Editor’s note: Because of a production error, the complete version of this article did print in the September 7 edition. It is rerun in full below.
When he graduated high school in the 1940s, James Hill could not attend UT because of the color of his skin. Years later, Hill held one of the University’s highest offices.
Hill, a special assistant to the University president, died Sunday of prostate cancer at the age of 84. Born in 1928, he spent a lifetime advocating equal rights and became UT’s first black vice president. Hill participated in many anti-discriminatory organizations at UT, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Sculpture Project Committee and the Black Faculty and Staff Association.
Philemon Brown, president of the Black Faculty and Staff Association and a friend of Hill’s, said he recalls the positive effect Hill’s work had on people.
“Being the first African-American vice president at the University put forth an inspirational goal for others, saying ‘You, too, can do this in light of the lack of people of color in high-level places,’ and so he provided that inspiration for students and staff as well as faculty.” Brown said.
In 1993, Hill was appointed associate vice president for administration and public affairs. He then went on to become vice president for community and school relations from 2000 until his retirement in 2007. He would serve as a special assistant to the University president until his death.
The Black Faculty and Staff Association recognized Hill multiple times during his life for his work at UT. The association awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and established the Dr. James L. Hill Education Scholarship in 2001, an effort, Brown said, he is thankful for, because it will enable Hill’s legacy at UT to live on for years to come.
“He was a great person, and some of his legacy will live on now,” Brown said. “His legacy will inspire others to do great things and to continue to create a space where the University welcomes every person.”
Hill’s daughter, Jacqueline Howard, said she admired the way her father was willing to work hard for the rights he and others deserved.
“He was a champion for the underserved and always worked hard in every position he held to reach back and help others,” she said.
Hill’s sister, Irene Thompson, said when Hill graduated from high school in the 1940s, he was not even allowed to apply to UT because of the color of his skin.
“When he graduated from high school, institutional segregation kept him from enrolling at The University of Texas, so he enrolled with Samuel Huston College, as it was known at that time,” she said.
Samuel Huston College was renamed Huston-Tillotson University in 1952 when it merged with Huston College. Under the U.S. Higher Education Act of 1965, Huston-Tillotson University is classified as a historically black college.
Hill eventually earned his Ph.D. from UT in educational administration in 1978.
Brown said he believes Hill’s spirit was what enabled him to accomplish so much throughout his lifetime.
“He was a fighter,” Brown said. “It was tough being black on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin, and in spite of that, he made these accomplishments in his lifetime, and that really speaks volumes about him.”
Hill is survived by his wife of 62 years, Geraldine; his daughter, Jacqueline Howard; her husband, Charles; sisters Irene Thompson and Wray Hardin; one brother, Doxy Hill; one granddaughter, Pamela Tyus and her husband, David; one grandson, Charkes Howard, and his wife Dionne; three great-grandsons, Christopher James Howard, Anthony Tyus and Miles Lawrence Howard; and many nieces and nephews.
Hill’s services were held Friday and Saturday in Austin.
Howard said her father’s services were a very inspirational affair, as over 40 of his former students traveled from as far away as Detroit, Mich. to say goodbye to a man that made a difference to them.
“All of them were telling stories about the impact that Dad had on their lives,” she said.
According to a statement released by the University Wednesday, in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the James L. Hill Scholarship Fund at UT or to Huston-Tillotson University.