By Amanda Sawyer
All images Courtesy of The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
Paul Quinn College is the oldest African American liberal arts college in Texas. In 1872, the African Methodist Episcopal Church established plans to create a school for the education of former slaves. On April 4, 1872, the Connectional School for the Education of Negro Youth in Texas opened in Austin, moving to Waco just five years later. A single-building trade school located at Eighth Street and Mary Avenue provided African American youth with vocational training in areas such as blacksmithing, carpentry, tanning, and saddlery. An increase in funding enabled the school to move to a new building on Elm Street. In 1881, officials renamed the school for Bishop William Paul Quinn, a Methodist missionary.
In these early years, Paul Quinn College offered classes such as theology, Latin, English, music, math, printing, and carpentry taught by a faculty of only five teachers. Money was tight, and expanding the campus was done through efforts such as the “Ten Cents a Brick" campaign asking community members to donate their few spare pennies in order to create a better future for their children. In the 1950s, tragedy struck the already struggling school. A fire destroyed the girl’s dormitory in 1952. The next year, a devastating tornado tore through Waco, destroying much of the campus. The African Methodist Episcopal Church came to the aid of the school, paying off all of its remaining debt. Supported by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Waco community, the school continued expansion.
African American students’ options for college suddenly increased with the racial integration of schools in the 1960s. Paul Quinn’s curriculum was not as academically rigorous as many of the other universities in Texas, predominantly consisting of remedial courses discouraging stronger students from attending. Enrollment decreased, leaving the college in danger of closing down. Additionally, the college relied heavily upon the East Waco community for funding at this time. When the community struggled economically, the school often lacked basic supplies for the classrooms. In the mid-1960s, Paul Quinn appointed William Milton Collins as dean in the hopes that he could salvage Paul Quinn’s operations. Dean Collins pursued this goal through the establishment of an accreditation process focused upon improving the school’s academic program.
Once educational improvement was fully under way, Paul Quinn turned to fundraising and campus improvements. In 1967, federal and local governments selected the city of Waco to participate in the nationwide Model Cities urban renewal program. In 1968, Paul Quinn College was the only four-year institution in the city’s targeted redevelopment area. Enrollment during this time period greatly increased, and the school completed construction of two new residence halls and a library. The school also aimed to increase community support through large-scale fundraising drives.
In 1974, the United Negro College Fund granted Paul Quinn College membership, allowing the university to significantly increase the amount of financial aid and scholarship provided to students, increase its academic standards, and continue expansion. Soon thereafter, African American businessman Comer S. Cottrell approached the university, proposing that it move into the vacated campus of Bishop College in Dallas. In 1990, the university relocated there in hopes of revitalizing campus life and increasing the student body.
In 1990, Quinn Campus, Incorporated, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reviving the historic Quinn Campus for the good of the East Waco community, acquired the vacated Waco campus. This organization strives to continue the legacy that Paul Quinn College created in Waco by promoting public education and community life. The organization has completed four major projects on Quinn Campus, including several buildings currently occupied by Rapoport Academy, a public charter school.