William Parker Jr. was a poor kid from South Carolina who played baseball and whose post-high school options were the Army, Marines, Air Force or Navy. That was until Texas College came recruiting. And they needed baseball players.
So Parker signed on for shortstop and arrived in Tyler with nothing but a few clothes. A baseball scholarship and ROTC paid for his college education.
And once he completed it, he came out equipped with the skills necessary to be successful in life, he said. Today, at 54, he's a retired deputy sheriff from Atlanta, Ga., who still makes the trip annually to his alma mater.
"It gave people of color a chance to make a living," he said of the college.
On Wednesday, Parker and other alumni gathered on the Tyler campus to celebrate 120 years of existence for the historically black college.
Started by a group of Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church members in 1894, the college "represented the start of the educational process for a group of disenfranchised individuals" in the Tyler area, according to information taken from a record of its history.
In addition to celebrating the school's founding, the college also celebrated 50 years of existence for the Top Ladies of Distinction Inc., a public service organization founded on the Texas College campus, which now operates chapters nationwide.
Texas College President Dr. Dwight J. Fennell said the college has added to the community through ethnic diversity, employment opportunities, economic strength and population growth.
The Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) ministers who started the school in obedience to God "led us to be here today on these holy grounds in celebration of our 120th anniversary."
He thanked the Top Ladies of Distinction for their commitment to social responsibility.
Citing the Biblical parable in Luke 19 where a ruler gave money to some of his servants to have them invest it, Fennell said as educators, servant leaders and alumni, they are all "brokers of our students." They must commit themselves to continue to invest in them.
A GREAT NEED
Bishop David R. Houston, presiding prelate of the Texas Northeast Second Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ and pastor of Smith Temple Church of God in Christ, shared the importance of private historically black colleges and universities.
"The need for black private colleges like Texas College is greater today (than) ever before," he said.
The young people who come to Texas College likely would not go to college at all without it, he said.
Houston said he came to the college socially unsure, racially scarred, poor, but excited. And the school had a part in transforming him.
"They taught us to dream dreams and seek visions," said Houston, who earned a bachelor's degree from Texas College, master's and doctoral degrees in education from the University of North Texas, and a doctorate of divinity from Texas College.
Some people call historically black colleges and universities substandard, unnecessary, academic disasters, he said.
If African-Americans believe the myth of black inferiority, that leaves the institutions to die a slow and painful death.
"It is time for us to return back home," he said. "It is time for us to be together again."
In addition to recognizing the college, speakers recognized the Top Ladies of Distinction, many of whom came from around the nation and dressed in pink to attend the event.
Lady Audrie Lawton, Top Ladies of Distinction's 12th national president, said the organization provides women with the opportunity to volunteer in the community with other women who feel the same way.
It involves structured volunteering. About 3,000 women nationwide are involved with cities having individual chapters.
Each Top Ladies chapter must have a Top Teens chapter. Top Teens are students between the ages of 13 and 18. The Top Ladies serve as mentors to them and volunteer with them. Nationwide there are about 4,500 Top Teens.
"We provide them with the avenue and document their volunteer work for college," Ms. Lawton said.
The organization is changing with the times, having updated its website, created a Facebook page and included a social media discussion as part of the character building lessons for teens, Lady Lawton said.
Although it's been around for a half century, Lady Ozell M. Dean, one of the organization's founders, doesn't see it stopping anytime soon.
"I expect it to last forever," she said.