HOUSTON, TX-- When Dr. Thomas Freeman first arrived at Texas Southern University 67 years ago, it was to do a nine-month stint teaching logic, nothing more. As a class project, students were assigned a debate. They were so excited by that, they went to the dean of students and asked him to convince Freeman to coach a debate team. While it seemed impossible at the time, the nationwide success of the TSU debaters and, Freeman says, God's hand made it all possible.
Over the years, the TSU debate team has become legendary, winning the international championship four times. Past members have included names like future U.S. congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Boston bishop George Turner, U.S. congressman Mickey Leland and Texas state senator Rodney Elllis.
For more than 40 years, the team has never come home from a speech tournament empty handed. But Freeman, or "Doc" as his students call him, says their impact has been much more important than that, "The actual encounter of competent, fluent, black people changed the perception that many have of blacks. Although we didn't set out to do it, the mere participation accomplished it."
In addition to his work at TSU, for 65 years Freeman has been pastor of the Mt. Horem Baptist Church in the 5th Ward section of Houston. "The best section of Houston," he says with a hearty laugh.
And don't expect the man to retire from either vocation any time soon. "On June the 27th," he says with a smile that would light up any room. "I shall be 97. As long as my health holds out and as long as I'm needed, I will be here."
A living legend changing perceptions one well-enunciated word at a time, Dr. Thomas Freeman is definitely a Houston treasure!