Six Square is the nexus of thriving Black arts and culture in Central East Austin. We re-animate cultural spaces, connect community, and honor the past, present, and future of Austin’s Black Cultural District.
The story of Huston-Tillotson University actually begins as two separate stories. In 1877 the American Missionary Society of Congregational Churches chartered Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute in Austin. Samuel Huston college opened in 1900 with the help of the Freedmen's Aid Society. In 1952, the two colleges merged and became Huston-Tillotson College. The college became a University on February 28, 2005. Today the school's teams play as the Rams, but Huston-Tillotson's athletic history goes way back.
Karl Downs received his degree from Samuel Huston College in 1933 and went on to be a pastor for Pasadena's Scott Methodist Church from 1939 to 1943. In 1943, he returned to Austin and became the president of Samuel Huston College. At 29 years old, Downs was the youngest man to become a college president.
During the four-and-a-half years of his presidency, enrollment at the college more than tripled, the budget increased, and new buildings were added. He also convinced his close friend Jackie Robinson to coach their basketball team for the 1944-45 season. Two years later Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier, and Downs is credited as being a great positive influence on Robinsons' career.
Downs' impact in the community gave many men and women courage to achieve their dreams. Sadly, in 1948, Downs passed away at his family's home at the age of just 33 years old. His untimely death was a blow to the people he gave strength to, but his passion and commitment live on to this day. Students and staff are dedicated to keeping the core values of Karl Downs and the other founders of the East Austin Negro District alive.
You can see the benefits from sacrifices made decades ago by the black population in Austin when visiting historic Huston-Tillotson University.
Cover photo by Pinterest by Tom Joyner Foundation.