Long before the landmark case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas; long before integration of the public schools of Angleton ISD; long before I was elected trustee to Angleton ISD and served more than two decades, A.B. Marshall High School’s promise of hope and opportunity was a lighthouse to the Black community that navigated the pre-segregated landscape of Southern Brazoria County. Marshall was my “safe place” where I could grow and learn without academic suppression and negative judgment.

I shall never forget that day at the close of the school year, in 1966, when Professor Thomas J. Wright summoned all Marshall students to the gymnasium to deliver the message that Marshall would be closing. Surprisingly, Prof’s message did not inspire a jubilant celebration; instead, there were gasps followed by the silence of fear. At the age of 12, I certainly did not understand what this all meant, but looking back over more than 55 years, I now can make some sense of it.

Not long after entering the eighth grade in the fall of 1967 at Angleton Junior High, my heart longed for Marshall. My natural academic ability did not win the admiration of my new white teachers except for Mrs. Bergen’s in pre-algebra. I was repeatedly scolded for being disruptive. I was even put off the school bus for greeting the bus driver who did not want to recognize my presence. My longing for Marshall was a desire to be accepted and given a fair opportunity. The words of the Marshall anthem “… ole Marshall High, how do I love thee …” was a constant ring in my ears.

At Marshall, I had the overwhelming support of every staff member, every teacher and every administrator. In fact, quite often, when coach Willie Toles would drop off my big brother (Richard Thomas Jr.) after football practice, he would come in and have a bite to eat at my mother’s (Verdell Thomas) table. On special occasions, Professor Wright would bring the student body, faculty and staff to the ranch that my father (Richard Thomas) was foreman of to celebrate a special occasion, such as the end of a school year.

Every Friday at Marshall, the boys would wear shirts and ties, and the girls would wear their Sunday dresses. There was a talent show for the whole school to attend every Friday afternoon. This was Professor Wright’s way of insisting we respect ourselves/others and reinforcing the values of a proud and talented people. Many of the students still joke about how they would scatter when they saw Prof patrolling the Quarters on Friday and Saturday nights. Anyone who got caught on the wrong side of Prof’s expectations had to endure his wrath. Nobody wanted to deal with Prof’s form of tough love.

Marshall helped transform a rural Black community by providing a conglomeration of Black professionals that inspired hope and leadership within the community. Personalities bigger than life — Thomas J. Wright, Louella Johnson, Curtis Blaylock, Willie Toles, Arthur Alexander, Mrs. Bates, etc., collectively shepherded our passage through the social turmoil of the ’50s and ’60s. Such Marshall stalwarts join ranks with community leaders such as Capt. Mike Gee, Ravel Gardner, Gene Addison, Jacob Tolbert, Brother Neutt Thomas and Tim Stewart Jr. to advocate for civil rights and the integration of local law enforcement, the industrial workforce and the education system. Mrs. Lois Gardner was instrumental in electing the first Black mayor of Angleton (Roy Gardner). Marshall played a significant role in the Black community’s pursuit of justice, equal opportunity and the general welfare of the community. It was a source of encouragement and hope amidst the “ol’ foe” Jim Crow and his associates.

The influence of Marshall permeated throughout the entire community. The success of the Black professional and Marshall alumni and their families continues to shape the African American community’s identity today. Past and present Marshall products include Tuskegee Airman (Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Roberson), author (Ernestine Stewart Mitchell) NFL Hall of Famer (Emmitt Thomas), Olympic contestant (Charles Frazier), Medal of Honor winner (Clarence Sasser), attorneys at law (Marie Roberson and Von Shelton), NASA Aerospace Engineer (Ervin Grice), professor and TSU administrator (Kenneth Jackson), past mayor of the City of Angleton (Roy Gardner), past city council member (Arthur Alexander), Angleton ISD trustees (Dana Tolbert and Michael Stroman), NFL athletes (Charles Frazier, Elliott “Big Pete” Franklin, Quinton Jammer, Ray Willis, Gilbert Gardner Jr., Quandre Diggs, Ahmad Hall) and a host of good and law-abiding Marshall alumni who are indelible role models for the community today. Marshall’s legacy remains in good hands.

I believe those things that are pure, true, honest, trustworthy and of a good report shall never die. Marshall shall always live in my heart. The campus is a memorial landmark to the legacy of Marshall High School and for all who were associated with its programs. It is sacred ground.

My heart aches to see what 55 years of disrespect has done to Marshall’s sacred grounds. The two-century-year-old live oak tree where the athletes would gather during football practice is gone. My merry-go-round and playground are entombed in an oil-stained slab of concrete. The Marshall gymnasium and library complex that housed so many wholesome memories have been leveled and replaced by gasoline tanks and pumps for a transportation system that no longer needs them. My elementary school building has been gutted to be a drive-through school bus mechanic shop. The campus is closed in by a padlocked chain-link fence with metal strips blocking my view and entrance. There appears to be a growing collection of junk being stored on my beloved campus.

In its current state, the Marshall campus stands as a classic testament to the ills of desegregation. The desegregation process extracted the heart and soul of the Marshall High Community and replaced it with an abandoned bus barn.

The mission of the Alumni Association now is to give back to Marshall, in its time of need, all that it has given to us. Yes, a T.J. Wright Memorial Wall and an A.B. Marshall Memorial Park were erected. I commend Angleton ISD for supporting my leadership (as president of the Angleton ISD board) in commemorating Marshall in such a manner. But, there is much more work to be done in sustaining the legacy of Marshall. Marshall was the inspiration that successfully rose to address the needs of a segregated Black community in the early 20th century. This inspiration must be reengaged in the present-day and the future pursuit of the liberties and prosperity of the broader Marshall community.

The 21st-century version of the Marshall inspiration must provide skills training, work experience programs and job placement services. We must create an integrated network between education (i.e., secondary and higher ed.), governmental subdivisions, industry partners and the community. We must build complementary social networks of churches and social organizations to provide social enrichment programs. We must enhance the African American community’s financial standing by advocating for opportunities for long-term employment, promoting home ownership and providing professional assistance for business startups and business management.

And where should these noble ideals and programs be housed? Directly from the heart from whence they rose — the sacred grounds of the A.B. Marshall High School campus.

For almost 80 years, Marshall has been a source of inspiration and encouragement within the African American community. Perhaps more now than ever before, the broader Marshall community must continue its struggle for liberty and prosperity. We must give new life and vigor to Marshall’s mission and purpose to address the growing underserved needs of the community.

Let me be perfectly clear to all skeptics. Timothy Stewart Sr. (founding father of Marshall) did not accept NO. A.B. Marshall (first principal of Marshall) did not accept NO. Thomas J. Wright (legendary leader of Marshall) did not accept NO. And we, the Marshall alumni and the broader A.B. Marshall High School community will not accept NO. There comes a time in the life of a people when you must stand up for what’s pure, true, honest, trustworthy and of a good report. Now is the time to stand up for the re-engagement of the legacy of Marshall.


Renard L. Thomas, Ph.D., is a Marshall alumnus is an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Texas Southern University. He previously served as president of the Angleton ISD Board of Trustees and the Texas Association of School Boards.

Recommended for you

(2) entries


Angleton Marshall High was no more or less significant than Freeport Lanier, Sweeny Carver, Galveston Central, LaMarque Lincoln and a gazillion others. Even the far more acknowledgeable Houston Wheatley High is now but a heartbeat from becoming non-existent.


Thank you, Dr. Thomas, for sharing your memories of Marshall. I was a student at Angleton Junior High around the same time you were and remember the early days of integration. As a 13-year-old, I assumed it was progress and never thought otherwise until I was grown and found out that most of the Marshall faculty lost their jobs to this "progress." We can't change the past, but we can continue to improve the present and lay groundwork for an even better future. Your vision would do that, and I hope it gets support.

Sign the guestbook.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.