Charles Cato Rice, a pioneering black educator and community leader in Dallas, was born into slavery in Florida on April 1, 1852. History knows little of Rice’s formative years. He attended Atlanta University after the Civil War and studied music and education. The Georgia college was among the first institutions to grant African Americans bachelor degrees and produced teachers and librarians for black public schools throughout the American South. Rice married Sallie Ann Holsey, a young teacher from Athens, Georgia, on September 26, 1883. The couple started a family and lived in Thomasville, Georgia, until moving to Dallas when Rice took a position teaching music to students at Dallas Colored School Number 1 in 1897.
Rice, often identified as Professor Rice, quickly began to influence his community when he directed a “grand chorus” of Dallas schoolchildren at the Texas State Fair’s Colored People’s Day. Rice gathered 250 students from the black community schools and held practices at local churches, including the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The performance became an annual fair tradition. At the 1900 fair, Rice directed the children’s chorus before Booker T. Washington, the guest speaker that day. Rice did not confine himself to teaching children to sing. The thirty-sixth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation prompted a celebration at the Hawkins Street Congregational Church. Rice “preached” a “discourse related principally to the history and progress of the negro race since the war.” Among his several accomplishments, Rice became the president of the Hawkins Street congregation.
By 1901 Rice was the principal at his school, soon renamed the Norris Wright Cuney School. He became principal at the Booker T. Washington School in 1908. That school was a forerunner to Dallas’s first black high school in 1922; it was later desegregated and known as the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Rice continued his educational activism and participated regularly in the Texas state summer educational program for black teachers, where he spoke at programs and rallies. He served as principal at Booker T. Washington until 1913 when that school closed.
Rice worked tirelessly for his community. He helped organize the “colored” YMCA in 1901 and was elected its first president. In 1907 Rice helped the Colored Library Association open a suite of rooms at 410 Jackson Street offering public library service in the community for two hours a day. Rice and Booker T. Washington School raised $6.36 and donated four books to the library. It was the largest Dallas school donation in a total of $19.52 and nine books. Besides service in his own church, Rice participated in regional African Methodist Episcopal (AME) conferences and helped train black Sunday school workers throughout Dallas.
The Rices raised three children to adulthood in the home they owned at 372 Hall Street in the old Freedman’s Town section of Dallas. A daughter, Ella Marie Rice, and a son, John Wyman Rice, both became educators in the Dallas school system. The youngest child, Robert, became a Dallas clergyman with the AME Church.
Charles Rice died in Dallas on May 15, 1915. Sallie Ann, who gave up her own career in education to raise the couple’s children, later became the first supervisor of neighborhood Griggs Park. She died on February 15, 1942. The Charles C. Rice Learning Center, part of the Dallas Independent School District, is named for Professor Rice.