New Evidence on the First Black Graduate of the University of Texas

It has generally been considered that in May 1952 John S. Chase was the first African American to earn a degree of any kind from the University of Texas. Chase was a graduate of Hampton University, the historically black educational institution in Virginia. He enrolled at the University of Texas School of Architecture in 1950. Chase went on to become a successful architect in Houston.

But now new evidence has come to light which shows that geneticist Oscar Leonard Thompson earned his master’s degree at the university in January 1952, four months before Chase received his degree.

Thompson was born in 1907. His father died in a mill accident when Thompson was only 2 years old. He enrolled at Paul Quinn College in 1928 but was forced to leave before graduating due to the Great Depression. He worked at a number of odd jobs until the onset of World War II during which he served in the Pacific.

At the end of the war Thompson returned to Texas and completed his studies at Paul Quinn College under the GI Bill. He enrolled in the graduate school at the University of Texas in September 1950. In December 1951 he turned in his master’s thesis with the title “A Study of Phenylthiocarbamide Taste Deficiency in a Negro Population and in Family Groups.”

Thompson had a brief but successful career in genetics, specializing in research on sickle-cell anemia. He died in 1962 at the age of 55.