Paul Quinn College is the oldest historically black college in Texas. Though it is no longer located in Waco, it remains an important part of the city’s history as the “Athens on the Brazos.”
In 1872 the African Methodist Episcopalian Church founded the Connectional School for the Education of Negro Youth in Austin as a means to provide education to former slaves. Five years later, the campus moved to Waco, where it occupied a small building located at Eighth Street and Mary Avenue until an increase in funding allowed the school to relocate to a new facility on Elm Street. In 1881, officials renamed the school for Bishop William Paul Quinn, a Methodist missionary.
Paul Quinn acted as an academic alternative for black students excluded from other institutions of higher education in the pre-Civil Rights era. Early on the college focused primarily on vocational training although it did offer a few courses in theology, English, Latin, music, and math. In the mid-1960s, options for many college-bound students expanded when two new schools joined the higher education landscape in Waco, McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College. For black students, Paul Quinn remained the only option, and it was a largely unsatisfactory one. Its academic standards were not competitive with the other schools, its facilities were sub-par, and it was unable to receive sufficient funding to improve either situation. When Baylor, MCC, and TSTC racially integrated, Paul Quinn’s appeal dropped so far that the school was in danger of closing permanently.
In the mid-1960s, the Paul Quinn administration appointed a new dean named William Milton Collins, in the hope that he would be able to revitalize the college. Dean Collins did not disappoint. He established a new education department and introduced fine arts classes. He also began an accreditation process that would help Paul Quinn’s academic program improve.
The period between the late 1960s and the early 1970s was one of dramatic change at Paul Quinn. Enrollment greatly increased and administrators oversaw the construction of two new residence halls and a library by 1968. The college launched major development initiatives to help fund student scholarships and provide for campus expansion, but were also intended to increase community involvement and support.
In the late 1980s, African American businessman Comer S. Cottrell presented Paul Quinn with the opportunity to take over the property of the vacated Bishop College in Dallas. With the hopes of revitalizing campus life and opening up its programs to a larger urban market, Paul Quinn seized the opportunity to move north. In September of 1990, the school transferred all operations to the former Bishop campus with the assistance of several corporate sponsors. Paul Quinn College is still in existence in Dallas.
The historic Paul Quinn College campus in Waco fell into temporary disuse after the school’s relocation, but has since entered a period of renewal. Many of the original buildings are now being utilized by Rapoport Academy, continuing the goal of educating future generations.