One of the first African American Students at University of Texas
Leon L. Holland was among the first African American students at the University of Texas (UT), graduating from the College of Natural Sciences. He made history as the first African-American ROTC officer commissioned at UT, going on to a 30 year distinguished career in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps before retiring as a colonel. He served as chief of staff for the Army Medical Research and Development Command, received two Legion of Merit Awards, and was inducted into the Distinguished Order of Military Medical Merit. Holland is a recipient of the Heman Sweatt Legacy Award, the Dr. James L. Hill Leadership Circle Award, and The University of Texas Presidential Citation.
Leon’s experience at UT was trying. As he recalled, “Ninety percent of it was unwelcoming. Ten percent was a smattering of humanity recognizing us as human beings.” He was shunned by most white students, had access only to segregated dorms in a former army barracks and knew there were many places he could not safely go. Professors refused to call on African American students in classes even when grades depended on it, making it impossible to receive anything higher than a C for grade.
Leon once said his best experience at UT was leaving it, and swore he would never again set foot on campus. But over the years he was encouraged to see the university change in ways unheard of in his time, saying “Many of the younger students may have no idea of the struggles that we had—just like I didn’t know the struggles of my grandparents. Everybody comes on the shoulders of someone.”