become an engineer, he attempted to enroll at the University of Texas in 1954, but was told to take additional courses at Prairie View A&M University. In 1955 he was admitted to the University of Texas, where he graduated in 1959. While at the university he established a chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the national black fraternity, for which he was recognized as "Alpha Man of the Year" by the members at nearby Huston-Tillotson College, from whom he had received his charter. After graduating, he married twice, the second time to Roberta Lee, and had four children.
From 1959 to 1961 Hargis worked as a chemical engineer for Reichhold Chemicals in Austin. In 1961 he went to California to work for Ampex Corporation. During this time he received a patent for designing an innovative magnetic recording tape. In 1964 he worked for Audio Devices, Incorporated, in Connecticut. The company was later purchased by Capitol Records, and Hargis became a vice president of manufacturing for Capitol after earning his master's degree in business administration from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1971. For his achievements and his work on behalf of organizations such as the United Way and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he was included in Who's Who in the East in 1976, the same year that Alpha Phi Alpha at the University of Texas honored him with its Ed Brookes Award. Hargis was a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Society of Plastic Engineers. He was also a member of the New Canaan Board of Finance in Connecticut. After open-heart surgery he was compelled in 1982 to retire early, but he returned to Austin and became involved in minority recruitment for his alma mater. His successful efforts were recognized with an appointment as the special assistant to the president for minority affairs in October 1986, just prior to his death on November 13 of that year. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Austin. The College of Engineering at the University of Texas funded a minority scholarship in his memory, and the Admissions and Employment Center on the "Little Campus" of the university bears his name.