Deep in the heart of Houston’s historic Third Ward lies an institution developed by promising Black collegians, whose goal was to blaze a sustainable path towards educational freedom for all.
Texas Southern University influences Houston’s Black community as the only Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the most diverse city in the nation and “Energy Capital of the World.” Not many are aware of the institution’s impact on the city’s Black community. It served as a gateway to developing a Black middle class in the Bayou City. As a former segregated junior college that opened its doors to Blacks seeking to better themselves and establish an economic foothold in the deep South, Texas Southern University courageously and unapologetically commenced its arduous journey to become one of the largest HBCUs in existence, while it continues to serve those still in search of betterment through higher education.
The fabled story of Texas Southern University began in 1927 when Houston’s Independent School District decided to establish two segregated junior colleges. Originally named the Houston Colored Junior College, the institution enrolled Black scholars whose goal was to receive higher education in the necessary fields. As the junior college grew and the dark cloud of Jim Crow took its first steps toward a slow dissipation, in 1934, Houston Colored Junior College was renamed as the Houston College for Negroes. The Houston College for Negroes became a pivotal anchor for upward momentum in Houston’s Black community as the community expanded with ranges of different working-class professions.
As the diversity of the working-class in the Black community developed, so did the Houston College for Negroes. Houston’s Black community had an insatiable desire for greater opportunities and education. Houston College for Negroes would then become the Texas State University for Negroes on March 3, 1947, after the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 140. The road to becoming a state institution was treacherous.
Historian Dr. Merline Pitre documents how a lawsuit led the state to create TSUN, which was renamed to Texas Southern University on June 1, 1951.
Heman Marion Sweatt, a Black mail carrier, attempted to enroll in the University of Texas’ law school, but he was denied because of his race. A legal dispute ensued between Sweatt and the University of Texas. The lawsuit resulted in a settlement that provided money for Houston to develop a law school for Black people. It was decided that the law school would join with the prospering Texas Southern University. Alongside TSU, rests Thurgood Marshall School of Law, both being fundamental in Houston for the Black community.
Triumphant and determined, Texas Southern University has reached a peak of diversity and growth, having the largest enrollment as an HBCU. The once segregated, Black-only institution, is now the home for many non-Black and international scholars. With the institution being in the predominantly Black community in Houston, it has expanded the education, wealth and working-class of Black people and the community. Students of all ethnicities in Third Ward have the option to attend a world-class university conveniently located in their community with more than 100 innovative undergraduate and graduate programs. To this day, TSU overcomes all obstacles to ensure that the main focus of providing education for its people and community is obtained.
KPRC 2 is partnering with Texas Southern University throughout the month of February for a celebration of Houston Black history. Students from TSU’s School of Communication and members of @KTSU_2 “The Voice” online team are providing 28 days of content for the @kprc2 Instagram account and the station’s other digital platforms. Posts and articles have been researched and produced exclusively by TSU students under the supervision of their School of Communication professors and the KPRC 2 digital team. An article will be published daily throughout February 2021 on click2houston.com/blackhistory.
About the author
Lydia Dillard is a journalism major with a focus in advertising and public relations. Dillard wishes to continue her education with a Master’s or law degree.