Minority Professors, Staff, and Graduate Students
Because Asians, Hispanics, Arabs, and other non-Negro/Black races were considered to be members of the “white” race, there are no records of the very first non-Caucasian professor at Rice University. During this time period, Asian professors like Riki Kobayashi were already teaching at the university. (Kobayashi also graduated from the university in 1944.) This section will focus on the first Black professor at Rice.
At 26 years old, Kennard W. Reed, Jr. became the first black professor at Rice University. He came to the university in 1965 but left in 1966 after only one year.
A native Houstonian, Reed graduated early (finishing the 10th grade) from Booker T. Washington High School and left for Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he earned his BA in math in 1958. He earned both his MS and PhD from New York University in 1960 and 1963, respectively.
Before he came to Rice, he taught at several schools including Texas Southern University. It was while he was teaching here that he was given leave of absence to come to Rice as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics in 1965.
At the end of the school year, Reed decided to resign from his position at Rice due to harassment, faculty discord, and other instances of racism. He felt isolated at both TSU and Rice where he felt racial pressure from all directions and decided it was best to leave. He taught at other universities until about 1970 when the employment market became increasingly competitive. Unable to secure a job, he came back to Houston in 1970 and decided to go to Philadelphia Divinity School for a year where he had positive experiences.
He came back to Houston in 1972 and worked for the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and later at Houston Community College (HCC) where he is still currently employed.
Different racial- and socioeconomic-minority staff members were divided into various divisions and departments across the Rice University campus. Hispanics (dubbed “Gnomes” -- pronounced Guh-nome-es by the students) operated as university groundskeepers and janitors while Blacks labored in the kitchens as cooks and chefs. To keep the peace and avoid fighting between races, the university never allowed different racial groups to communicate and work together.
One black man started out as a staff member and later became both a faculty member and Rice’s “first black administrator.” Robert L. Bell, Jr. came to Rice in 1970 as a part-time psychological consultant in Rice’s tutorial program. He left and came back full-time in 1973 as Professor of Psychology and Director of Student Advising.
He received his BA from Texas Southern University in 1953 and his MA and PhD from the University of Texas at Austin.
As mentioned above, many non-Negro/Black races were considered “white” at the time. Full racial integration at Rice University was first achieved when a black graduate student came in 1963. This section will focus on that graduate student.
Raymond Lewis Johnson was the first Black student to enroll and graduate at Rice University.
Born in Alice, Texas in 1943, Johnson’s early education was in an all-Black two-room schoolhouse in a segregated community. When he was about to enter high school, he was able to attend the recently integrated local high school. This opportunity came as a result of the 1954 Supreme Court case (Brown vs. The Board of Education) and the 1957 beginning of the Space Race (Russia launched Sputnik). Schools could no longer be segregated, and there was now a strong national demand for math and science education. Johnson stepped up to the challenge by attending math enrichment courses offered at Alice High School. His teacher Larry O’Rear encouraged him to apply to college. He graduated high school on a National Merit Scholarship and enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin.
O’Rear recommended Johnson to his former advisor, UT professor Dr. Howard B. Curtis. Johnson began to study under Curtis, and, as graduation approached, Curtis persuaded Johnson to apply to Rice for graduate school. Curtis had obtained his doctorate there and was returning to conduct research.
Johnson came to Rice in 1963 right after Rice petitioned to have their charter changed. Two alumni sued; as a result, Johnson was not allowed to enroll in classes his first year. He spent that year as a research assistant in the Math department under the guidance of Jim Douglas, Jr. The next year in 1964, Rice University won the suit, and Johnson became a full-time student.
Johnson’s social experience was different from those of Charlie Freeman, Jackie McCauley, Linda Williams, and Ted Henderson. First, he was a graduate student, so he didn’t live on campus and was not constantly exposed to more intense racism from other students. The social atmosphere for the graduate students in the Math department provided a haven of sorts--a sense of belonging--where he felt safe, accepted, and motivated. Even then, Johnson was still active in the Civil Rights Movement within the city of Houston.
When Douglas left Rice for work at the University of Chicago, Johnson went with him. He came back to defend his dissertation and received his PhD in 1969, making him the first black student to graduate from Rice.
Johnson later became the first black faculty member at the University of Maryland where he taught for 40 years, the same amount as fellow colleague and Rice graduate Linda Faye Williams.
He came back to Rice in 2007 for the 40th Anniversary of Black Undergraduate Life. He met his future wife there, got married, and decided to begin teaching at Rice. He is currently an Adjunct Professor. He has won numerous mentoring awards including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.