Jun 15, 2024  
Jarvis Christian University 
Jarvis Christian University

History of the College

Jarvis Christian University is a historically Black institution that has been affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) since its inception. The University began as Jarvis Christian Institute, modeled after Southern Christian Institute in Edwards, Mississippi. The recorded history began in 1904. Then, the Negro Disciples of Christ in Texas, spearheaded by Mrs. Mary Alphin, State Organizer, in conjunction with the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions began to plan for a school for Black youth. The Negro Disciples of Christ in Texas were to raise $1,000 for a school and the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions would contribute $10,000 if this were done. Meanwhile, Miss Virginia Hearne, State Secretary for Women’s Work, convinced Mrs. Ida Van Zandt Jarvis of the need for a school for Black youth. In turn, Mrs. Jarvis worked to persuade her husband, Major James Jones Jarvis, to donate land upon which a school could be built. In 1910, Major and Mrs. Jarvis deeded 456 acres of land near Hawkins, Texas, to the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions on the condition it “keep up and maintain a school for the elevation and education of the Negro race … in which school there shall be efficient religious and industrial training.” Inherent in the spirit of the donation was that the land would be used to educate “head, heart, and hand” and to produce “useful citizens and earnest Christians.”

Although the thrust of the educational program has changed dramatically since then, the University has ever continued to attempt to educate “head, heart, and hand.” Shortly after the land was donated, the Negro Disciples of Christ in Texas, largely through the efforts of the women of the churches, completed their fund-raising campaign. The $1,000 collected by the churches was augmented with $10,000 by the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions.

In 1912, Mr. Thomas Buchanan Frost, a graduate of Southern Christian Institute, who was to serve as Superintendent, came to start a school. He was joined by Mr. Charles Albert Berry, also a Southern Christian Institute graduate, who was to serve as Principal. These men and their families were the Jarvis pioneers, a small group who accepted the monumental challenge of clearing the swamp land and erecting the buildings in order that instruction could begin.

Despite austere circumstances, the project flourished. Mr. Zach Howard, another Southern Christian Institute graduate, came to run the sawmill that produced building lumber. The children who were to attend the school assisted with the construction. In doing so they participated in the initial work-study program. This plan was a necessity. Jarvis has never enjoyed the luxury of being a free school. Barter and labor were the major sources available to students and their families, most with meager financial resources, to help pay the costs of an education. Since then, the barter system ceased, but a work-study program has always been available to the students who come to Jarvis who are willing to invest their energies and talents to help defray their educational expenses. Its formal instructional program commenced January 13, 1913 with an enrollment of fourteen students, all in the elementary grades. Names of twelve of the fourteen students are listed below:

Enrollment of Students

Barber, Roy
Cozine, Minnie
Frost, Thelma
Frost, Howard
Frost, Thomas Edward
Flaming, Willie
Lewis, Mamie
Lewis, George
Marshall, Hawlin
McCoy, Clarence
Normal, James
Townser, J.D.

In 1914, Mr. James Nelson Ervin came from Johnson City, Tennessee, to be the first President. He served in that capacity until 1938, a period of twenty-four years. During the first year of his tenure, high school subjects were added to the curriculum. Notably, during its early years, Jarvis Christian Institute existed as one of the few schools available in East Texas in which Black youth had the opportunity to complete a high school education. Jarvis remained the only accredited high school for Blacks in the Hawkins area until 1937. Although fragmentary records indicate some college work was offered as early as 1916, junior college courses were included as regular curricular offerings in 1927 and the school was incorporated as a college in 1928. Senior College courses were introduced in 1937. Built in 1936, the Emma B. Smith Building, now used to house administrative offices, is the only campus structure that remains from the Ervin era.

In 1938, Mr. Peter Clarence Washington came from East St. Louis, Illinois, to serve as the second president. High school work was eliminated that year. The original charter by the State of Texas, granted in 1939, states that Jarvis Christian College proposes to offer ― “… practical, domestic, manual, and agricultural training, as well as high grade instruction in the arts and sciences…”

The Florence Robinson House (built in 1939), now the Alumni Heritage House (remodeled in 1976), is the only structure remaining from the Washington presidency.

In 1949, Dr. John B. Eubanks assumed administrative duties as Executive Vice-President. He is credited with the introduction of a general education program and additional innovations, which hastened recognition by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1950, to include Jarvis Christian College on its Approved List of Colleges and Universities for Negro Youth. This was the only regional accreditation then available to Black Colleges in the South. Dr. Eubanks was named the third President of Jarvis Christian College in 1951 and served until 1953.

In 1953, Dr. Cleo Walter Blackburn, who had served as a consultant to President Eubanks, began his eleven-year tenure as the fourth President of Jarvis Christian College. That same year, Fundamental Education was included as a component of the educational program. Several of the buildings constructed during this presidency are still in use: Fellowship Center, now the Ida V. Jarvis Student Center, 1955; the James Aborne Health Center, 1961; the Barton-Zeppa Agro- lndustrial Building, now the Maintenance Building, 1961; and four dormitories, two each for men and women, 1962.

Dr. John Oliver Perpener, Jr., was named Executive Vice-President and served as resident executive. The Blackburn presidency culminated with an affiliation between Jarvis Christian College and Texas Christian University in 1964 through a “Memorandum of Understanding” (revised, 1965; reaffirmed, 1969; discontinued, 1976). Also in 1964, the year that Dr. Perpener became Provost and Chief Administrative Officer, Fundamental Education and the Agro- lndustrial offerings were eliminated as components of the educational program. The Olin Library and Communication Center opened in 1965. This major building was a gift from the Olin Foundation. Operation CRAM, a pre-college program for prospective college students, was initiated during the summer of 1965. While this effort had an academic component, its major emphasis was sociocultural enrichment.

In 1966, Dr. Perpener became the fifth president of the College. He was the first alumnus to be appointed to the office. The next year, Jarvis Christian College became affiliated with the Texas Association of Developing Colleges, a six-college consortium of historically Black colleges. It also achieved membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools during that year. In 1969, the Texas Education Agency approved the Teacher Education Program, and the campus master plan was updated. During the same year, the Charles A. Meyer Science and Mathematics Center opened. This was the second major building underwritten by the Olin Foundation. In 1970, four additional residence halls, two each for men and women, and the Elbie Guy Crawford Titus Women’s Commons Building was completed. Dr. Perpener resigned in 1971, and Dr. John Paul Jones was named Acting President. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted reaffirmation of accreditation following the regularly scheduled visitation in 1971.

Dr. John Paul Jones was appointed the sixth president of Jarvis Christian College in 1972. A major improvement to the physical plant during his administration was a water purification system and sewage disposal plant that was completed in 1974. The Advanced Summer Enrichment Program began in 1976. The major focus of this program was providing entering freshmen an academic introduction to college. After the resignation of Dr. Jones in 1976, Dr. James O. Griffin served as Interim Administrator for two months.

In 1976, Dr. Earl Wadsworth Rand, an alumnus and a former dean of Jarvis Christian College, became the seventh president. Recognizing a need for special attention to entering students, the academic sector added the Division of Basic Studies in 1976. The Division of Basic Studies had the administrative responsibility for initial advisement for all transfer students as well as for academic advisement for freshmen and sophomore students as they complete the General Education Requirements. In 1978 the Gladys A. Gill Early Childhood Education Center opened. The Facilitators Program was initiated the following year. This paraprofessional counseling program utilizes members of the faculty, staff, and administration to provide one-to-one personalized assistance to each student from initial entry through graduation. That same year, the Southern Christian Institute National Alumni and Ex- Students merged with the National Alumni and Ex-Students of Jarvis, a relationship that has continued since Mr. Frost and Mr. Berry came to Texas in 1912. Additionally, the E. W. Rand Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center were dedicated December 1. 1979, the month Dr. Rand retired.

Dr. Charles Albert Berry, Jr., an alumnus of Jarvis Christian College, became the eighth president on January 1, 1980. In 1981, the official transfer of the title of the initial land donated by Major and Mrs. Jarvis, from the United Christian Missionary Society to Jarvis Christian College was realized.

The James Nelson Ervin Religion and Culture Center named in honor of the first president of Jarvis Christian College and consisting, currently of two structures, was completed in 1983. The two structures are the Smith-Howard Chapel and the Peoples-Dickson Religion Building. Two additional residence halls were dedicated in 1986-one each for men and women-as was a twelve unit student-parent apartment complex in 1988.

Dr. Julius Franklin Nimmons, Jr., became the ninth president on June 1, 1988. During his administration, Jarvis Christian College was involved in extensive review and assessment of its total operation. Emphasis was placed on campus beautification. Dr. E. W. Rand and Dr. Charles Berry, Jr. served as administrative officers during the summer and fall of 1990.

Dr. Sebetha Jenkins became the tenth president on January 1, 1991. As the first woman to hold this position, she sparked many triumphs. Jarvis Christian College received reaffirmation of accreditation by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December 1993. Major renovations and capital improvements occurred during 1993 and 1994. In the fall of 1996, courses in Japanese were taught by a visiting instructor from Japan, and an American Humanics program was designed to prepare students for employment with non-profit agencies. Additionally, students interested in careers in teaching were given an opportunity to take advantage of the Center for Teacher Education, which increased the depth of their learning by providing extended observation assignments and practicum experiences.

The student learning experience was broadened even more with the implementation and upgrade of a campus-wide network and data management system. The construction of a Distance Learning lab (Community and Technology Center) in 1996 allowed students to participate in classroom activities simultaneously with students in courses held on other college campuses without having to leave Jarvis.

Other milestones realized during Dr. Jenkins’ tenure included the launching of a $7.5 million dollar capital campaign, the Living and Learning Center, the initiation of the Pioneer Hall of Fame Awards Program, expansion of summer programs for area youth, the Hands-On Mission Program for campus beautification, the Service-Learning Program, and the Walk of Fame Plaza that was dedicated in the spring of 1997. Also during the Jenkins years (1991-2009), the college’s regional accreditation was reaffirmed twice and the business program gained accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

On January 2, 2009, Dr. Cornell Thomas was appointed the eleventh president. Dr. Thomas was committed to students receiving a quality education. His vision for Jarvis was that it become a premier Christian College that offers a quality education that prepares our youth to face the challenges confronting them upon graduation. He started a Pre-Honors Program for Freshman students, revitalized the Honor’s Program and opened the Office of Student Academic Success.

In April of 2012, Dr. Lester C. Newman was appointed as the twelfth president of Jarvis Christian College. Dr. Newman continues to build and refine the strong traditions of education and personal attention to students at Jarvis Christian College. Under Dr. Newman’s administration, more faculty with terminal degrees in their fields have been hired, financial stability attained, new policies and procedures have been established for operations campus-wide and new athletic teams added. Also, Dr. Newman has reorganized the academic divisions to optimize the educational experience for Jarvis students. In 2014, the College successfully completed the 10-year reaffirmation process of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges with no recommendations.