In 1890, at a time when he could have pursued other elected office or returned to his farm near Waco, Sul Ross was offered the presidency of the A&M College of Texas. The school was struggling to jell into an institution, having faced low budgets, faculty turnover, poor water and limited housing for students. There were no traditions as we know them today and a bleak undeveloped campus. Known statewide and very popular, it was said after he arrived parents sent their sons not to A&M but “to Sul Ross.”
And it was not only sons that attended A&M, Ross routinely enrolled from seven to nine girls each year, known as “special students” (some wore cadet uniforms), and the credits they earned were transferable to other colleges. Prior to his death in early 1898, he proposed a school for girls to be co-located with A&M, the plan was supported by the Former Students (Cadets) Association and the local Bryan merchants who were quickly excited by the potential benefits to the local economy.
Ross increased the age to enroll, required entrance exams, and instilled an atmosphere and esprit de corps that rightly gives him claim as the founder of A&M traditions — with the advent in the 1890s of football, the Aggie Band, the Aggie ring, the Battalion newspaper, corps trips, march to the Brazos, and much more that sealed the identity and image of what was to be known a few years later as — the Fightin’ Texas Aggies and Aggieland.
One of his greatest accomplishments was the support of Prairie View. While opponents in Austin yearly worked to kill funding, Ross made sure the only public school of high education for African Americans would grow and prosper. Ross hired close personal friend, Professor Edward L. Blackshear, the former director of African American schools in Austin when he was governor in the late 1880s, to become the “principal” (president) of Prairie View.
Blackshear, the most prominent black educator and leader in Texas, testified to the “nobility of his character and his genuine support of education for colored youths.”
In addition to Ross and his staff spending a great deal of time at Prairie View, including holding periodic board meetings in Hempstead, Ross hosted Blackshear, his staff and students both at his resident on the A&M campus but also at his home in Waco. To encourage the growth of black education, he arranged special reduced train rates for the Black Baptist State Association to hold their annual meetings in Bryan and a chance for him and Blackshear to urge the clergy to promote education back home in their congregations.
Ross instilled a source of excellence and pride in higher education and espoused transcendent values of equality and justice for all in Texas. It is for this reason that to honor him and his legacy of selfless service as governor and his years of dedication to education for all Texans, the State of Texas and the Legislature, not some outside organization, approved funding for an official State of Texas statue in 1919, conspicuous in civilian dress, to honor President Sul Ross.
And thus, it is the totality of the man’s life for which the statue stands.