Ryan, James Delbridge (1872–1940)

By: Peggy Hardman

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: September 28, 2020

James Delbridge (Prof, Jimmie) Ryan, Black teacher, was born on October 25, 1872, in Navasota, Texas, the son of James and Huldah Ryan. He received his undergraduate degree from Prairie View A&M in 1890 and took courses at the universities of Chicago and California and Columbia University. In 1890 he became a teacher in the Houston public school system. Ryan married Ella Sims in June 1896. He began teaching math at Houston Colored High School in 1900 and became principal of that institution in 1912. In 1927 he received his master of arts degree from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. Ryan worked to improve the quality of education for Black students across Texas. He served a term as the president of the Colored Teachers State Association in 1916 and established its Social Service Department. He also served on a variety of state and local committees concerned with educational issues. His success during his fifty-year career was in large part based on his "willingness to not rock the boat in local racial waters." This accommodationist attitude led to a decline in Ryan's prestige during the 1930s, when Black activism became increasing popular. Prior to that period, however, Houston Blacks accorded Professor Ryan the highest accolades. The leading Black newspaper, the Houston Informer, suggested that Ryan was one of Houston's leaders worthy of having the Houston Colored High School renamed in his honor.

Ryan was a member and exalted ruler of the Elks from 1926 to 1934; a member of the Ancient Order of Pilgrims, which he served as supreme worthy recorder in 1926. He was also active in the Nu Phi chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. In November 1926 Ryan and other members of Omega Psi Phi were recognized during National Negro Achievement Week as leading contributors to the education and inspiration of Negro youth. In 1923 Ryan served with a committee of Black educators who petitioned in Austin for legislation for a facility for "incorrigible and delinquent colored boys" under Black supervision. He gave the welcoming address at the Colored Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association Conference in Houston in 1923. In 1925 he served on a committee charged with selecting a new principal for Prairie View State Normal and Industrial Institute. In 1926 he served as chairman of the citizens' committee that organized the entertainment for the Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association meeting. In 1927 Ryan chaired the committee that presented the annual pageant depicting the progress of African Americans in Houston, "Milestones." During this time he prepared a "Special Report Concerning State Teachers' Finances" for the Colored Teachers' Association of Texas as part of an effort to draw attention to the defects in the Black educational system. Ryan's school, Jack Yates High, in cooperation with Wiley and Prairie View colleges, hosted the first summer school for Black teachers in 1927. Ryan also served on the boards of Emancipation Park, the Houston Negro Hospital, and Wiley College, and on the Houston Interracial Committee. He also owned considerable property in the Houston area and operated rent houses. He and his family were active in the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, where Ryan served as the superintendent of the Sunday school classes and was a "basso profundo in the church choir." In October 1927, on his fifty-fifth birthday, the twenty-seven teachers and 1,100 students of Yates High School threw him a surprise birthday party. He died on July 14, 1940.

Houston Informer, July 20, 1940. Andrew Webster Jackson, A Sure Foundation and a Sketch of Negro Life in Texas (Houston, 1940). Clement Richardson, ed., National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race (Montgomery, Alabama: National, 1919). James Martin SoRelle, The Darker Side of `Heaven': The Black Community in Houston, Texas, 1917–1945 (Ph.D. dissertation, Kent State University, 1980).

  • Education
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Advocates
  • Educators
  • Math
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Peggy Hardman, “Ryan, James Delbridge,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ryan-james-delbridge.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
September 28, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: