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Ray F. Wilson

Chemistry professor, construction entrepreneur, and lawyer Ray Floyd Wilson was born on February 20, 1926, in Giddings, Texas to Beulah and Fred Wilson. As a young boy, Wilson worked with his family in the fields and with the livestock while going to school. Wilson was drafted by the U.S. Navy in 1944, before he could attend college. He went to submarine school and served in World War II in the Pacific Theater. While in the Navy, Wilson achieved the rank of petty officer third class. After graduating with his B.S. degree in chemistry and math from Samuel Huston College in 1950, Wilson was awarded his M.S. degree in chemistry and math in 1951 from Texas Southern University (TSU). Subsequent to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1950 decision in Sweatt v. Painter, Wilson was the first African American student to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry and math from the University of Texas at Austin in 1953.

After he received his Ph.D., Wilson joined the TSU Faculty in Houston as an associate professor of chemistry. Rising to the rank of full professor in only four years, Wilson continued to teach at TSU for forty-two years, turning down various offers from other universities and research centers. Wilson authored eighty-three different articles that have appeared in national or international scientific journals. He has been a longtime member and president of the TSU chapter of the Texas Association of College Teachers, and mentored many students.

While working as a professor, Wilson started working as a part-time real estate broker in the 1960s. By the 1970s, he owned and operated his own contracting company and was awarded many major public works contracts in Houston over a period of three decades. In 1972, Wilson received his J.D. degree from TSU, graduating with the highest GPA in the school’s history. Wilson used his degree to do pro bono work for his church, his community and his own interests. After moving to Houston, Wilson was an active member of the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ where he oversaw the Sunday school and church credit union.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Wilson served as a Congressional Counselor to the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, the first African American female from a southern state to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Congressman Mickey Leland. Wilson retired from TSU in 1999.

Ray Floyd Wilson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 11, 2007.

Wilson passed away on June 10, 2015.

Accession Number

A2007.232

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/11/2007

Last Name

Wilson

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

F.

Schools

Texas Southern University

Huston-Tillotson University

University of Texas at Austin

Giddings Colored High School

First Name

Ray

Birth City, State, Country

Giddings

HM ID

WIL41

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere

Favorite Quote

If You Don't Work, You'll Steal.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Interview Description
Birth Date

2/20/1926

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Vegetables

Death Date

6/10/2015

Short Description

Construction entrepreneur and chemistry professor Ray F. Wilson (1926 - 2015 ) taught chemistry at Texas Southern University for forty-two years, and was the first African American student to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry and math from the University of Texas at Austin. He owned and operated his own building contractor company, and did pro bono work for his church and community after earning his J.D. degree.

Employment

United States Navy

Texas Southern University

Various

Five Eleven Home Repair, Inc.

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ray F. Wilson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ray F. Wilson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ray F. Wilson describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ray F. Wilson talks about the cowboys of Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ray F. Wilson remembers his paternal great-aunt, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ray F. Wilson remembers his paternal great-aunt, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ray F. Wilson describes his mother's education and activities

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ray F. Wilson describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ray F. Wilson describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ray F. Wilson recalls his experiences of discrimination at the University of Texas at Austin

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ray F. Wilson describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ray F. Wilson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ray F. Wilson describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ray F. Wilson describes the Jim Crow laws in Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ray F. Wilson talks about Superintendent David Everett

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ray F. Wilson remembers picking cotton

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ray F. Wilson describes his grade school experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ray F. Wilson remembers Giddings Colored High School in Giddings, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ray F. Wilson remembers being drafted into the U.S. Navy

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ray F. Wilson recalls his role as a U.S. Navy steward in World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ray F. Wilson talks about his success as a gambler

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ray F. Wilson talks about his higher education

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ray F. Wilson describes his experiences at the University of Texas at Austin

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ray F. Wilson remembers joining the faculty of Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ray F. Wilson talks about his career in real estate

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ray F. Wilson remembers teaching at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ray F. Wilson talks about his chemistry research

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ray F. Wilson reflects upon his research methods

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ray F. Wilson talks about his work as a government contractor

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ray F. Wilson describes his career in real estate and construction

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ray F. Wilson describes his other academic interests while a professor of chemistry

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ray F. Wilson recalls his students at Texas Southern University

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ray F. Wilson describes opportunities at Texas Southern University

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ray F. Wilson talks about his wife

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ray F. Wilson remembers U.S. Representatives Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ray F. Wilson talks about the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ray F. Wilson describes his home in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ray F. Wilson reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ray F. Wilson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ray F. Wilson describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ray F. Wilson describes his advice to African American youth

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ray F. Wilson reflects upon his career

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ray F. Wilson describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ray F. Wilson narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$2

DAStory

4$8

DATitle
Ray F. Wilson talks about the cowboys of Texas
Ray F. Wilson remembers picking cotton
Transcript
I don't know, you're the first person in Houston [Texas] I've asked this question of, but I'm kind of surprised as I sit here it became, I just had the realization that nobody that I've interviewed has grown up in Houston or in Texas this week that's talked about black cowboys at all. Is--were there any--was there any such thing as a black cowboy when you were growing up or when your mother [Beulah McCloud Wilson] was growing up, did she ever talk about it?$$We didn't talk about cowboys as such, but horses and mules were indispensable--was an indispensable part of the environment. Transportation, you either walked and but if you had to go several miles you go by horseback. If you had a load, everybody had a wagon and so you hooked the mules up--a doubletree, you used two mules and use a doubletree, hook them up and so cotton and so forth, you carry it in a wagon.$$Carry it to market in town?$$Yes, wagon. And one wagon would carry a bale of cotton easily. So, and then you would have a buggy. Some people had--if you, an average person in the community you had a buggy, and a buggy you'd have one or two horses, sometime one horse. And the buggy you'd go to and fro and the horse would just kind of at a trot, and so that was a fast way of transportation, five or ten miles an hour, rather than walking, you would be traveling at three to four miles an hour, unless you're a real professional walker you could do four or five miles an hour. So that was from place to place, wagon and you ride--a saddle--in the family you'd have one or two saddles and people would go by horseback. But black people didn't call it cowboys much, they called it a mode of transportation. Cowboy was something you looked at as white people being a cowboy.$$I think I've talked to some Mexicans or Mexican Americans that actually call white people the cowboys, that's what they call them.$$Even the songs, we kind of looked around on the left side, cowboys were really signified white people only. And so, and blacks would ride those horses, but they'd ride them without saddles, break them and so forth. Yes, I mean, they would ride, but we didn't look at them as cowboys, at least in my community we didn't. But we would ride, crawl up on that horse with no saddle or anything and ride them until the world looked little.$And we'd grow up on a cotton pick, and there was only two persons that could out pick me, I was eleven years old, was Cotton Picking Red and my oldest brother. So we would--we would do all of our crops and finish them and then go up on a cotton pick and so forth. And I enjoyed, yeah, three, Cotton Picking Red, my oldest brother [Freddy Wilson], and a mechanical cotton picker, those are the only two that could.$$(Laughter) Now, who was Cotton Picking Red, you haven't tell us about him?$$He was a fellow who wen the whole season, he'd start down south, Corpus Christi [Texas], and pick cotton. And they'd pick cotton and go out west, and then on the day before Christmas, they come home and they'd been picking cotton over half of the year. And that was his profession. And so (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Did he have red hair, was he really--really that (unclear)?$$He was kind of red, you know, because he was not black like me and he wasn't white like the plantation owner, but yeah, but he could go and that's all he did was. And I would--I could pick half a bale, I was at Huston-Tillotson [Samuel Huston College; Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas] working on my bachelor's [degree] and they had just nine weeks summer. I'd get out and leave and go to Rosebud [Texas], and pick cotton and I'd get out there early, six o'clock, by eleven I'd have eleven hundred pounds. I enjoy--I got a ranch here and then three in--I got a tractor and our ranch--I sold a lot of my cattle because too much work. You see how we had stuff stacked then, helping people in the community.$$So is there a secret to picking cotton that fast?$$I had a brother that could hardly pick, stand up in the field and--he could hardly pick fifty pounds on a day. I picked eleven hundred and get out there at six. Eleven o'clock I'd have that big long sack and I could just pick that--this--that cotton. It's just all over that stalk.$$Is there a secret to it, do you have to do something special to be able to pick that fast?$$It's nothing secret about it, it's just working your fingers and you're moving and so forth, and some people don't take the cotton and put it all back there. You take your--knock it open like that and you see it, it's like swimming or anything.$$Okay, so you develop a motion for it.$$Right. I could pick three rows, I'm so fast that I'd be walking straddled this one and I'd pick that cotton on this one and just be walking with that long sack. I was a little fellow, I'd almost need somebody to help me pull it up on that be- you know them boards. A hundred fifty pounds, I need to crawl up every--it would be hard for me to empty.