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Words of Wisdom

"Time is what we want most, but what we use the worst."
~William Penn

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Moments in Texas History ~ 7.2.2011


Hood's Texas Brigade joins battle at Gettysburg
July 02, 1863
On this day in 1863, Hood's Texas Brigade became a major participant in the battle of Gettysburg. The brigade had been organized in 1861 in Richmond, Virginia. It was composed of the First, Fourth and Fifth Texas Infantry regiments, the only Texas troops to fight in the Eastern Theater. Col. John Bell Hood had been commander of the Fourth. On July 2, 1863, the brigade led the assault at Devils Den and Little Round Top, the crucial action of the second day of the battle. A soldier of the First Texas called the assault on Devil's Den "one of the wildest, fiercest struggles of the war." After routing the Union forces at the Devil's Den, however, the brigade was unable to capture Little Round Top. A thirty-five-foot monument to the men of Hood's Texas Brigade stands on the south drive of the Capitol in Austin.
Convict and criminal-justice reformer paroled
July 02, 1982
On this day in 1982, convicted bank robber Lawrence Chalmous Pope was paroled to Austin from the federal prison at El Reno, Oklahoma. Pope was born in 1918 in Trinity, Texas. After his banking career ended in 1960, when examiners uncovered marginal loans and other questionable practices at a bank of which he was president, Pope robbed banks in Thornton and Schulenburg. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested him in San Antonio in November 1960; he received concurrent federal and state sentences of twenty-five and fifty years. While confined in the federal prisons at Leavenworth, Kansas, and Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Pope learned to file writs that asked federal courts to protect the civil rights of prison inmates. In 1970, federal authorities sent Pope to the prison system in Texas, where officials classified him as "a potential institutional adjustment problem and malcontent." Despite retaliation from prison officials, he protested against conditions of confinement and violations of individual rights in Texas prisons and continued to file petitions. Pope was the first witness for the plaintiffs in the Ruiz v. Estelle class-action suit, which resulted in a federal court decision declaring that conditions of confinement in Texas prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the United States Constitution. After the Ruiz trial ended in 1979, the court ordered Pope transferred to the facility at El Reno, where he would receive protection from retribution by Texas prison officials. He remained at El Reno until his parole. In Austin he continued his reform activities by lobbying state officials, testifying before legislative committees, and speaking before university classes. He died of cardiac arrest in 1989.

Ralphael O'Hara Lanier becomes first president of Texas Southern University
July 02, 1948
On this day in 1948, Ralphael O'Hara Lanier, who had earlier served five years as dean of Houston Colored Junior College and more recently as United States Minister to Liberia, became the first president of the Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University). The university was established by the Fiftieth Texas Legislature on March 3, 1947. The intent of the legislature was to offer the state's black citizens a university equivalent to the University of Texas, in accord with the "separate but equal" principle of segregation. Lanier had a record of leadership in higher education, which made him a good selection for the new university. His administration, however, was troubled with both internal and external difficulties. As president, he had to face divisiveness between students who opposed a separate black college and wished to attend the University of Texas and students who pushed for the establishment of a first-class, yet segregated, black university. Lanier enjoyed the general support of African Americans, but the white establishment and a small group of black intellectuals opposed him. Local newspapers launched a series of attacks on him throughout his tenure, alleging poor administration, unskilled personnel, fiscal irresponsibility, communism, and general confusion on campus. Lanier opposed the autonomy of the law school on campus, feeling that it would generate the perception of two separate universities.

A local American Legion post called for the governor to start an investigation of the university. In 1953 a committee of Houston citizens was appointed to study the situation and report to the governor. The committee reported that the charges were unfounded, and that under Lanier's leadership the university had expanded in terms of student enrollment, curriculum, and physical facilities. The report, however, stated that the existence of two leaders, Lanier in charge of academics and John Robinson in charge of fiscal matters, was awkward. Robinson resigned. Despite the difficulties he faced, the university not only survived, but grew under Lanier's leadership. Nevertheless, after seven often turbulent years at Texas Southern, he left the presidency. There has been some debate over whether he resigned freely.

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