HOUSTON – Dr. Thomas Freeman, who spent 70 years as a professor and famed debate coach at Texas Southern University, died Saturday at 100 years old, according to the university.
By most accounts, Freeman’s story at TSU is legendary. It’s a journey he didn’t initially set out to traverse.
“I was under contract to come only for nine months. I was a minister in Richmond, Virginia,” Freeman told KPRC 2 in 2019.
Freeman accepted a temporary gig teaching philosophy in 1949 at TSU. During that period, he began to coach students on the art of debating, changing the trajectory of his life. A shift, he said, that he never imaged his life would take.
“I worked with students for about three months and then took them to Harvard and to the University of Chicago. They won both debates," he said.
Dr. Freeman advised actor Denzel Washington and his creative team, and they went on to produce the 2007 movie, "The Great Debaters.”
Freeman hails from Virginia. He became a minister at 9 years old and knew he’d been called by God to preach. He continued to do so once his temporary stay in Houston became permanent, preaching at Mount Horeb Baptist Church in Houston’s Fifth Ward.