June 11, 2023

TSU: Key influence in Greater Southeast District and beyond

As one of the two largest university campuses in the Greater Southeast Management District, Texas Southern University has contributed hugely to the history, culture and leadership of the area — and well beyond it.

By also including the University of Houston, and other premier higher education institutions in the Texas Medical Center, the District is the cradle for the city’s post-high school academic successes. (And Rice University is a block away).

TSU stands alone in the cluster, however, as a historically black college or university (HBCU). It began as a junior college in 1927 and today has over 8,000 students enrolled in over 100 academic programs.

When you think of TSU celebrity alumni, you might think first of rapper Megan Thee Stallion or pro football legend and talk show host Michael Strahan.

But the university has graduated a plethora of politicians who have shined locally and nationally, thanks in part to courses at the nationally acclaimed Barbara Jordan–Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs and the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia

Rep. Al Green

In 2007, Congressman Al Green of Houston, a 1974 TSU graduate, had this to say about the university when then-Gov. Rick Perry proposed special oversight of the university.

“Texas Southern University is no stranger to successfully overcoming hurdles,” he said. “In fact, it was the struggle for equality in Texas that gave birth to TSU. Since its founding, TSU has fought for its survival and in doing so has produced a significant number of top-ranking professionals in many fields.”

“Two shining examples of TSU’s successes,” he continued, “were Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and Congressman Mickey Leland. In this tradition, we must allow TSU the opportunity to overcome these obstacles and do what is in the best interest of the university and its students.”

Jordan was the first African American woman from the South elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1976, she became the first African American, and the first woman, to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. Leland was an anti-poverty activist and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“The namesakes for our school carry a lot of weight,” said Richelle Jones, program analyst for the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs. “Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland (who succeeded Jordan in the Houston seat) stood for policy for the people, not public gain.”

Jones holds three degrees from the university: a bachelor’s in political science, a master’s in public administration, and a law degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Many other past and current politicians have graduated from one or both schools.

Graduate Henry Calvin Johnson Jr. is a congressman from Georgia. Houstonian Sylvia Rodriguez Garcia has served Texas’ 29th congressional district in Houston since 2019 and was previously in the Texas Senate and Houston’s elected controller. Craig Washington served in the Texas Senate and the United States House of Representatives; Rodney Ellis served in the Texas Senate and is now Harris County commissioner for Precinct 1. Jarvis Johnson serves in the state House of Representatives. Senfronia Thompson has served in the Texas House of Representatives since 1972.

The list goes on.

“I think we provide a hands-on approach,” said Jones.“We have internships with real practical experience. I know I couldn’t have gotten those experiences anywhere else. Here we teach you to be the change you want to see. The care and personal concern we provide students here is what sets us apart.”

— by Marene Gustin