T.J. Patterson was en route to Lubbock to pick up a red Plymouth Fury convertible to get to Memphis, to walk with Martin Luther King Jr. in the several marches at the time.
Life had other plans for the young black man.
His aunt Lucille ‘Sugar' Graves became the first Black student to enroll in a once all-white Texas Technological College. Patterson soon followed, continuing to pave a path for students of color throughout his years with the university and Lubbock.
“My dad often says little threads of cotton make mighty big rope, and for me, that means if we’re working together we can take whatever it is that we have and put it together and make some strong and some sturdy things happen,” his daughter and Lubbock City Councilwoman Shelia Patterson Harris said. “Not only for ourselves but for those around us as well.”
Many like T.J. Patterson continued to open doors for the modern generation. Lynn Whitfield, the university in the Southwest Collection/ Special Collection Library said several people in Tech’s history were the key to giving future children of color the opportunities of success.
“We have these people who’ve been able to achieve these wonderful things and they, in turn, can be role models for people who come after them,” Whitfield said. “I think that’s why so many of the early diversity students went on to become educators (because) they had opportunities, and they wanted other people to have the same opportunities.”
In 1969, George Scott became the first Black administrator assistant dean of students in the Division of Student Life. There he worked to improve the daily lives and culture of Black students and more.
In 2006 he established a scholarship in remembrance of the late Scott, and his contributions to the university was honored by Chancellor Kent R. Hance.
Stella Courtney Crockett followed the path of history makers after being the first Black student to complete all four years and receive her bachelor’s degree from the university. After pursuing higher education at Michigan State, Crockett went on to be a special education teacher, according to a Texas Tech Today news release.
History 4340 was the first Black history course taught at Tech, and was recorded as a full-capacity class with 35 students. According to the Southwest Collection timeline, if one were to attend the class, only one student of the 35 was Black.
Patterson Harris said seeing other people who look like you and share similar life experiences can give one the motivation to succeed.
“The opportunity is there,” Patterson Harris said.
The vice president of the Diversity and Inclusion office, Carol A. Sumner, said Tech has grown since the era of Martin Luther King in performative practices to include culture and celebrate people’s differences.
“It has allowed intuition to make different decisions about how we reflect inclusive practice and some of that comes with cultural shifts in society,” Sumner said. “Some of that comes with local knowledge and experience. I think one of the important things that has happened at Tech is this continued commitment to awareness.”
With their education and commitment to themselves, these historical figures were able to make change and give others a chance to succeed beyond their own imagination.
“Information is knowledge—knowledge is power. Power is the ability to make change,” Sumner said.