Bishop College

Established in 1881 by the American Baptist Home Mission Society, Bishop College was named in honor of Nathan Bishop, a white attorney and Society board member who supported the creation of a Baptist college for African Americans in Texas. The Society acquired the former Beverly LaFayette Holcombe estate in Marshall, Texas, for the Bishop campus in 1880 and later expanded it by purchasing adjacent land from white and black property owners.

In its early years, Bishop operated a grammar and high school and offered industrial training, like carpentry and wood-working, but its primary mission was to educate African Americans to be teachers and preachers. By 1898, most of the college level students at Bishop were enrolled in the school’s normal program, which prepared students to teach and allowed them to practice their training in the college’s grade school.

In 1901, the Texas Department of Education awarded Bishop its top rating, certifying the quality of its academic offerings. Then, in 1930, when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) began accrediting institutions for African Americans, it assigned Bishop College a B rating. This certification confirmed what many black residents of Marshall and East Texas already knew: that Bishop College offered a rigorous educational program that prepared black students to excel in the South despite the limitations of Jim Crow segregation.

In 1929, on the eve of Bishop’s SACS accreditation report, the school hired its first African American president, Joseph J. Rhoads. A Marshall native and Bishop graduate, Rhoads instituted a period of significant growth and transformation during his two decades of leadership at the campus. For starters, he discontinued the college’s secondary school and emphasized collegiate programming. In 1931, he also introduced an annual institute for ministers, which soon attracted hundreds of clergy to Bishop’s continuing education initiative. Other advancements included partnerships with New Deal agencies, such as the Works Progress Administration, which helped to establish a nursery school at Bishop in 1937, allowing students to gain experience teaching kindergarten-aged children.

Rhoads also saw Bishop through the challenges associated with World War II, like decreased enrollment and funding. After the war ended, Bishop thrived, opening a junior college in Dallas in 1946 and earning an A rating from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1948. At the same time, Rhoads became an active opponent of segregation. He served as head of the Texas Council of Negro Organizations, spoke out in support of Sweatt v. Painter, and encouraged desegregation of colleges campuses across the state.

Following Rhoads' death in 1951, the next president of Bishop College continued to improve its physical plant, even building a football stadium for night games, but some members of the school's board supported moving the college to Dallas. The United Negro College Fund, which offered financial support to the college and its students, wanted to avoid duplication of services and questioned whether Marshall, also home to Wiley College, should have two black colleges when Dallas had none. In 1957, Bishop College announced it would close its Marshall campus and relocate to Dallas. The last Bishop class in Marshall graduated on May 26, 1961, and the college reopened in Dallas that summer.

The Marshall campus was sold in August 1961 and its buildings were demolished. Despite its initial success in Dallas, Bishop later lost its accreditation and facing financial problems, it closed in 1988.

Images

Campus View

Campus View

Likely taken in the late 1920s, this photo of the Bishop College campus shows Marston Hall, a dormitory for men, and the bell tower on the left. This view looks north toward West Grand Avenue. | Source: Marshall Public Library and Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas View File Details Page

Sanborn Map

Sanborn Map

This Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the structures on the Bishop College campus in 1915. In addition to traditional dormitories, faculty living quarters and classroom buildings, shop buildings and a reservoir are also visible. | Source: Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection, University of Texas View File Details Page

Bishop Hall

Bishop Hall

One of the earliest buildings at Bishop College, Bishop Hall stood on the eastern side of the campus and served mostly as a dormitory for women. | Source: Marshall Public Library and Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas View File Details Page

Bishop Students in 1930

Bishop Students in 1930

Codella Strickland, who attended Bishop College from 1929 to 1933, included this photograph of her classmates, dressed for a social event in 1930, in a scrapbook. Marston Hall and the bell tower are visible in the background. | Source: Northeast Texas Digital Collections, Texas A&M University-Commerce Libraries View File Details Page

President's House

President's House

At the time this photograph was taken in the 1920s, this antebellum structure was the president's home. Originally known as Wyalucing, Bishop also used it as a music hall and an administration building. | Source: Marshall Public Library and Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas View File Details Page

Note to Student

Note to Student

In 1932 Bishop student Codella Strickland received this message from the Dean of Women admonishing the college junior for her behavior. Dean Lucile Rhoads was also the wife of Bishop's president, Joseph J. Rhoads. | Source: Northeast Texas Digital Collections, Texas A&M University-Commerce Libraries View File Details Page

President Joseph J. Rhoads

President Joseph J. Rhoads

Marshall native Joseph J. Rhoads, seen in this undated photo, served as president of Bishop College from 1929 until his death in 1951. | Source: Marshall Public Library and Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas View File Details Page

WPA Nursery School

WPA Nursery School

Established as a Works Progress Administration project in 1937, the nursery school at Bishop served African American children. The children had balanced meals and snacks and followed a hygiene regimen that including face and hand washing, as seen in this photo. | Source: National Archives and Records Administration View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amy Bertsch, “Bishop College,” East Texas History, accessed June 25, 2017, http://easttexashistory.org/items/show/141.

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