King, Otis Harold (1935–2012)

By: Etta F. Walker

Type: Biography

Published: July 8, 2013

Updated: July 31, 2020

Otis Harold King, first African-American city of Houston attorney, educator, author, arbitrator, and community activist, was born on February 3, 1935 in Texarkana, Texas, to Griffin King, Sr., and Eula (Duncan) King. His family moved to Houston in the historic Fifth Ward when he was five years old. He attended Bruce Elementary and later graduated salutatorian from Phillis Wheatley High School in 1952. In that same year, King and his Wheatley classmate, Barbara Jordan, enrolled at Texas Southern University (TSU) where they participated on the debate team under the leadership of Thomas F. Freeman for four years. The highlight of their efforts came when their debate team won a match against Harvard University in 1956. In that same year, King completed his undergraduate studies at Texas Southern University where he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelors of science degree in biology.

Upon graduation, King served in the United States Army from 1956 to 1958 as a medic with the Eighty-second Airborne Division. After receiving an honorable discharge, King returned to Texas Southern University and entered the school of law in 1958. During his second year, he became a community activist and cofounded the Progressive Youth Association along with Eldrewey Stearns and Holly Hogrobrooks. This organization coordinated the staging of sits-ins across Houston, including the city’s very first sit-in at Weingarten’s Grocery on March 4, 1960. This campaign successfully helped to bring about the integration of Houston eating establishments, theaters, and other public business. In 1961 King graduated from TSU school of law with an LL.B. degree, ranking first in his graduating class. By September of that year, he had been admitted to the State Bar of Texas.

In addition to the State Bar, King was a member of the American Bar Association, the NAACP, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society. He married Martha Ann Roberts in 1960. The couple raised two sons together, but divorced in 1984. King remarried to Nancy Tervalon Rickett in 1986.

King held many jobs as attorney. He was a partner of the Washington, King & King Attorneys at Law, with his brother Hamah King and his friend George Washington, Jr. Later he worked for the Veterans Administration Regional Office as an adjudicator. In 1964 King became a field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Houston; he was the first African American to hold this position in Texas. After his tenure with the National Labor Relations Board, King became the project director for Project HAPPY (Houston Area Planned Program for Youths), a planned program for youths from the Crescent Foundation, Inc. After a short time at the HAPPY Project, King was employed as a full time instructor at TSU school of law in 1966. He remained at TSU for forty years, where he taught property law and alternative dispute resolution. In 1969 King was named a Ford Foundation Fellow in clinical legal education at Harvard University. He earned an LL.M. degree there in 1970. The next year King was named dean of Texas Southern University School of Law. During his tenure as dean, he was instrumental in getting a new building for the law school, increasing student enrollment from 50 to 350, and naming the law school after Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

King’s service as dean continued until August 1976 when mayor of Houston Fred Hofheinz asked him to join his administration as city attorney. TSU granted him an official leave of absence for two years in order for him to accept the mayor’s history-making appointment of becoming the first African-American city attorney in Houston history. In 1978 King returned to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law as dean and remained there until 1980 when he returned to the law school faculty. In 1986 he was asked to serve as executive assistant to the interim president of TSU, Robert J. Terry. He remained in that post for only one year because Terry was tragically killed in a train wreck. In September 1988 King became a member of a three-person committee that administered TSU in the aftermath of Terry’s death. He served in this post for a semester before returning to the law school as a professor. In the early 1990s he was elected and served as chairman of the Faculty Assembly/Senate. He retired from teaching at the law school in 2006.

During the course of his career as a professor of law, King published numerous articles in legal and professional journals and two books: A Basic Introduction to the Study of Property (1971) and Oil and Gas: An Introduction to Private Relationship (1989). He also published five legal arbitration decisions. In addition, King was an amateur artist, sculptor, and poet. He is also the author of The Man Who Had No Rhythm: A George Kennard Story, a novel published in 1999. King was inducted into the Wheatley High School Hall of Fame in November 2012. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and died on November 21, 2012. His funeral was held at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Houston, and he was buried in Houston Memorial Gardens in Pearland.

Howard Beeth and Cary D. Wintz, eds.,Black Dixie: Afro-Texan History and Culture in Houston (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992).Thomas R. Cole, NO Color Is MY Kind: The Life of Eldrewey Stearns and the Integration of Houston (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997). Houston Chronicle, November 4, 1979; September 15, 1987; December 21, 1987; November 29, 30, 2012. Robert J. Terry Papers, Heartman Collection, Robert J. Terry Library, Texas Southern University.

  • Education
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  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Lawyers, Civil Rights Activists, and Legislators
  • Politics and Government
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Civic Leaders
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  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
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Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Etta F. Walker, “King, Otis Harold,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

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July 8, 2013
July 31, 2020

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