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Son of Slaves Becomes Educator of His People



By Rockette Woolridge, Junior Historian, McAllister Junior High

The Daily Tribune - July 2, 1976

Printed in Matagorda County Genealogical Society Quarterly, Oak Leaves, February 2002

The halls are deserted and an ominous silence hangs over the area. there are rusted hinges and hanging cobwebs in some of the rooms. Parts of the main building are being used as storage places for old broken desks and castoff chairs. Other buildings in the complex are boarded up and forgotten. This is the former A. G. Hilliard High School today. Though desolate and empty, the campus is still pervaded with an atmosphere of dignity, poise, and integrity, an atmosphere given it by the great Negro educator who made it all possible—Asa Grant Hilliard I.

This man, who in later life was to gain undying eminence in both the fields of education and improved race relations, was born in Atlanta, Georgia on September 13, 1863 - the son of slaves. Besides Asa, there were thirteen other children born to his parents, Bunk and Mary Hilliard. Some of Asa's most admirable character traits can be directly traced to these two former slaves. His honesty and his strong stand on his principles came from his father who once moved his entire family from Gonzales, Texas to Hackberry, Texas so that he would not be forced to perjure himself in court. From Asa's mother came his gentleness, his charity, and his willingness to help others less fortunate than he. Mary Hilliard was always willing to give food, clothing, and shelter to those in need, even though she herself had fourteen children to feed, clothe, and house. She was a midwife - delivering babies for both blacks and wealthy whites. The wealthy whites usually paid her with foodstuff such as hams, chickens, and turkeys. These foodstuffs often went to the less fortunate families in the community. From both of his parents, Asa gained dignity, poise, and pride in his heritage.

In 1871, the family moved from Georgia to Gonzales, Texas. There, young Asa attended a local public school taught by Bob Riley known to the students as "Grandpa." In 1872, the family left Gonzales and moved into Lavaca County near Hackberry, Texas. The family earned a living by farming and Asa labored in the fields as did his other brothers and sisters. He attended a nearby public school when he could be spared from home. Among his first teachers at this school were Miss Hughes, Miss Brown, Mrs. Lina Jones, and M. M. Rogers. All of these teachers praised young Hilliard for his good study habits and high grades. His mother, wishing the exceptional young Asa to get as full an education as possible, took his place in the fields and sent him to Oakland Normal School under the instruction of Drs. Townsend, Middleton, Blakley, and Professor Smith. It is to these four men that A. G. Hilliard owes his start in the education field. After Asa had attended Oakland Normal School till 1883, these men convinced him to try teaching a small school. Asa entered an examination in Gonzales, Texas and was awarded a second grade certificate. At the age of 19, A. G. Hilliard had launched his illustrious teaching career which was to span nearly a half of a century and illuminate and enrich the lives of hundreds of people.

In an attempt to further his education, Hilliard earned a competitive examination at Columbus, Texas in 1886 for a scholarship to Prairie View Normal. Twice, he failed; but having early formed a philosophy of "try, try again" he achieved his goal the third time and entered Prairie View in the fall of 1887. He won many honors and his work was of such caliber and his attitude so good, the principal recommended his return the next year. Due to a misunderstanding, however, his appointment was awarded to Mr. J. T. Hodges of Gonzales, Texas. Since Hilliard's parents could not assist him financially, Hilliard sought a teaching job in San Augustine.

Asa Hilliard's teaching contract with School Community number 5, the county of San Augustine dated October 27, 1890 set a school term of five months, commencing October 27, 1890 and ending in the month of February, 1891. He received a salary of $51.70 a month. The principal of Prairie View Normal, L. Hudson, was so glad Asa was now teaching, he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “I am glad to see that your purpose to further pursue your course has not been changed and someday I shall hope to know that you have carried out a long cherished intention. To this end you have my best wishes.”

Romance entered the life of Asa Hilliard soon after he had completed his San Augustine teaching job, and in 1896, he married Pearl India Carothers. Miss Carothers was born in Live Oak, Texas, the daughter of a Frenchman, Dick Carothers, and a part Indian, the former Camilla Yancy. Pearl attended Mart Allen College in Crockett, Texas. During one of Asa's teaching terms, Pearl had been a student and she and Asa developed a liking for each other. The liking was to result in "one of the happiest, most successful marriages in marriage history. Though fifteen years Asa's junior, Pearl was the ideal wife for Hilliard. She was loyal, supporting and encouraging in all Asa's attempts to further the education of the Negro community, though she herself was not active in community affairs. Pearl was quiet and likeable - always interested in helping the poor and the underprivileged. Once, she even gave one of her son's favorite dishes, hockbones, to a passing tramp. When her son appeared disgusted by the donation, she told him, "Now, don't say anything else about it. I have children who might find themselves hungry in some strange place and I would certainly hope that someone would feed them, if this became necessary."

Hilliard and his growing family soon came to Bay City and settled on a lot just west of Rugeley street and Avenue D. Hilliard taught at the school in the community for Negro children. Since adequate funds were not available for the construction of a school building, classes were held at the Enterprise Church. Mrs. Grace Banks and Mrs. Grace Young were assistant teachers at the school. Reference was made to this school in the minutes of the School Board of the Bay City Independent School District. Dated April 4, 1926, the minutes of the meeting stated that Jefferson Davis was the white school and a small colored school with three teachers and a Latin American School with one teacher served the minority communities.

Hilliard's life was not entirely devoted to education during this period. He made a return journey to Hackberry, Texas in 1914 to bury his mother, Mary Hilliard. (His father had died in 1895.) His family was steadily increasing and by 1914, he and Pearl had five children - Maud, Roby, Sid, Abel, and Jewel. Still to come was Asa II. In 1925, the Hilliard home in Bay City was destroyed by fire. Immediately there was an outpouring of aid from both the black and white communities, as people attempted to repay the kindness and aid given them by the Hilliards. The Women's Society of Christian Service wrote a letter to Asa which stated its appreciation of Hilliard's efforts "for the up-lifting and betterment" of his own race. Enclosed was money to aid the rebuilding of the new home.

Asa Grant Hilliard continued his phenomenal rise in the field of education and was appointed principal of Booker T. Washington High School after only a few years in Matagorda County. He was to continue in this position for the next twenty-seven years. Asa's lifelong dedication to quality education for all people regardless of race, creed, or national origin, and his outstanding Christian principles and moral leadership influenced all of his students. Many of the hundreds of men and women he taught are now leading truthful and upstanding lives because of the influence of Professor Hilliard as he was affectionately called by his pupils.

Hilliard was a deeply religious man and was active for fifty years in the Christian Church. He belonged to various brotherhoods, fraternities, civic and service organizations, and was a member of the Masonic Order. Perhaps Hilliard's most important nationwide honor came when he was named in Who's Who in Colored America.

Asa Grant Hilliard I died in Bay City on February 2, 1931, after a prolonged illness. He was buried in Eastview Cemetery in Bay City, Texas and in 1932, his devoted wife Pearl was buried next to him.

His great leadership and dedication to the field of education was rewarded after his death when the Board of Trustees of the Bay City Independent School District changed the name of the Booker T. Washington High School to A. G. Hilliard High School. In 1960, the Board of Trustees of the Northwest Independent School District named an elementary school the A. G. Hilliard School.

Though the former A. G. Hilliard School is today deserted, barren, and lifeless, the honesty, loyalty, integrity and Christian ideals which Asa Grant Hilliard instilled in his pupils will never become lifeless, empty, and dead. Though Hilliard is no longer with us in body, truly his spirit is marching on.

[Editor's note: Since this article appeared in 1976, the Hilliard school building has been used for many activities. Some of those included Early Childhood classes, Multi-Handicapped classes, offices for the Matagorda County Educational Services, nursing classes, Economic Action, and Edith Armstrong Center for handicapped students. In 2001, it is used for the Tri-County Headstart Program and Economic Action offices.]


 Photo courtesy of Tresmond Scott



A. G. Hilliard has passed on to his reward and to a richly deserved rest. He was born in Atlanta, GA., 1864, died in Bay City, Texas February 2, 1931, being 67 years of age. He began his work as a teacher at the age of 27 in the year 1883, forty-eight years ago. Having won first place in a competitive examination for a scholarship at Prairie View he finished his teacher training course at that institution in 1889. Since that time he has continued active in his chosen profession. Thirty-nine years has he taught in Matagorda county and of that time twenty-eight years have been spent as teacher and principal of the Booker T. Washington high school in Bay City.


Gentle and unassuming in manner, strong in his principles always he stood for the right as he saw it. Hundreds of young men and young women of the negro race are now leading upright, honorable useful lives because of the influence of the life and the teachings of “Professor Hilliard” as he is affectionately known to them. He has been a consistent member of the Christian church for fifty years. A half century of Christian living and almost a half century of active teaching in the public schools.

The majority of the teachers in the county have at one time or another been under the tuition of A. G. Hilliard in normal classes or in regular school work by these teachers he is held in veneration and esteem.

He was a member of the Masonic order and of several brotherhoods. His name has recently been entered in “Who’s Who in Colored America.”

We have known A. G. Hilliard for 25 years, always the quiet yet strong leader of his people, the one to whom they deferred in times of stress and strain. He was trusted alike by the white and the black races a spokesman for each to the other many times.

Since we have served in the county department of education, all our efforts toward educational progress among the negro schools have met with the ready understanding and co-operation of A. G. Hilliard. We shall miss him in the various gatherings, institute, county teachers’ association and county interscholastic league work held with the negro teachers. We valued his support and his counsel and feel it a privilege to pen an appreciation of the man who walked among us so quietly and yet so powerfully as to influence, all these years.

He leaves a family of children to mourn his loss. Mrs. Willie V. Cooper, principal of Mabel Kennedy school, Cedar Lane; Mrs. Maud Baines, teacher of Clemville; Asa G. Hilliard, Jr., recently from Prairie View college, who has been supplying his father’s place during his illness; Jewell Hilliard who is matriculated at Power Point vocational school; Rutherford, Abel, Henry and Robey, all young grown men in useful employment.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,” therefore A. G. Hilliard will continue to live on in the county which he loved and in the hearts of the people whom he has served so long.




The Daily Tribune, February 10, 1932



By Dr. J. P. Browning


Bay City, Texas, February 8, 1932. The entire student body and a large number of sincere friends assembled in the Booker Washington High school auditorium Tuesday evening February 2 to commemorate the late Prof. A. G. Hilliard, who unstintedly gave us his unselfish service for 47 years as an educator in this panoramic state fitting, shaping and preparing our future destinies in order that we prominently stand out as radiant examples of true and patriotic leaders in our various endeavors.


His magnetic personality made many friends plus his phenomenal success and eminent reputation. He always faithfully discharged his civic duties. As a citizen, he was very modest, courageous, impartial and considerate. Truly he was a great man. His esteemed ambitions are being fulfilled by Asa G. Hilliard, Jr., who sits now in the chair left vacant by this noble one is without doubt coping with the perplexing problems that so often confronted his exalted predecessor.

The program of the day was as follows: A rendition of the deceased’s favorite selections “I am going home” by the audience. Invocation by Rev. S. W. Whitehead. A selection by the Booker Washington quartet. The featured speakers were Reverend S. W. Whitehead, Cash Brown, C. O. Walker, Mrs. M. L. Anderson and Dr. J. P. Browning. Miss Christian Roberts closed the program with a beautiful solo.

This writer admires and is tolerant to the suggestion that the school be renamed the A. G. Hilliard High School for the man who nobly served this institution for 25 or more years. Further it is believed will be a very favorable undertaking in the sight of his many white and colored friends.

I ask vehemently that the faculty of Booker Washington High School interest themselves each year in constructing plans for this solemn occasion to attract the distinct attention of our co-operative citizens to pay homage to this great benefactor of education.



Copyright 2006 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
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Jan. 8, 2006
Jan. 8, 2006