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.
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 History, two 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.
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.
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.