The College of Marshall
In November, 1910, I came back to Texas and settled as pastor of the First Baptist Church at Marshall. I was disposed for several reasons to return to the Lone Star State, but I did not want to locate so near the eastern border, and I had never been an admirer of Marshall, or of its churches, but when I saw the substantial old town spread out over its seven hills and manifesting evidences of continued growth, I was impressed with its importance as a preaching center. Town and country had been aroused to combat the evils of the liquor traffic and in a fiercely contested campaign the demon rum had been banished from the city and county, so I came to a saloonless city. A veritable passion of patriotism and rage for cleaner living had made the Prohibitionists victorious. However, I had no illusions about the place or the church. I knew the former was hard and reactionary, and that the latter was provincial and without vision, but my duty seemed clear and opportunity was inviting. I knuckled down to four years of the bitterest toil of my life. I soon discovered that the church did not want to do big things. It shrank from burdens, winced at hardships, and complained loudly when pressed by imperative duties. I saw that my church and the Christian community and the Baptists throughout that section must be torn from their narrow moorings and that their static condition would have to be utterly broken up. To do this there must be a gigantic task and a tremendous appeal. The spiritual and intellectual inertia had to be completely shattered. In a way most splendidly practical and beautifully providential the means of accomplishing my desires and achieving my high purposes came to hand.
There was a whirlwind campaign on for Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. On an appointed Sunday a party of eminent churchmen visited Marshall and raised several thousands of dollars from the Methodists of the city. So pleased were all concerned at the results of the financial appeal that on Monday night a banquet was given the contributors in the basement of the First Methodist Church. I was one of a number of invited guests. The occasion was one of rare good feeling among our Methodist brethren. Their leading men felicitated each other, praised the educational work of the church, and said not a little concerning the majesty of Dallas and the wealth of central Texas. When called upon to speak I most warmly congratulated my Methodist brethren upon the unparalleled feat of such quick and effective establishment of so great an institution as their new university. Then I turned to sing the praises of my own town. I told of its population, wealth, vast surrounding area of backward country and the unbelievable distance to higher institutions of learning, and wound up by challenging the Methodists or Presbyterians to make no mean educational coup by planting one of their colleges in Marshall. As I sat down the gentleman at my right, Mr. M. Turney, a capitalist, promoter and withal a leading Methodist, said: “If you will build a Baptist college here I will give you the first thousand dollars.” That proposition put ideas into my head. More thoughts about the school came to me, for as I walked home at midnight Mr. P. G. Whaley, another eminent Methodist, said to me, “Build that school and we’ll give you the next thousand dollars.”
From that moment the thing would not down and I had no rest. It filled my thoughts while waking and my dreams while sleeping. I trembled in delicious expectancy of the realization of a purpose and a vision formed when I was a tow-headed, barefoot boy. Immediately I began the search for a college site. I knew that we must have lots of land, enough for all school purposes and much that we could plot into lots and sell to procure money with which to build the school. Returning one day with Deacon W. A. Harvey from looking at a prospective site, we stopped in the edge of an oak grove and let our vision sweep through the trees and rest upon the crest of a noble hill. My observation was: “The Lord made this for a college. We must have this land.”
To which Mr. Harvey replied: “I’m afraid you cannot get it. This is the Van Zandt estate and contains a hundred and forty acres. The heirs all live in Fort Worth, and I am told that they will not consider selling a part of this property. The purchaser must buy it all.”
From this time on my counsellors were Mr. M. Turney and M. P. McGee, Esq. Mr. Turney furnished the money and the financial advice, and Mr. McGee the nerve force, the optimism, boundless zeal, and technical legal knowledge that was necessary every day and every hour in the long negotiations. The three of us now centered our thoughts and contributed our time almost without reserve to this college proposition in the practicability of which none believed but us.
On Thanksgiving night Mr. Turney and Mr. McGee came to my house and advised me to leave on the late night train for Fort Worth, to consult with General Van Zandt with regard to the acquisition of the property we needed. Mr. McGee gave the first actual cash ever contributed to the college. The amount was a ten dollar bill to help defray my expenses to Fort Worth. My wife added to that fund by letting me have part of a marriage fee that I had made that day, and turned over to her. My visit to Fort Worth opened the question of sale and later in the winter Major Jarvis and his wife, other heirs, came to Marshall and made me a definite proposition. They offered me one hundred acres, the choicest and best located part of the estate, for $25,000, one third cash, balance due in one year at eight per cent interest. This proposition was quickly accepted.
The money for the first payment was borrowed from Mr. Turney’s bank and notes were executed for deferred payments. The land was surveyed and fifty acres in the center of the tract was sacredly set apart for specific college purposes. This is the size of the campus. The remainder was cut up into lots and put upon the market. Mr. W. A. Harvey purchased the first and the highest priced lot. We soon sold enough lots to pay the indebtedness on the land. Then there was a great lot sale put on, running up above $40,000 worth to get cash in hand with which to build. Later there was a campaign for voluntary contributions from the citizens, the aggregate of this subscription being $47,000. Two years later still, the citizens of Marshall gave $25,000 cash toward the erection of one of the new dormitories. The physical property of the school as it now stands consists of a fifty-acre campus, three brick buildings, and three frame structures, and a leased large house, used as a girls’ co-operative club.
The original holding board of trustees was composed of Messrs. E. Key, M. Turney, M. P. McGee, E. L. Wells and myself. I was the only active Baptist on the board. Mr. Wells was president of the City School Board, and in church affiliation he was an Episcopalian. He was an inspiring supporter, a gentleman of the old school, whose radiant faith in the potentialities of our dream kept us in good hope. The city of Marshall responded to our every appeal with alacrity and unprecedented generosity. From the start the town adopted the school as its very own. In all the distracting commotions of municipal jealousies and antagonisms, the school idea and fact have been the one unifying agency. The college has been the rallying center of the energies of the people and the chosen object of their benefactions. The other denominations and the non-Christian portion of our population were far more enthusiastic for the school than were the Baptists at first. Others had more faith in us than we had in ourselves.
But many pains shall afflict him who is a dreamer of dreams and builder of schools. Only the seer knows with what leaden feet reforms do move and only the creator of a new thing can properly feel the awful pull of the backward surge of an unaroused peoples’ indifference.
I remained in the pastorate and held on to my pulpit for the power these positions would give me as I pushed the school enterprise. But for two years I did not dare mention the college from my pulpit. I knew that public talk from the rostrum would bring on a violently unfavorable reaction among the Baptists. Therefore, I let the leaven work without and from the outside life coals were finally put upon creeping Baptist’s backs. In time the church did respond nobly to the appeal and did rally heroically to the enterprise.
For two years I fought shy of the Baptist newspapers and I had a care as to what I wrote to the denominational press. Our people were overburdened with small, badly located struggling schools, some of them just gasping for breath. The leaders did not want any more crying babies on their hands, nor were they anxious to furnish crutches to any more limping schools. As fugitive scraps of news would filter out of Marshall to denominational headquarters, low rumblings of dissent would be heard. More than once lines like this appeared in the Baptist Standard, “Let no over-zealous brother start an independent school or college.” This kept up for a year or two. I had a letter from Secretary Barton of the Educational Board and from Dr. J. M. Carroll, then of Oklahoma, asking if rumors about a new college at Marshall were veracious. Those editorials and letters and warnings have not been answered yet. I could not reply without disclosing my plans and these plans would have been regarded as highly chimerical by all who did not see what I saw and feel what I felt. When the hour should strike I meant to reveal all and this I was able to do in perfect time on the stroke of the clock.
But leadership is a lonely and heart-breaking isolation. I was regarded as a half madman whose wild imagination had got the better of him. After talking an hour one day to a Baptist pastor, explaining to him the grandeur of the conception and flamingly rhapsodizing over the practical aspects of the whole scheme, his only answer was, “I shall not put any obstacles in your way.” And at what I considered an auspicious moment I unfolded the whole idea to the Executive Board of our association. These good men sat unresponsive, inarticulate, and dumb to my astounding revelation. Ere this, however, all have been converted and are all friends of the institution on the hill.
Mr. Thurman C. Gardner, now B. Y. P. U. secretary of Texas, was the first president. There was not a brick on the hill when he took charge. His office was the position of money-gathering, promoting and advertising. He did his work well, erected the main building, and sounded the name of the College of Marshall to the corners of the farthest country. Under the presidency of Dr. H. E. Watters the school opened with a large attendance and great expectancy. At the end of the first school year Dr. Watters left for Union University and Dr. John S. Humphreys became president. The college is now on the last lap of the second year. It has survived the war, devastating droughts, crushing reversals, and ravaging epidemics. It now belongs to the Baptists of the entire State. Its destiny is what they shall elect to make it. A superior faculty has been employed and organized and the future seems as bright as the promise of God. It should stay here with its ever-deepening services and widening ministries to the hungry-minded youth of East Texas until the Master comes.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. ~ Psalm 100:5
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