Black History Nugget: Huston-Tillotson University

I just encountered a nugget about the history of Huston-Tillotson University (H-TU), one of the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). There is an Iowa connection to the school. In 1877, a farmer named Samuel Huston from either Marengo, Iowa or Honey Creek Township, Iowa (depending on what you read) donated land and money amounting to $10,000 ($9,000 according to other records) to what would become Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas. In 1952, Samuel Huston College merged with Tillotson College to form Huston-Tillotson College. I was a student there in the mid-1970s.

The Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) says Huston was from Honey Creek Township (there is more than one Honey Creek in Iowa), which is in Iowa County. Just about everyone else says he was from Marengo, which is also in Iowa County.

Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was the basketball coach for one season in the 1940s at Samuel Huston College prior to the merger with Tillotson College. The Rams didn’t fare well, according to the Wikipedia article about H-TU. I recall going to one of the basketball games when I was a student in the 1970s. They didn’t fare well at that game either. At one point, one of the H-TU students in the stands yelled out very loudly “Mets!” This drew laughter even from the fans. He was known for his sense of humor.

The H-TU baseball team played on Downs Field on campus. If I remember the layout correctly, you could cut across Downs Fields to get to Church’s Chicken. It was a short walk. If you press me for details about how I would know that, it might force me to make a few comments about the dining hall food. So, don’t press me. Don’t bother looking for Church’s Chicken in that area on Google maps. It’s long gone.

It wasn’t all about Church’s Chicken. There were outlets for activism at that time. Along with a couple of classmates, I attended a meeting of a few members of the Nation of Islam. We were frisked at the door. Malcolm X had been an influential leader of the Nation of Islam until his assassination in 1965. One speaker at the meeting said a number of times “You might see me anywhere” (Church’s Chicken?). I’m not sure why he said it so many times.

I recall a visiting sociology professor who delivered an electrifying lecture all about how to create change in society by direct action. He assigned me and another student to interview members of the Austin, Texas Police Department about how black people might be targeted for unequal treatment under the law in certain parts of the city. We got stuck in a corner of the department with very large volumes of the uniform crime report. The police were very polite but didn’t say much. I don’t remember how the professor graded us.

One of my favorite teachers at H-TU was Dr. Lamar “Major” Kirven. We called him Major Kirven because he was a military officer as well as a teacher. He taught Black History. He tried to write on the blackboard but nobody could read his handwriting because it was always illegible. It was a running joke with all of his students and he had a great sense of humor about it. One time, I complained about another student in the class who was pretty good at being interruptive. He said, “Brother Amos, patience is a virtue.”  

I’ve been trying to learn from Major Kirven ever since.

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