John Wyman Rice, an influential African-American educator and civil servant, was born on December 29, 1892, in Thomasville, Georgia, to Charles Cato Rice and Sallie Ann (Holsey) Rice. By 1897 the Rice family moved to Dallas, where Charles Rice took a job as a music teacher. The middle of three children (two others died before adulthood), John Rice and his siblings, Ella and Robert, attended public school in Dallas up to the ninth grade. He completed his preparatory work at Tillotson College and graduated from Atlanta University in 1912 as valedictorian of his class; he was mentioned in Who’s Who Among College Students for his exemplary work. In 1917 Rice registered for the United States military draft. No information was found to support or deny claims that he actively served in World War I.
Shortly after graduating from college, Rice began his teaching career at Paul Quinn College, just south of Dallas, where he taught Greek, Latin, and German. He also played a key role in starting the first college truck garden and introducing the first purebred stock in this school. Rice taught in public schools in the Dallas area for fourteen years. He served as head of the English department of the Booker T. Washington High School for the last eight years and was eventually elected principal, succeeding J. J. Rhoads. When he was not teaching, John Wyman Rice was acting editor of the Dallas Express, the leading African-American newspaper in Dallas, for ten years.
In 1923 Rice was elected educational secretary to the Colored Teachers State Association (see TEACHERS STATE ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS). Among other things, he instituted the plan of mailing member fees for the organization. Rice was also chairman of the Constitution Committee for the association. After serving his initial office term, he was elected as the first executive secretary and served for five years. Through this time the Colored Teachers State Association membership increased from 500 to 1,500. During his term in office, the Texas Standard, the official newspaper for the Colored Teachers State Association began operation, the organization became self-sufficient, and railroad companies granted reduced rates for passengers traveling to meetings.
In 1929 the Odd Fellows, an independent organization dedicated to giving aid to those in need and pursuing projects that benefit all of mankind, elected Rice assistant endowment secretary. An active member of the community, Rice participated in many civic affairs, including the Housing Commission, Community Chest drives, and the Dallas Interracial Committee of the Texas Commission on Interracial Cooperation. He was a member of the Committee of Management of the Dallas Y.M.C.A. for ten years. Rice served as president of the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce from 1942 to 1962.
There is no evidence to confirm or deny that John Wyman Rice married or had any children. Released census records list him as only having lived with his father or as a border upon his father’s death. John Wyman Rice died in Dallas on January 29, 1962, at the age of sixty-nine, and was buried at Carver Memorial Park. Rice was honored with the MLK, Jr. Award by the Catholic Interracial Council in 1968.