Rice, Friendly Rudolph (1907–1990)


By: Arlene L. Youngblood

Type: Biography

Published: July 24, 2019

Updated: August 31, 2020


Friendly Rudolph Rice, educator, administrator, and community leader, was born on April 18, 1907, in Haywood County, Tennessee, to Ezekiel Rice and Mary (Drake) Rice. He grew up in a family of twelve children. He went to high school in Jackson, Tennessee, and briefly attended Lane College in Jackson before transferring to Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) at Prairie View, Texas. The 1930 federal census listed Rice as living in Houston, where he was a boarder with the Yates family. That same year he married a Yates daughter, Johnnie Mae Yates, who was listed as a school teacher on the census. They had one daughter, Vonnye Margaret Rice Gardner. In 1931 he earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Prairie View. He later earned a master’s degree in education administration at Columbia University in New York City in 1938. The elders called him “Professor Rice,” as he had an advanced degree.

In 1931 Rice began his career with the Austin public school system during the era of segregation as assistant principal of Blackshear Elementary School, located on Austin’s East Side. He had become the supervising principal by 1940 and led the school until his retirement in 1972. He also served as assistant principal at Rosewood Elementary School (1934– 48) and was principal at St. John’s Elementary School (1948–60), both in East Austin.

Rice was highly-regarded as a leader and innovative educator who, in cooperation with neighborhood residents and social service agencies, implemented a number of pioneering improvements for at-risk children. He has been credited for establishing, in 1934, one of the first libraries at an African American elementary school in the Southwest. Algerene M. Akins Craig, a Prairie View alumna and classmate/colleague of Rice's and cousin to educator William Charles Akins, served as the school's first librarian for more than thirty-five years. Rice launched a program to provide hot lunches for students—an innovative idea that soon became the norm throughout the district. He introduced family-life training, a clothing bank, and nursing services at Blackshear. In the 1930s, he also started the school's first outdoor garden.

In Austin, the Rice family joined the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Friendly Rice worked as a deacon and trustee. He and his wife also created the board of the Ebenezer Child Development Center (formerly Ebenezer Nursery School) which continued to serve and prepare children for elementary school in the 2010s.

Rice’s professional affiliations included president of the Teachers State Association of Texas, president of the State Principals Conference, and member of the National Education Association (NEA) and National Elementary Principal Association. He was also a member of the Mount Bonnell Lodge No. 2, the Webb Smith Consistory No. 269, Travis County Voters League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a charter member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

Friendly Rudolph Rice died in Austin on October 16, 1990. His wife predeceased him. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Austin. East Austin and Blackshear Elementary (known as Blackshear Elementary Fine Arts Academy) continued to honor Rice’s legacy. The school’s garden was renamed for him in 2017. In 2019 the George Washington Carver Museum in Austin hosted an exhibit—Blackshear Elementary School and the Legacy of Principal Friendly R. Rice. That same year the school unveiled a mural, painted on the outside east wing, that included a depiction of Rice and his innovative programs.

Austin Chronicle, June 26, 2002. Alison Bryce, “A Colorful Narrative: Capturing history in a mural,” EASTside Magazine (https://www.eastsideatx.com/blackshear-mural/), accessed July 22, 2019. Friendly R. Rice Photograph Album (AR 2015.017), Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas. Donna Hoffman, “We Called Him Professor: Blackshear Elementary and Legacy of Principal Friendly R. Rice,” Blackshear Bridge (https://blackshearbridge.org/2019/04/24/they-called-him-professor-blackshear-elementary-and-the-legacy-of-principal-friendly-r-rice/), accessed July 22, 2019. “Vonnye Rice Gardner: In Her Own Words,” (As Interviewed by A. J. Marks, March 12, 2013) firstHand History (https://blackshearbridge.org/2019/04/24/they-called-him-professor-blackshear-elementary-and-the-legacy-of-principal-friendly-r-rice/), accessed July 22, 2019.

Categories:
  • Education
  • School Principals and Superintendents
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Educators
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • Austin
  • Central Texas

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

Arlene L. Youngblood, “Rice, Friendly Rudolph,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/rice-friendly-rudolph.

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July 24, 2019
August 31, 2020

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