Jarvis Christian College

By: Rachel Jenkins

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: September 16, 2020

Jarvis Christian College, a fully accredited four-year private liberal arts college offering associate's and bachelor's degrees, is at Hawkins, in southeastern Wood County. It was originally known as Jarvis Christian Institute, and ever since the school's founding in 1912 it has been affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). By 1988 it was the only historically Black college that remained of the twelve such Black colleges originally founded by the Christian Church. The school, modeled after the Southern Christian Institute in Edwards, Mississippi, held its first formal classes in January 1913 with twelve elementary-level students. In 1904 the Negro Disciples of Christ in Texas and the Christian Woman's Board of Missions began collaborating to raise money for the school's establishment: the Negro Disciples of Christ (primarily because of efforts by the women of the churches), raised $1,000, and the Christian Woman's Board of Missions contributed $10,000 more. At around the same time, Virginia Hearne, state secretary for women's work, contacted Ida Van Zandt Jarvis, who with her husband, Maj. James Jones Jarvis, in 1910 deeded 456 acres to the Christian Woman's Board of Missions to "keep up and maintain a school for the elevation and education of the Negro race...in which school there shall be efficient religious and industrial training."

In 1912 construction began, led by Southern Christian Institute graduates Thomas Buchanan Frost (who served as the first superintendent) and Charles Albert Berry (the first principal), and with help from the school's potential students. James Nelson Ervin of Johnson City, Tennessee, became the school's first president in 1914. That year the school began officially teaching high school courses; until 1937 it was the only accredited high school exclusively for Blacks in the area. The school began regularly offering junior college courses in 1927 and was incorporated as a college the next year. Senior college courses were offered beginning in 1937. When Peter Clarence Washington became the second president in 1938, high school classes were eliminated. In 1939 the college was granted its charter by the state of Texas, and in 1950 Jarvis Christian College was included by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools on its "Approved List of Colleges and Universities for Negro Youth," the only regional accreditation available at that time for Black colleges in the South.

In 1958 an independently elected board of trustees began governing the college, replacing a Texas board of trustees (members of the Disciples of Christ) that had been appointed by the Department of Institutional Missions of the United Christian Missionary Society. The independent board, however, still included representation from the church. In 1964 the college became affiliated with Texas Christian University, a relationship that was discontinued in 1976. When in 1966 Dr. James Oliver Perpener, Jr., was established as the college's fifth president, he became the first Jarvis alumnus to hold that office. The next year Jarvis Christian College affiliated with the Texas Association of Developing Colleges, a consortium of Black colleges, and also gained accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The Texas Education Agency approved the school's teacher-education program in 1969.

The alumni associations of Jarvis Christian College and the Southern Christian Institute merged in 1979. In 1980 Jarvis alumnus Dr. Charles Albert Berry became the school's eighth president; the next year the title of the Jarvis couple's original land donation was transferred to the college from the United Christian Missionary Society. Oil wells discovered on school property in the early 1940s were still providing some revenue in the early 1980s, when the college owned about 1,000 acres. At that time the 243-acre campus proper had some twenty-four buildings that cumulatively cost over $12 million; buildings included a library built with funds from the Olin Foundation and the James Nelson Ervin Religion and Cultural Center, opened in 1983 and named in honor of the school's first president. Faculty numbered fifty in 1987. By 1989 Dr. Julius F. Nimmons had become the school's ninth president. Enrollment for the 1989–90 school year was 546. In the early 1980s the school began systematically compiling an archive of materials related to Jarvis Christian College, Southern Christian Institute, and the Black Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In the fall of 1998 the college had forty-eight faculty and a student enrollment of 505. Sebetha Jenkins was president. Courses were offered in three divisions: arts and sciences, education, and business. In the fall of 2010 Jarvis Christian College had 538 students. Lester C. Newman became president in 2012.

E. B. Bynum, These Carried the Torch: Pioneers of Christian Education in Texas (Dallas: Clark, 1946). 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]). Minnie Alice Noe, A History of Jarvis Christian College (M.A. thesis, Texas Christian University, 1966). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Education
  • Private Four-Year Colleges and Universities
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Religion
  • Christian Church

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

Rachel Jenkins, “Jarvis Christian College,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/jarvis-christian-college.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 16, 2020

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