Last week we lost a Houston basketball icon in Dwight Elmo Jones, who passed away on July 25, 2016 after battling a heart ailment over a number of years.
Before Clyde Drexler dunked his way to H-Town fame at Sterling High School, helped establish Texas’ Tallest Fraternity, and claimed an NBA title with his hometown Houston Rockets, Dwight Jones had already established himself as arguably the greatest high school basketball player in Houston history. Born in 1952 in Houston, Jones led Wheatley High School to three straight state championships from 1968 to 1970, played for the Cougars from 1971 to 1973, and even contributed to the Houston Rockets, from 1976 to 1979.
Coaches and teammates of Jones remember him being a special talent from a young age. Playing as a man among boys, playground lore suggests he was already dunking a basketball in the seventh grade. In high school, his Wheatley Wildcats racked up a remarkable 102-2 record and as a senior he averaged 28 points and 24 rebounds a game for the Wildcats in the newly desegregated University Interscholastic League. Recruited by the legendary Guy V. Lewis, Jones played on two NCAA Tournament teams for the Cougars while also leading the 1972 USA Olympic team in scoring before being ejected in the infamous gold medal game, as the Americans fell to the Soviets. Jones was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 1973 before joining the Rockets in 1976. His career in the NBA would run through the early 1980s and include stops with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.
A fierce competitor, his resolve was no doubt tested when he heard himself declared dead prematurely in an emergency room in 2012. Yet, to everyone’s surprise (except perhaps those closest to him), he survived the surgery and battled his illness with a fervent spirit for nearly four more years. In remembering Jones, current University of Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson said, “Dwight was a tremendous competitor, who represented the University of Houston and his nation well during his playing career. While his health declined in recent years, he faced those challenges with the same courage and spirit that made him one of our program’s greats. Tonight, our hearts go out to Dwight’s family and friends and all those who knew and loved him.” The Jones family has established a gofundme page to help defray the expenses they now face.
Ten years after the murder of John “HAWK” Hawkins, Mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed May 8 “Big Hawk Day” in commemoration of the Houston rapper’s life and career.
This spring 2016 semester we are proud to partner once again with the English Department’s Professional Internship Program and host Elizabeth Beaver, our newest UH Special Collections Social Media Intern. As part of her duties, Beaver will be researching, drafting, and editing content for the Special Collections blog as well as our Facebook page. In her first contribution, she examines the founding and evolution of African American Studies at the University of Houston.
1969: The Dawn of a Trailblazing Academic Program
Today, I would like to pay homage to our very own African American Studies Department which has its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The 1960s were a time of intense civil rights activism which generated a great deal of momentum for issues of racial equality. In comparison to the national ferocity, the citizens of Houston presented a more subdued and subtle front. A city-wide media blackout and backroom negotiations allowed the city to quietly take on the task of integrating its large, commercial establishments without the horrific scenes of violent clashes taking place in other Southern cities. Despite this compromised and negotiated “peace” of the period, University of Houston students’ demands for changes in the curriculum found them standing at the fore of the evolution of Liberal Arts education in the South. In 1969, dissatisfied with the status quo, the student organization Afro-Americans for Black Liberation (or AABL) presented University President Philip Hoffman with a list of ten demands. The 1969 Houstonian reports that the so-called demands included “more black administrators and instructors,” “a raise in the pay scales for maintenance employees,” as well as the establishment of “an Afro-American studies department.” The University rose to the demands of the students, as well as the changing social climate of the city itself, and launched a number of African American Studies courses in the spring of 1969.
Exploring a new field of study, the African American Studies Program actively invited interest and education in an important cultural field that had previously been entirely sidelined. In an era rich with advocacy and public protest, the University of Houston was quick on the heels of the first program in the nation (offered by San Francisco State University in 1968), and was the first in Texas and the Southeastern United States to offer one of these trailblazing programs.
The value of education may be a given. However, the establishment of the African American Studies Program illustrated this importance in two ways: 1) It provided expanded educational opportunities to individuals (of all colors and creeds) in a field of study that had reached a critical mass of interest and demand and 2) exemplified that education served a larger, societal impact, given the previous marginalization of scholarship related to the African American experience.
Over the years, the AAS Program has hosted many notable speakers, including highly acclaimed scholar and writer Dr. Maulana Karenga, astronaut and former UH Graduate Bernard A. Harris, and many other distinguished leaders. Our archives contain records from when Dr. Karenga came to speak in February of 1995, and include travel details and information related to the talk and panel, “Black Studies, Social Policy and Social Practice: Joining Campus and Community.” As a prominent scholar in his field, astronaut, and UH graduate, Bernard Harris was invited to the university by the AAS Program to give a talk in January of 1994. Only a year later he was a member of NASA’s STS-63 Crew and became the first African American to take part in Extravehicular Activity or “EVA” (NASA nomenclature for a spacewalk)! The organization plans and details for his campus talk can be found in our African American Studies Records. The folder contains, among other things, personal details and biographical information, education and honors received, as well as mission highlights from the time he logged in space. We also have a video interview of Harris (available digitally, as well) if you are interested in learning more about this esteemed astronaut and UH alum.
The current African American Studies Department is the result of significant growth over numerous decades and the recent efforts by university authorities. In March of 2014, CLASS Dean John W. Roberts appointed a task force dedicated to the growth and development of the AAS Program. By the next year, it was a fully formed department making plans for African American History Month. The current department has big plans for this year as well, now boasting a wide selection of courses and opportunities for community outreach. The department enjoys a longstanding study abroad relationship with Gambia, as well as numerous scholarship offerings. The department has grown to match the needs of the University and the city as they develop and change, and it continues to impact Houston’s diverse cultural environment in increasingly positive ways. The program organizes many different off and on-campus talks and events as well as community involvement opportunities, and has hosted numerous visiting scholars over the years.
We invite you to come by the reading room to catch a few exciting glimpses into the history of this exemplary academic program via the the University Archives and the African American Studies Records!
University of Houston basketball legend Guy Vernon Lewis II was laid to rest today. Lewis passed away on Thanksgiving, November 26, 2015, in Kyle, TX at the age of 93. To say Houston Cougar basketball is indebted to Coach Lewis is to tiptoe around a libelous understatement. From when he first laced up his sneakers for the Red and White in 1946, through his retirement from coaching in 1986, and into his enduring presence and counsel in his later years, Cougar basketball, athletics, and the University itself were forever changed by his decades of service and devotion. Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, Lewis saw his teams lay claim to two Southwest Conference championships, four SWC tournament championships, five Final Four appearances, and tally 592 wins under his tenure as head coach of the Cougars.
A snapshot history of Guy V. Lewis and the University of Houston
The Beloit College Mindset List, a must-read for anyone who wants to feel time quickly slipping away, was recently published for the incoming collegiate freshman class, the majority of which were born in that magical year of 1997 (?!). While it might make some of us feel just a little bit older, the list is worth a read and always provides some eye-opening perspective.
Ron Nief, Tom McBride, and Charles Westerberg (the creators of the list) provide some real marvels, reminding us that, “Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.” They came into the world around the same time as Dolly the sheep and Michael “Prince” Jackson, Jr. In addition, these young’uns have never licked a postage stamp (#3) and, frankly, it can get a little confusing when old people say, “around the turn of the century” (#17). The one that makes these old bones ache a little more this evening? “The eyes of Texas have never looked upon The Houston Oilers.” (#26)
In a salute to the University of Houston Cougars Class of 2019, we have gone digging through the archives and share with you a few highlights from the year 1997 housed here at your University of Houston Special Collections.
And, no, we’re not trying just to make you feel old.