The Race for First: HSU’s first Black student

Before the development of Simmons College, J.B. Simmons, (who we get the “Simmons” from in Hardin-Simmons University), was already responsible for the creation seven colleges in the United States. The purpose of these schools was to educate and serve the recently emancipated population of the Civil War.


To read more about J.B. Simmons, go here.

Simmons was an abolitionist who fought for the rights and education of all.

When Simmons was approached by O.C. Pope and board members of the fledgling Abilene Baptist College in 1891, it is no surprise that Simmons took interest and joined the endeavor to open a Christian college.

Simmons presented a Foundation Agreement to the board, where he listed the following as the school’s mission:

To bring young men and women to Christ

To teach them of Christ, and

To train them for the service of Christ

It was also written, “no religious test shall ever hinder any person, even though he be an idol worshiping Hindoo or a heathen Chinaman, from entering and receiving instruction.”

Simmons’ Foundation Agreement

With Simmons’ background of tolerance and acceptance, it is no surprise Simmons College was founded on the basis that both men AND women were invited, along with all faiths and denominations.

However, there was no wording in any school documents singling out Black (both African and African-American) students as welcome or not.

This writer can assume Simmons saw his namesake open to all students, not just White; due to the location of the school, though, we won’t see a Black student attending HSU for many years.

The first reference to a Black student can be found in a 1925 edition of the Brand, with the headline: “African Applies for Entrance to Simmons.”


The article goes on to inform the reader that Ajoa Junior, a young man from Nigeria, is the first African to apply to Simmons University.

There is no follow-up article to indicate Ajoa Junior  was admitted into the school, and there is no record of his attendance.We can safely conclude Junior did not enroll at Simmons.

The next time a university publication mentions a Black student is in the 1962-1963 Bronco (more on that later).

HSU officially integrated in the Fall of 1961.

According to Hardin-Simmons University: A Centennial Historytwo Black students enrolled in the spring semester of 1962, and fourteen enrolled the next fall. “The students had full rights in the cafeteria, lived in residence halls, and participated in intercollegiate sports. Previously, there had been a limited enrollment of blacks involved in ministerial study, primarily men from overseas.”

I want to focus on that last sentence:

Previously, there had been a limited enrollment of blacks involved in ministerial study, primarily men from overseas.

At the point of this post being published, no official paper trail has been found that details the names and numbers of those Black students who were on campus prior to 1960. However, we can assume from various books:

  • there was a population of Black-mission students on campus, probably African, not African-American
  • extension courses in ministry from Bishop College were offered on campus to Black students (these students were enrolled with Bishop College, not HSU)
  • there were African-American students who were enrolled prior 1961, but these students are not pictured in the yearbooks until after integration

I believe the social setting at the time kept African and African-American students from being mentioned in publication; that being said, just because there were no photos of Black students in the yearbook prior to the 1962-1963 school-year, it does not mean there were no Black students on campus.

The Abilene Reporter-News ran an article in 2008 (check it out on microfilm at the Abilene Public Library), stating the first Black student at HSU was Ray Max Williams.

Microfilm Reader

According to the piece, Mr. Williams enrolled in the summer of 1956 and graduated in 1963. The school’s registrar confirms Mr. Williams’ enrollment during this time.

Was Mr. Williams the first African-American student officially enrolled at HSU?


Negative. Mr. Williams is White.

This was a tough one to track down. Mr. Williams was not pictured in the yearbooks, which one could have inferred meaning he was Black. However, the university’s registrar was able to track his application down to his attendance at Abilene High School, and from there we concluded him to be White.

According to Hardin-Simmons University Athletics First Century, HSU ‘s first Black athletes were Nathaniel Madkins and Arthur Haynes. They transferred in as juniors from Okolona, Mississippi to join the 1962-63 basketball team.


This is partially true.

Madkins and Haynes were actually enrolled in 1960, one year before the school officially integrated. According to the Registrar, they did not graduate.

Although Madkins and Haynes were enrolled in 1960, they don’t appear in the yearbook until 1963 as members of the basketball team.

They are not pictured as members of the junior (or any other) class and are only represented on the pages dedicated to the basketball team.


The first Black student to be pictured in the yearbook, along with his class was Ambros Kirk, Jr.

Ambrose Kirk, Jr. 1963 Bronco

Kirk enrolled at HSU in 1960, and like Madkins and Haynes made his first yearbook appearance in 1963. Unlike Madkins and Haynes, Kirk is pictured with his class.

Kirk did not graduate.

Kirk Ambros, Jr., Arthur Haynes, and Nathaniel Madkins were the first Black students to be enrolled at HSU (with paper evidence).

But, who was the first Black student to graduate?

Richard David Dean, enrolled in the Fall 1964 as a transfer student from Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, TX (historically black college), and graduated from HSU in May 1967.


An Orange Story

Like most origin-stories, the Richardson Library came from humble beginnings.

While this origin-story doesn’t involve the death of a parent-figure (i.e. Bruce Wayne’s parents; Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben; Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru; Bambi’s dad…), it does include an orange grove.


Quick interruption: Wow. The male protagonist tends to lose his father figure at the start of the story. Other than with Disney princesses, does this trend  continue with female protagonists??

Back to the orange grove.

While the need and desire for a fire-proof library consumed the campus since the 1890’s, space and, mostly, money prevented a standalone building from coming to fruition until the 1970’s.


Fundraising for the Rupert and Pauline Richardson Library began with the students.

In 1972, after the annual student orange-picking-trip down in the orange groves of Edinburg, TX students sold their haul.

Earning $20,000, this kick started the campaign to raise funds for the construction of a new library.

60 STUDENTS, over the course of
2 DAYS, picked 11 TONS
of oranges, transported in
500 BOXES, to sell, raising
$20,000 for a new LIBRARY.


Also in 1972, President Skiles and the Board of Trustees launched the Profile for Progress Campaign. A new library was the main focus of this capital campaign, with a goal of $1.5 million intended for construction and $500,000 for equipment.

Staff and faculty pledged $100,000 towards the goal.

The L.E. Mabee Foundation offered a challenge gift of $500,000 if $1 million was raised.

The school reached its financial goal for the library, and the architectural firm of Tittle, Luther, and Loving drew the plans of the 3-story, 48,642 square foot building.

Groundbreaking for the new library took place Thursday, April 18, 1974.

What’s in a name?

Rupert Noval Richardson (1891-1988)

Beginning his relationship with the school in 1907 as an undergraduate, Richardson spent the majority of his life dedicated to his alma mater.

Over the years, he played the role of student, professor, dean, president, and advisor to Hardin-Simmons University.

Richardson lived through the highs and lows of the 20th century, experiencing HSU’s rich history firsthand.

Though physically gone, his spirit remains in all that he contributed to the campus and community, most noticeably with his namesake, The Rupert and Pauline Richardson Library.

The Rupert and Pauline Richardson Library was dedicated November 6, 1976.


Looking Back 40 Years

The Rupert and Pauline Richardson Library at Hardin-Simmons celebrated its 40th anniversary this past November with cake, memories, and great conversation.

Apologies about this blog post being a bit behind.


To understand how far we’ve come, check out this timeline to put events into perspective:



A New School in a New Town

On February 18, 1891 Abilene Baptist College was officially chartered.

Hardin-Simmons University has gone through a handful of name changes over its 125 years (read about that here), and its first  name was Abilene Baptist College.

The fact that this school was opened in 1891 is a huge testament to the people and priorities of this area.

The city of Abilene was incorporated in 1883, just 8 years before this school was established.

That means eight years before the school was opened, there was no city of Abilene.

Let that sink in for a few moments.

Taylor County, the county in which Abilene resides, was organized in 1878. By this year, the Native American population had been driven out, white cattlemen ran their herds across the land, and Buffalo Gap was named county seat. The town of Abilene did not exist yet.

1880 Land Survey of Taylor County

This was cow country: no paved roads, simple houses made from local rock or reused wood (lumber was in scarce supply), and more cattle than man.

Fast forward to 1880 and we find the Texas and Pacific Railroad beginning to expand its tracks westward. A local group of cattlemen and landowners from Taylor County petitioned the railroad lay its tracks and build a station in Taylor County. These cattlemen knew that if a rail line ran through their land they would prosper immensely for multiple reasons:

  1. They would make money either leasing or selling their land to the railroad to lay track
  2. They would make money moving their cattle north on the railroad, rather than on foot
  3. They would have access to more and better goods transported via train
  4. The population (of people and basic goods) of the area would grow, building up the county and its economy
Map of Taylor County with railroad

And so in January 1881 the railroad was laid just north of Buffalo Gap, and with it, the money, people, and goods came streaming in.

The land where the railroad came through was named Abilene, after the successful cow market and rail station in Abilene, KS.

Abilene began as a tent town. Just think, the train brought in a sudden influx of people to a land where there weren’t houses to purchase, no lumber shops to buy building supplies, and no official land lines to know who owned what property.

That is until March 15, 1881.

On March 15, 1881, Abilene held a town lot sale: an auction, essentially, where new community members had the ability to purchase different lots in town. An estimated 2,000 people gathered for the sale and at the end of the day, 178 lots were sold for a total of $27,550.

Shortly after the sale ended, the trains came in, hauling building supplies and other goods to turn Abilene from a tent town into a state of the art city.

Ten years later, the citizens of this new town saw the need to establish a Christian college.

Old Main001
1891, Old Main- the first building on campus

Pretty fascinating, right? In what feels like the blink of an eye, Abilene grew out of dust and rail, leading to the development of the college we now refer to as Hardin-Simmons University.

Quick Timeline Recap:

1878: Taylor County organized

1880: T & P Railroad agrees to lay track in Taylor County, just north of Buffalo Gap. The train stop is called Abilene, named after the cattle town Abilene, Kansas.

1881 (January): Railroad is opened, bringing new inhabitants

1881 (February): Abilene Post Office opens

1881 (March): Town lot sale

1883: The city of Abilene is incorporated

1891: Abilene Baptist College is chartered



Pranks at HSU

College is a time of testing limits: How many all-nighters can you pull in a row before your body deteriorates? How many dirty dishes can you stack in a sink before your roommate sends you a passive-aggressive text? Can you really get away with blowing up the school’s toilets?

Wait…what?! Blowing up toilets?

giphy (2)

There are many phenomenal resources that depict student life at HSU over the years, and one reoccurring theme over HSU’s 125 years is student pranks.

Stay tuned for the Top Three Most Destructive Pranks Performed by Former HSU Students:

Disclaimer: Do not attempt to recreate any of these pranks. You will get arrested.

3. In 1989, former student Charles Pond admitted that 50 years earlier he and other members of the HSU football team “captured Texas Tech bandsmen in order to brand HSU on their foreheads with silver nitrate.” [1]

Yes. You read that right. Hardin-Simmon students wrote “HSU” on the foreheads of Texas Tech band members with silver nitrate. “HSU” was essentially burned into the foreheads of those students.

And it gets better.

As the Tech students were leaving Abilene the following morning, their bus was pelted with eggs by HSU students, causing a brawl to break out in the street between the two schools.

2. In the 1950’s there was a dormitory director (the equivalent to today’s Resident Director) who was unaffectionately named “Professor Horsefeathers” by the students. The students claimed that Horsefeathers demanded they always keep absolutely quiet when in their rooms, to allow for optimal studying.

As I’m sure you can understand, the students did not like this. So, they decided to make Horsefeathers’ life unbearable.

Here is the prank, according to one of the participating students, which ultimately caused Horsefeathers to leave HSU:

“Workmen had been replacing many windows on campus, and had happened to leave a large pile of glass outside the dormitory. One boy was stationed at a top window above the glass to drop bricks down on to the pile at the same moment as some others were stationed at each hall light bulb. On a signal, all the bulbs were unscrewed as the bricks dropped on to the glass making a huge clatter.”

“Horesfeathers raced out of his room but the halls were darkened and the boys had disappeared. When he found them, he accused them of shooting out the lightbulbs—which they stoutly denied.”

Horsefeathers took the matter to President Sandefer, accusing the students of shooting the lights out, when in reality they only unscrewed the bulbs. The sound of bricks dropping on the glass below gave the illusion of the lightbulbs breaking.

Sandefer believed the boys and did not ask them to apologize, ultimately causing Horsefeathers to leave.[2]

Drum roll please…

1. Simmons College was not connected to the city sewer system until more than a year after World War I. The slow transition over to the city sewer system left many of the buildings on campus (especially the male resident halls) to use outdoor facilities, also known as outhouses.

During the post-war years (after 1918), certain (ahem…male) students grew frustrated and felt the college was moving too slowly towards indoor bathrooms. Taking matters into their own hands, these students decided to speed up the desired construction by blowing up the existing outdoor toilets.

It is believed that students who served in WWI with explosives used dynamite and skills acquired in the war to cause the explosions.[3]

And with that, I leave you with this delicious quote about pranks at HSU:

“Some undergraduates have little sense of the majesty of the law, and it is easy for college pranks to lap over into the realm of lawlessness. They are disposed to excuse almost any sort of skullduggery as a means to a worthy end.” –Rupert Norval Richardson

[1] Stackhouse, A. Yvonne. Hardin-Simmons University, A Centennial History. Abilene: Hardin-Simmons University, 1991.

[2] Stackhouse, A. Yvonne. Hardin-Simmons University, A Centennial History. Abilene: Hardin-Simmons University, 1991.

[3] Richardson, Rupert Norval. Famous Are Thy Halls, Hardin-Simmons University as I Have Known It. Abilene: Abilene Printing & Stationary Company, 1964

Military Service

Hardin-Simmons University is a community based in service. Just look around the campus for visual cues and you will be reminded of the philanthropy and sacrifice of current students, faculty, staff, and past alumni and donors.

Just think: It is the nature of all non-profit organizations to rely on donors for development and growth. Every building on campus, whether still standing or gone with time, was built because someone donated the funds to do so. Each tree and flower, sidewalk, and the pond where the turtles and ducks frolic were added to campus because past community members (typically the wives of past presidents) wanted to create a beautiful campus for students, and as such, they raised the funds for these projects.

Service isn’t just measured monetarily, but with time and devotion. How many students have left the 40 acres to be ministers and laypeople, stationed around the globe? How many students have graduated to become teachers, to educate the next generation? How many faculty and staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the success of their students? What about those who have joined the military, in times of war and peace, to serve and protect the country?

On campus you will find memorials dedicated to students and faculty who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice during wartime.

Here is a quick look at the different ways HSU has served her country over the years:

Student Army Training Corps

The Student Army Training Corps was created in response to WWI. Due to the growing conflict overseas, young men needed to be trained and prepared for war in large numbers.

The military base structure we are familiar with today did not exist at this time, and as a result, the War Department took the army and its training to colleges across the country.

Beginning in 1918, Simmons College, along with hundreds of other institutions across the United States, joined this program and military training became a common part of the college culture. Simmons students weren’t the only members of the SATC. Men from Abilene Christian College (now Abilene Christian University) and non-students from the local area slept in makeshift barracks on campus and trained in preparation for war.

World War I (1914-1918)

Both student and faculty left to volunteer or were taken by the draft during WWI. More than 400 men from Simmons served, and thirteen gave their lives. One woman is listed for her service to the Red Cross, named Mildred Cross.

The thirteen who lost their lives are memorialized with the Fort Babe Shaw Memorial, the cannon also known as Arizona Bill, located on the front lawn of campus. Their names are etched in stone for all to see:
WWI (2)                WWI




Chester A. Adams, Jack Blount. Kenneth Burns, Ennis Camp, Robert Embry, Aubrey Fisher, Allister Goodnight, O.A. Keele, Reed Morris, Frank Martin, Dennis Pumphrey, Stephen Dupree Rainey, and Clyde Shaw

Those who remained at school during this time contributed to the war effort by collecting books, blankets, medical supplies and more to send overseas.

World War II (1939-1945)

There isn’t a memorial dedicated solely to those who participated in WWII on campus, but there is a visual reminder at the HSU Alumni Wall, located behind Sandefer Memorial.

Look at the plaques representing the war years. Notice how small the graduating classes are, and take note of the male to female ratio. It’s apparent the majority of the student body was off serving the country.

In comparison to the war years, look at the boom in graduating numbers once those soldiers came home and returned to school. The GI Bill caused an influx of student enrollment, forcing the school to take drastic measures to accommodate the expanding student body (we’ll discuss that exciting time in another post).

HSU Alumni Wall


ROTC (Reserves Officers’ Training Corps) is a college-based officer training program that trains and produces commissioned officers of different military branches.

In June 1952, the college established an Army ROTC program. Students could participate in the program at the start of the 1952-1953 school year, up until its disbandment in the spring of 1997.

1996 Brand
1996 Brand

Students who completed the program would be commissioned at the rank of 2nd lieutenant and begin military careers.

Vietnam War (1955-1975)

In 1969 a flagpole was erected in front of the old ROTC building as a memorial to Major Albert G. Maroscher, who was killed in action in Vietnam April 15, 1968. Maroscher had been an assistant professor at HSU from 1964-67. (This flagpole and commemorating plaque are now on the front lawn of the campus next to the cannon.)

Vietnam Memorial

At a time when college campuses across the county were protesting and rioting the Vietnam War, HSU was growing its ROTC department. In 1971 construction on Mabee Hall, a state of the art military science building and the first of its kind in the nation, began.

Mabee Hall construction
Construction of Mabee Hall
Protesting Mabee Hall
Protest by community members at the dedication of Mabee Hall

All Conflicts

In 1981 the HSU Student Congress dedicated the large tree on the front lawn to all students who lost their lives serving their country since World War I.

tree (1)


How will you continue the tradition of service after leaving HSU?