Ralphael O'Hara Lanier, the first president of Texas State University for Negroes and United States minister to Liberia, was born on April 28, 1900, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to James S. and Carrie Lee (Bethel) Lanier. He received his B.A. from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1923 and his M.A. from Stanford University in 1928. He also received a Rosenwald fellowship to Harvard in 1931 and, soon thereafter, his Ed.D. from New York University. He then became a history instructor at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After a brief time, he accepted the position of dean and director of the summer school at Florida A&M, where he worked closely with John R. E. Lee. Lanier held his position from 1925 to 1933. He then served as dean of Houston College in Texas from 1933 to 1938. His outstanding service to the field of education brought him to the attention of the federal government. He left Houston College to assume the position of assistant director of the Division of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration in Washington. Two years later, Lanier was chosen to serve as the dean of instruction at Hampton Institute in Virginia. In 1943–44 he served as acting president of that institution. In 1945 he accepted the post of special assistant in the Bureau of Services of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Lanier's achievements at UNRRA resulted in an appointment as minister to Liberia, a two-year term, and the first offered to a Black man since 1893.
Upon his return to the United States, Lanier was offered the position as the first president of Texas State University for Negroes in Houston (now Texas Southern University). He began his service on July 2, 1948. As president, he had to face divisiveness between students who opposed a separate Black college and wished to attend the University of Texas and students who pushed for the establishment of a first-class, yet segregated, Black university. Lanier enjoyed the general support of African Americans, but the White establishment and a small group of Black intellectuals opposed him. Local newspapers launched a series of attacks on him throughout his tenure, alleging poor administration, unskilled personnel, fiscal irresponsibility, communism, and general confusion on campus. Lanier opposed the autonomy of the law school on campus, feeling that it would generate the perception of two separate universities. A local American Legion post called for the governor to start an investigation of the university. In 1953 a committee of Houston citizens was appointed to study the situation and report to the governor. The committee reported that the charges were unfounded, and that under Lanier's leadership the university had expanded in terms of student enrollment, curriculum, and physical facilities. The report, however, stated that the existence of two leaders, Lanier in charge of academics and John Robinson in charge of fiscal matters, was awkward. Robinson resigned.
On June 8, 1955, Lanier left the presidency. There has been some debate over whether he resigned freely. Throughout his career, and especially during his tenure at Texas State, he received numerous awards and honorary degrees: doctor of pedagogy from Lincoln University, his alma mater; doctor of civil laws from the University of Liberia; and doctor of humane letters from Liberia College, Monrovia. Lanier was a regular contributor to a variety of scholarly journals and was on the editorial boards of the Journal of Negro Education, Negro College Quarterly, and the Quarterly Review of Higher Education Among Negroes. He also served on the boards of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, the National Urban League, and the National Educational Association. He was a vice president of the American Teachers' Association, and at the time of his death was a project director for the Phelps-Stokes Fund. Lanier died on December 17, 1962, in New York. He was survived by his wife, the former Garrietta Green, whom he had married on August 3, 1929, and two children.
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Ira B. Bryant, Texas Southern University: Its Antecedents, Political Origins, and Future (Houston: Armstrong, 1975). Walter Christmas, Negroes in Public Affairs and Government, Vol. 1 (New York: Negro Heritage Library, 1966). Houston Post, December 18, 1962. Wilhelmena Robinson, Historical Afro-American Biographies (Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania, 1976).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Lanier, Ralphael O'Hara,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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