Prairie View A&M University commencement invitation

First graduation held by Prairie View A&M

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Established by the Texas Legislature in 1876 during the Reconstruction Period, Prairie View A&M University is the second-oldest public institution of higher education and the first state-funded Black university in Texas. Its first commencement ceremony, for a graduating class of six students, was held in 1885.

Between 1868 and 1897, 52 Black men served Texas as members of the state’s Congress or as Constitutional Convention delegates. One of the issues most championed by Black legislators during this time was access to education. The Texas Constitution of 1876 pledged that “separate schools shall be provided for the white and colored students, and impartial provisions shall be made for both.” William H. Holland, a representative in the 15th Texas Legislature, introduced a bill to start an agricultural and manual school for Black youth as the recently established Texas A&M University was only for white students. Fellow Black legislator Walter Burton promoted the bill in the Senate, and it became law in 1876. Their actions led to the establishment of the Alta Vista Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas for Colored Youth, today known as Prairie View A&M.

In 1878, the Alta Vista Plantation was purchased as the location for the newly established Black university. That March, eight Black men began their studies, becoming the first Black Texans to enroll in an institution of higher learning in Texas. A year later, Texas’s 16th Legislature established Prairie View State Normal School to train Black teachers, and in 1887, the two schools were combined and the curriculum was expanded to include arts and sciences, home economics, agriculture, mechanical arts, and nursing. The university underwent several name changes in the following years, officially becoming Prairie View A&M University in August 1973 when it became an independent unit of the Texas A&M University System. Today, the HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) offers over 50 undergraduate majors, 37 master’s degree programs, and four doctoral degree programs to more than 9,000 students.

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Prairie View A&M University commencement invitation Artifact from Prairie View, TX
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