Wiley University
Former names
Wiley University (1873–1929)
Wiley College (1929-2023)
MottoGo Forth Inspired
TypePrivate historically black college
Religious affiliation
United Methodist Church
Academic affiliations
Endowment$27 million
ChairmanBilly R. Casey
PresidentHerman J. Felton Jr.
ProvostHoward O. Gibson

32°32′12″N 94°22′45″W / 32.5367°N 94.3792°W / 32.5367; -94.3792
CampusRural, 134 acres (54 ha)
ColorsPurple, Black, White & Gray
Sporting affiliations
MascotWiley the Wildcat

Wiley University (formerly Wiley College) is a private historically black college in Marshall, Texas. Founded in 1873 by the Methodist Episcopal Church's Bishop Isaac Wiley and certified in 1882 by the Freedman's Aid Society, it is one of the oldest predominantly black colleges west of the Mississippi River.[2][3]

In 2005–2006, on-campus enrollment approached 450, while an off-campus program in Shreveport, Louisiana, for students with some prior college credits who seek to finish a degree, enrolled about 250. By fall of 2006, total enrollment was about 750. By fall of 2013, total enrollment reached over 1,000. Wiley is an open admissions college and about 96% of students receive some financial aid.[4]

The college is known for its debate team. Over a 15-year period, Melvin B. Tolson's debate teams lost only one of 75 debates. Wiley's debate team competed against historically black colleges and earned national attention with its 1935 debate against University of Southern California's highly ranked debate team.[5]

On November 3, 2023, Wiley College announced a name change back to Wiley University for the first time since 1929 with the establishment of a new graduate school program to be offered to students beginning in 2024.[6]


Wiley University offers bachelor's degrees through four academic divisions.[7]

As of January 2024, Wiley will offer master's degrees in three fields of study.[8]


Wiley University, established in 1873 in Marshall, Texas, by the Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.[9][10] It is the oldest historically black college (or institute of higher education) west of the Mississippi River.[9] It was started as both a college and high school.[9]

In 1880, the campus was moved to a seventy-acre plot in downtown Marshall.[9] The former campus location was in south Marshall, near the remaining Wiley College Cemetery.[9] In 1888, Henry B. Pemberton was the first college graduate, he was awarded a B.A. degree.[9]

F.C. Moore was the first president, and for the first twenty years the president and all the faculty and staff, were church missionaries and were White.[9] The first African American president of Wiley University was Isaiah B. Scott, who served from 1893 until 1896; with his election he changed the institutions policy regarding the race of faculty and staff.[9] In 1896, Scott became editor of the Southwest Christian Advocate, and Matthew Winfred Dogan replaced him as the president, a role he maintained until 1942.[9]

In 1906 a fire destroyed five of the eleven buildings on campus, but they were rebuilt.[9] In 1907, the president’s home and a library on campus were built by students, after president Dogan was able to secure a Carnegie Foundation grant.[9] The library was open to the entire community of Marshall, and it was the only library until 1974.[9] By 1929, the institution no longer supported a high school.[9] During that same year, the university renamed itself as Wiley College.

Civil Rights Movement

Wiley, along with Bishop College, was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement in Texas. Wiley and Bishop students launched the first sit-ins in Texas in the rotunda of the Old Harrison County Courthouse to protest segregation in public facilities.[citation needed]

James Farmer, son of James L. Farmer, Sr., graduated from Wiley and became one of the "Big Four" of the Civil Rights Movement. Together with Roy Wilkins, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Whitney M. Young Jr., James Farmer helped organize the first sit-ins and Freedom Rides in the United States.[11][12]


Debate team

Tony Scherman's article about the Wiley College debate team for the 1997 Spring issue of American Legacy sparked a renewed interest in its history.[17] The success of the 1935 Wiley College debate team, coached by professor and poet Melvin Tolson, was the subject of a 2005 AMS Pictures documentary, The Great Debaters, The Real Great Debaters of Wiley College, which received heavy play around Texas, followed by the 2007 dramatic movie, The Great Debaters, directed by and starring Denzel Washington. In 1935, the Wiley College debate team defeated the reigning national debate champion, the University of Southern California (depicted as Harvard University in The Great Debaters).

In 2007, Denzel Washington announced a donation of $1 million to Wiley so the team could be re-established.[18][19] The following year, The Great Debaters movie debuted, starring Washington; the college's debate team has taken this name, too.

In 2014, the 23-person team won 1st place at the Pi Kappa Delta Comprehensive National Tournament. This was the largest Pi Kappa Delta Tournament in their 101-year history. This was the first national speech and debate title won by an HBCU. Three years later, the college led the establishment of the first HBCU National Speech and Debate League.[20] In 2018, Wiley hosted the first HBCU National Speech and Debate League Tournament.[21]


Wiley Wildcats men's basketball

The Wiley athletic teams are called the Wildcats. The college is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), primarily competing in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) since the 2022–23 academic year.[22] The Wildcats previously competed in the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) from 1998–99 to 2021–22. They were also a founding member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) from 1920–21 to 1967–68, which is currently an NCAA Division I FCS athletic conference.

Wiley competes in ten intercollegiate varsity sports: Men's sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, soccer and track & field. Women's sports include basketball, cross country, soccer, track & field and volleyball. Wiley the Wildcat is the mascot. Former sports included cheerleading.

On January 20, 2022, Wiley received an invitation to join the GCAC, along with Oakwood University (from the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA)) and the return of Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO), effective beginning in July 2022.[22] The GCAC is an athletic conference affiliated with the NAIA.

Campus gallery

Notable people

Notable faculty

Name Department Notability Reference
Melvin B. Tolson English Noted poet and English professor [23]
James L. Farmer, Sr. First black Texan to earn a PhD, also a professor at Wiley
Fred T. Long Athletics Athletic director and head football coach [24]
Harry Long Biology Head of biology department and asst. football coach [25]
Anderson Delano Macklin Fine art Visual artist, professor, art historian, and author [26]
Reuben Shannon Lovinggood Latin and Greek courses Classical scholar and former president of Samuel Huston College (now known as Huston-Tillotson University) [27]

Notable alumni

Name Class year Notability Reference(s)
R. E. Brown 1899 Organized the first male quartet, first brass band, first football team at Wiley. Later started the first teacher-training school for African Americans in Louisiana. [28]
Thelma Dewitty 1941 First African American to teach in the Seattle Public Schools [29]
James Farmer 1938 U.S. civil rights leader [30]
Richard E. Holmes Physician, transferred to Mississippi State University after sophomore year at Wiley to be the first African American to matriculate at MSU [31]
Conrad O. Johnson Music educator [32]
Opal Lee Activist, "Grandmother of Juneteenth" [33]
Mike Lewis 1980 NFL
L. D. Livingston Negro league baseball outfielder [34]
Ernest Lyon Minister, former United States Ambassador to Liberia, and founder of the Maryland Industrial and Agricultural Institute for Colored Youths.
Henry Cecil McBay Chemist, college professor
Willie Pearson Jr 1968 Sociologist, college professor, author
Oliver Randolph 1904 New Jersey lawyer, politician, and civil rights advocate [35]
C. O. Simpkins, Sr. Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1992-1996; retired Shreveport dentist [36]
Bill Spiller African-American golfer who challenged the segregationist policies of the PGA [37]
Heman Marion Sweatt Plaintiff in U.S. Supreme Court case, Sweatt v. Painter (1950); helped to found Texas Southern University
Lee Wilder Thomas Prominent African-American businessman in the oil industry
Lois Towles 1933 Internationally renowned concert pianist. [38]
Henrietta Bell Wells First female member of the debate team subject of the 2007 movie, "The Great Debaters" [39]
James Wheaton 1945 Actor, director, educator [40]
Richard Williams Jazz trumpeter


  1. ^ "Members of CIC: Texas". cic.edu. Archived from the original on 2016-09-13. Retrieved 2016-06-13.
  2. ^ "Wiley College (1873- ) - The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". 20 November 2007. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  3. ^ "Wiley College | A Place Where Every Student Can Succeed". Archived from the original on 2009-01-30. Retrieved 2009-04-11.
  4. ^ "Index of /". Archived from the original on 1998-06-26. Retrieved 2022-07-24.
  5. ^ "Wiley College's Great Debaters | Humanities Texas".
  6. ^ "Wiley College Announces Name Change as Part of Homecoming Festivities". KSLA-TV.
  7. ^ "Wiley College - Academic Affairs". www.wileyc.edu. Archived from the original on 2015-08-31.
  8. ^ "Wiley University - Graduate Program and Leadership Studies". www.wileyc.edu.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Wiley College". Texas State Historical Association. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 2023-10-08.((cite web)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Brooks, F. Erik; Starks, Glenn L. (2011-09-13). Historically Black Colleges and Universities: An Encyclopedia. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0-313-39416-4.
  11. ^ http://www.core-online.org/History/james_farmer_bio.ht [dead link]
  12. ^ "James Farmer Memorial Page". Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  13. ^ Kirby, Bill (2020). "Oct. 11, 1974: Dr. Julius Scott was great for college and community". The Augusta Chronicle. Retrieved 2023-10-08.
  14. ^ "Haywood Strickland Leaving Wiley College in Good Hands". Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. 2018-07-06. Retrieved 2023-10-08.
  15. ^ "Wiley president to retire". Longview News-Journal. 2017-07-26. Retrieved 2023-10-08.
  16. ^ Richardson, Robin Y. (2019-03-16). "Wiley College celebrates installation of 17th president". Marshall News Messenger. Retrieved 2023-10-08.
  17. '^ "BlackNews.com – American Legacy Magazines Story: The Great Debaters, Turns from Pages to the Big Screen Directed By and Starring Denzel Washington and Produced By Oprah Winfrey". Archived from the original on 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  18. ^ "Wiley College". Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  19. ^ Wiley College – A Place Where Every Student Can Succeed, Dallas News
  20. ^ "Wiley College - Wiley College to create HBCU Speech and Debate League". www.wileyc.edu. Archived from the original on 2017-06-06.
  21. ^ "Wiley College - Wiley College kicks off first-ever HBCU National Speech and Debate Championship Tournament!". www.wileyc.edu. Archived from the original on 2018-01-26.
  22. ^ a b "GCAC Extends Membership To Oakwood University, Wiley College, Southern University at New Orleans". January 20, 2022. Retrieved February 2, 2022.
  23. ^ "Marshall Texas Directory". 1946. Retrieved October 19, 2009.
  24. ^ The Decatur Review Long obituary March 24, 1966 page 13
  25. ^ The Chicago Defender "Wiley Coach Drops Dead in Football Classic" December 15, 1945 pages 1 & 5 and The Chicago Defender "Harry Long Joins Wiley Grid Staff" July 13, 1929 page 9
  26. ^ Who's Who in the South and Southwest. Marquis Who's Who. 1976. p. 478. ISBN 978-0-8379-0815-1.
  27. ^ Ronnick, Michele Valerie. "Lovinggood, Reuben Shannon". Database of Classical Scholars, Rutgers University. Retrieved 2023-03-04.
  28. ^ "Wiley Graduate of 1899 to be Honored with Citation". The Wiley Reporter. Marshall, Texas: Wiley College. May 1953. p. 1. Dr. Brown, the oldest living graduate of Wiley, entered the institution on his sixteenth birthday and finished in the class of 1899 at the age of twenty-four.
  29. ^ Mary T. Henry, Dewitty, Thelma (1912–1977) Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine, HistoryLink, November 10, 1998. Accessed online September 30, 2008.
  30. ^ "James Farmer Biography: Greensboro Voices". Retrieved January 4, 2008.
  31. ^ Hearn, Phil. "Richard Holmes became MSU's first black student 40 years ago". Mississippi State University. Retrieved 1 November 2017.[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ "Conrad O. Johnson: Hall of Fame profile". Retrieved January 4, 2008.
  33. ^ "16 Apr 1990, 16 - Fort Worth Star-Telegram at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 2021-06-16.
  34. ^ Lewis, Bert (May 19, 1928). "Wiley Downs Bishop, 6-4; Livingston Stars"[permanent dead link]. The Chicago Defender. p. 9. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  35. ^ "Oliver Randolph". The New York Times. 1951-09-03. p. 13. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  36. ^ "C. O. Simpkins, Sr.: Civil Rights Champion". cosimpkins.com. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  37. ^ "One man's mission". ESPN.com. 28 January 2008. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  38. ^ Dogan Teycer, Lucile (May 1953). "Lois Towles in Wiley Concert". The Wiley Reporter. Marshall, Texas: Wiley College. p. 1. Students and friends of Wiley were thrilled by the superb concert of the internationally famous pianist, Lois Towles.
  39. ^ Martin, Douglas (March 12, 2008). "Henrietta Bell Wells female member of Wiley College debate team". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
  40. ^ James Wheaton at IMDb