A video called “Half Mile of History—Butler College” was produced by the City of Tyler Historic Preservation Board and was narrated in part by granddaughters of Cornelius Butler. Butler College alumni have a Facebook page with photos from the school. The 1947 Negro College Quarterly has a good profile of Butler College for that year. Ads and news items occasionally appeared in the Dallas Morning News. The Smith County Historical Society provided pages from the 1955 Bear.
East Texas Baptist Academy was founded by the East Texas Baptist Association in 1905 to educate Black students in a Christian environment. Originally an elementary and high school, it had a goal of preparing ministers. Reverend Cornelius Moses Butler, the moderator of the Association, served as president of the school until his death in 1924. By 1908 enrollment had reached 120—most between the ages of 14 and 18, according to Era of Progress and Promise.
After Butler’s death, the Association, seeing a need to broaden the scope of the school, dropped the elementary program and added junior college classes. As a result of these changes, East Texas Baptist Academy became Butler College. While it maintained a theology department, Butler College began to emphasize teacher education, a program that was accredited by the Texas State Department of Education. The school also offered programs in music and business administration.
In 1934 the Texas Baptist Conference became a co-sponsor of the college.
Programs for returning servicemen pushed enrollment to 400 by 1946. By 1949 the school had become a four-year college offering both B.A. and B.S. degrees with a three-year theology program leading to a Bachelor of Theology degree.
The Bear shows that students were putting out a yearbook. Music students were members of the A Capella and Service choirs. The Lettermen Club and the Cheerleaders were associated with the sports program. Religious organizations included the Ministers' Union and the Student Christian Association. Students also had access to academic and disciplinary organizations such as Future Teachers of America and the Business Education Club. A 1949 ad in the Dallas Morning News shows a Noble Cain Choral Club and a Homecoming celebration.
But the four-year program never achieved success. The Historical Marker notes that by 1960 the school had returned to junior college status. Enrollment that year was down to 109. By 1967 it had dropped further to 75. Butler College closed in 1972.
An undated photo of a Butler College graduating class. The image was posted on Facebook. (accessed 8-1-2018)
Bricks and Mortar
East Texas Baptist Academy was located at the southeast corner of South Lyons Avenue and Bellwood Road in Tyler. The original campus contained only frame buildings. One undated image from “Glimpses of the Past” shows the Administration Building near completion, but the initials E.T.A. put it prior to 1924. The Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows a four-story brick building; two other of the 13 buildings have brick veneers. A 103-acre farm helped support the campus.
The Administration Building is now gone. The D. C. Brown Heritage Center, built in 1992 on a corner of the old campus, keeps the legacy of Butler College alive. It contains the State Historical Marker.
The original East Texas Baptist Academy campus. The image is from Era of Progress and Promise (accessed 8-1-2018)
Team name: Bears
School colors: Possibly Red, the color of the border around the seal.
Butler College sports teams participated in the Big 8 Conference with small schools in East Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. During the 1954-55 school year, the Bears were conference champions in football and men’s basketball and co-champions in women’s basketball. The football team compiled a 5-2 record, with wins over Dunbar Junior College, Arkansas Baptist College, Leland College, Jarvis Christian College and Mary Allen Seminary. Non-conference losses were to Bishop College and Paul Quinn College.