The Legacy of Dr. Thomas F. Freeman 1919-2020

He was the great teacher, debater and philosopher coach that propelled the Texas Southern University Debate Team to world class status.  

Dr. Thomas Franklin Freeman, Founding Dean of the Thomas F. Freeman Honors College, passed away on June 6, 2020 and he would have been 101 on June 27, the month he died. Besides being an outstanding orator, he was also a revered educator who served TSU for eight decades, and a minister at Mount Horem Baptist Church. He was survived by his wife Clarice, who herself is 103 years old now. They have three children; Thomas F. Jr., Carter, and Dr. Carlotta, and several grandchildren.  

Many greats learned from Dr. Freeman, like Barbara Charline Jordan, the first African American elected to the Texas Senate; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. listened to Dr. Freeman’s lecture at Morehouse College, when the latter was there as a Visiting Professor in 1947. There are parallels in the lives of Dr. Freeman and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They are both dedicated educators and passionate preachers. Both have mastery of the use of the spoken word to move the audience.  

Another notable personality who was coached by Dr. Freeman was Hollywood star Denzel Washington, who spent time with Dr. Freeman while preparing for the role of a debate coach at a small Texas college in the movie “The Great Debater.”  


Dr. Freeman showing his awards and memorabilia to Hollywood actor Denzel Washington 


The Texas Southern University debate team came to national and international prominence 70 years ago under the leadership of Dr. Freeman. The TSU Debate Team won hundreds of awards and trophies when he was the debate coach. Students who joined the Debate team not only went through rigorous training in oratory skills, but also improved their writing skills.   

Dr. Freeman received his Bachelor of Arts from Virginia Union University, his Bachelor of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological Seminary in MA, and his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago, Illinois. He spent some time doing postdoctoral work in Austria and Africa. He received numerous awards during his career as an educator. In 2018, he was the inaugural recipient of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s History Makers Award – Living Legend. In that same year, TSU won the HBCU National Speech and Debate Championship Tournament. In 2017, Dr. Freeman was the recipient of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s (CBCF) highest hoor in Washington D.C., for his impact and influence as an outstanding scholar and educator.  



Dr. Freeman with the Texas Southern University Debate Team in 1990. 


Dr. Freeman held many faculty and administrative positions at TSU and elsewhere. In 1966 he was the Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1972, he was the first African American adjunct faculty and Lecturer at Rice University . He served as a faculty at Virginia Union University, St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, VA, among others.  

His long career as a debate coach, as faculty, and administrator, has won him numerous honorary doctorate awards, such as the Doctor of Humane Letters from Eastern Massachusetts University in 1980 and 2000, and the Doctor of Divinity from Bishop King Theological Seminary in 2002. He was a recipient of prestigious awards such as the American Performance Theatre Award in 1992, the Houston Urban League, Margaret Ross Barnett Leadership Award, also in 1992, the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award in 1995, Educator of the Year Award presented by the Black Caucus of the Texas Legislature in 1995, the Houston Trail Blaze for the Negro Heritage Foundation in 2000, and the Trail Blaze Award from Houston Community College System in 2003.  

The flame of Dr. Freeman’s legacy shines more brightly than ever, especially at two institutions at TSU; the world-renowned Debate Team, and the Thomas F. Freeman Honors College.  The TSU Debate Team continues Dr. Freeman’s legacy of academic excellence under the leadership of Dr. Gloria Batiste-Roberts, who continues to lead the team to more success and accolades.  It attracts 25 to 50 students yearly, the best of whom compete internationally during the spring semester.  Dr. Batiste Roberts led the Debate Team to perform virtually at the national “We Are One” Biden Harris pre-inaugural event last January 19, 2021. Dr. Batiste-Roberts also serves on the Advisory Board of the Thomas F. Freeman Honors College.  



Dr. Gloria Batiste-Roberts, Director and Head Coach of the TSU Debate Team.  


Another great legacy of Dr.  Freeman is the creation of an Honors College, named after him, the Thomas F. Freeman Honors College. It oversees the academic programs of some of the best and brightest of the university and in the country.  


The Thomas F. Freeman Honors College was created by the TSU Board of Regents in 2009, under the presidency of Dr. John Rudley and Provost Dr. Sunny Ohio to preserve Dr. Freeman’s enduring legacy as an inspiration to future leaders.   Dr. Freeman served as the Founding Dean from 2009 to 2011. Dr. Humphrey Regis took over as Dean in 2011 to 2014. He was followed by Dr. Elizabeth Brown-Guillory as Interim Dean from 2014-2017, then by Dr. Dianne Jemison-Pollard as Dean from 2017 to 2023. The current Acting is Dr. Hector Miranda, Jr. 


Although officially retired in 2013, he regularly attended many Honors College events, especially the Fall Induction ceremonies where he leads the oath-taking of new Freeman Scholars, when they are formally accepted into the fold of the Honors College.  



Photo of one of the last participations of Dr. Freeman to an Honors College event. Here together with retired dean Dr. Dianne Jemison Pollard who also passed away last October 4, 2023. Photo was  taken in 2019.


Since its inception, The Thomas F. Freeman Honors College has produced countless professionals in the field of medicine, pharmacy, science, law, business, and the arts. It continues to grow and innovate. The Honors College senior thesis program is one of the few HBCU Honors thesis programs in the country. It has its own online digital journal to globally showcase the scholarly works of Freeman Scholars, aptly called The Freeman Research Journal.  


The Thomas F. Freeman Honors College has positioned itself at the forefront of academic excellence at TSU. The graduating class for Spring of 2023 was led by Freeman Scholars; Class Valedictorian, Noraliz Rodriguez, Class Salutatorian and the celebrated outgoing President of the Student Government Association Dexter Maryland, recipient of the 2022 White House Initiative HBCU Scholarship Program.                                            



At the forefront of TSU’s quest for academic excellence. Leading the 2023 graduating class from left: Dexter Maryland, 2022 SGA President, Class Salutatorian Devansh Chadha (BA Finance), Honors College Acting Dean Hector Miranda, Jr., and Class Valedictorian Noraliz Rodriguez (BS Biology).  


In 2019, The Thomas F. Freeman Honors College moved into the new Library and Learning Center, a modern, state-of-the-art learning facility. The college located on the 3rd Floor, houses a  bust of Dr. Freeman. The work of art was commissioned to Mr. Jesse Sifuentes, and donated by former dean Dr. Dianne Jemison Pollard and family. Also, adjoining the Honors College is a room that houses Dr. Freeman’s memorabilia. Soon the Honors thesis will also be housed there.  



The bust of Dr. Freeman housed in the Honors College that bears his name.  


The growth of the Honors College stands as a testament to the legacy and the life of the Dr. Freeman. The countless graduates who have been a part of the college dispersed to various endeavors and places are now doing great things. “They serve as ambassadors for the college, and for TSU. Their success will be our success,” according to Dean Miranda. If they do greater deeds, and see bigger things, it is because they stood on the shoulders of giants like Dr. Freeman.