February 5: Artemisia Bowden and St. Philip’s College

St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas is the nation’s second largest HBCU — and it isn’t even a four-year institution.

The community college, part of the Alamo Community College District, was recently overtaken by North Carolina A&T for the top spot based on enrollment, but it remains the only school in the country federally designated as both an HBCU and an HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution).

It is also the Westernmost HBCU in the country.

The school’s first principal, Artemesia Bowden, was the daughter of former slaves and “a person of supreme confidence, one who felt she could overcome any obstacle.” When the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of West Texas decided it would no longer accept financial responsibility for the instiution, Bowden argued the city of San Antonio “owed African Americans a publicly supported junior college as long as it continued to operate a white junior college out of public funds,” and she eventually succeeded in having it taken over by the municipal junior college system.

Bowden was a graduate of St. Augustine’s University, and would receive honorary degrees from both Wiley College and Tillotson College for her role in advancing civil rights for Blacks in Texas. In 2015, she was elevated to sainthood in the Episcopal church. She was also a friend and correspondent of Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of what would become Florida’s Bethune-Cookman College.

“That history is extremely important because it’s a legacy tied to that kinship that exists between all HBCUs,” former Title III administrator at St. Philip’s Dr. Erik Akins recently told a reporter for Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. “I think within the HBCU community it’s all about family, the struggles of the people who went before you, and doing the things we need to do now.”

St. Philip’s began as a weekend sewing class for Black girls, founded by Episcopal missionaries. Bowden‘s personal motto was “learn to do something and do it well,” and today, St. Philip’s remains true to its vocational roots and is the only South Texas campus which trains students in fields like welding, advanced manufacturing, aviation engine, alternative energy, diesel, collision refinishing and automotive training.

Today, a majority of St. Philips’ students are Hispanic — many are unaware that the federal designation of ‘historically Black college or university’ refers to an institution’s mission, not its population. The HSI designation, however, reflects enrollment — an institution must have more than 25% of its students body originating in the Hispanic community to achieve the designation.

Autumn A. Arnett is an education reporter and editor and an avid sports fan based in Austin, Texas. www.a2arnett.com