John Quill Taylor King, Sr., African-American college president, professor, author, and United States Army general, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to John Quill Taylor, M.D., and Alice Clinton Woodson Taylor on September 25, 1921.
In Memphis, John was a boyhood friend of Benjamin L. Hooks, who later became executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). John’s father, an eminent ear, nose, and throat specialist who was a graduate of Meharry Medical School in Nashville, was a captain in the U. S. Army. He died from complications that resulted from an injury suffered in World War I. John’s mother, an elementary school teacher, later married Charles B. King, an insurance executive. John and his older sister Edwina took their stepfather’s surname. Sometime by the late 1920s or early 1930s the family moved to Austin, Texas, and opened the King Funeral Home, now known as King-Tears Mortuary.
John King attended the Gregory Town School (now Blackshear Elementary School) and then L. C. Anderson High School. He graduated from high school in 1936, at fifteen years of age. Following in his sister Edwina’s footsteps, John then enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Their mother and maternal grandmother were Fisk graduates. John majored in mathematics and completed a B. A. degree there in 1941. While at Fisk, John met Marcet Alice Hines from Chicago. They fell in love, and they married on June 28, 1942. Their marriage lasted for almost fifty-three years, until Marcet’s death in March 1995.
King believed strongly in the importance of formal education in advancing one’s career. Also, since his family owned and operated a funeral home, King attended the Landig College of Mortuary Science in Houston, Texas, and graduated in 1942.
During World War II King was drafted into the United States Army and served from 1942 to 1946. He began his service as a private. King served in the Pacific and then in the Philippines. Over time he was promoted repeatedly, and he attained the rank of captain. He was discharged from active service in 1946.
After the war, King again returned to college. He attended Samuel Huston College in Austin, where he earned a B. S. degree in 1947. John and Marcet both began teaching careers at Samuel Huston College in 1947; he taught mathematics and business administration, and she taught music. In 1950 King completed an M. S. degree from DePaul University in Chicago. In 1957 he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and statistics from the University of Texas.
After serving a total of about thirteen years as a math professor at Samuel Huston College and then at Huston-Tillotson College (after Samuel Huston College and Tillotson College merged in 1952), King was appointed dean of Huston-Tillotson in 1960. He served in that capacity for five years, and in 1965 he became the college’s president.
John King was a member of the U. S. Army Reserve from 1946 until 1983, and his career as a soldier was interspersed with his career in academia. (He also found time to participate in the management of the family’s funeral home and sometimes even in its daily operation.) King eventually rose to the rank of major general in the Army Reserve. By the late 1970s his reserve assignment was in the Pentagon. For many years he conducted leadership seminars at army instillations throughout the U. S. and Europe. In 1985 the governor of Texas appointed King a lieutenant general in the Texas State Guard. As a general, King served as a role model for African-American youths and exemplified what was possible for a member of a minority to achieve in the U. S. military.
King was appointed chancellor of Huston-Tillotson in 1987. When he retired in mid-1988, he was named chancellor and president emeritus. Later he continued his service to the college when he was named director and chairman of the Center for the Advancement of Science, Engineering, and Technology, a research branch of the college.
John King was also an author. Renowned Black folklorist and author John Mason Brewer was chairman of the Department of English Language and Literature at Samuel Huston College in the 1940s. In 1948 Brewer compiled and edited a collection of short stories written by his students in a creative writing course there. The book’s title is Silhouettes of Life, and King, who was also teaching (in another department), was one of the contributors. In 1967 John and Marcet coauthored a book entitled Storied of Twenty-three Famous Negro Americans, published by the Steck-Vaughn Company in Austin. In 1975 they wrote a book entitled Famous Black Americans. In 1977 he authored a booklet, Mary McLeod Bethune: A Woman of Vision and Distinction, published by the United Methodist Church. He collaborated on four textbooks on mathematics. King also contributed a number of articles to professional and religious journals.
King was an extremely effective fundraiser for Huston-Tillotson. He viewed himself as a “professional beggar” on behalf of the college. Over the years, King raised $4.9 million for the college. At one point when the college was in a precarious cash-flow position, he obtained a second-lien mortgage on his family home to meet the school’s payroll. He traveled extensively to raise funds and to recruit students. He made sure that students who did not go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays were not left on campus and often invited them to his own home to share his family’s holiday dinner. King was raised in the Wesley Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, which later became the Wesley United Methodist Church. He served as a delegate to each of the General and Jurisdictional Conferences of the United Methodist Church from 1956 until 1988, and he was president of the General Council on Ministries of the United Methodist Church from 1972 to 1980. As a child, he sang in the church’s children’s choir. As an adult, he sang in the Wesley Chancel Choir, the Men’s Chorus, and the Wesley Intergenerational Choir (which he was extremely fond of). Always nearby was his wife Marcet, who served as the church organist for more than half a century.
King died in Austin on August 3, 2011, at eighty-nine years of age. His funeral was held ten days later at Wesley United Methodist Church in Austin. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Austin. He was survived by his four children: John Quill Taylor King, Jr., M. D.; Clinton Allen King, M. D.; Marjon Alicia King Christopher; and Stuart Hines King.
John King had been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by Southwestern University (Doctor of Laws, 1970), St. Edwards University (Doctor of Laws, 1976), Austin College (Doctor of Humane Letters, 1978), Fisk University (Doctor of Humane Letters, 1980), and Huston-Tillotson College (Doctor of Science, 1988). He held a Phi Beta Kappa key. King was a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, a member of Sigma Pi Phi and Phi Delta Kappa fraternities, and a member of Epsilon Nu Delta mortuary fraternity. He was a Thirty-third degree Mason, having become a Master Mason at just seventeen years of age. King received the Carl Bredt Award from the University of Texas College of Education; the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews; the Distinguished Service Award from Texas Lutheran College; the Roy Wilkins Meritorious Award from the NAACP; the Arthur B. DeWitty Award from the NAACP; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award; the Frederick D. Patterson Award; the Minority Advocate of the Year Award from the Austin Chamber of Commerce; the Military Education Award from the San Antonio League of the National Association of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc.; the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award from the Austin Area Urban League; the 1990 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Texas at Austin; the 1991 Philanthropist of the Year in Austin Award from the National Society of Fundraising Executives, Austin Chapter; and the 1994 Man of the Year Award from the Independent Funeral Directors of Texas, Inc. Additionally, the King-Seabrook Chapel at Huston-Tillotson University was named in his honor. King was a member of the board of directors of the Austin Regional Advisory Board, Texas Commerce Bank, and the Austin Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He was chairman of the Lone Star District, Capital Area Council, and the Boy Scouts of America. He served as director and secretary of the Foundation for Insurance Regulatory Studies in Texas, chairman of the Austin Civil Service Commission, trustee of Austin College, and trustee of Fisk University. He was a member of the Philosophical Society of Texas. He was listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who among African Americans, Leaders in American Science, Leaders in Education, and several other such publications.