Black history symposium examines life of Victoria educator during segregation

During the University of Houston-Victoria’s Black History Month celebration, Victoria residents can learn more about a historical figure who had a major influence on black education in Victoria during segregation.

Ed Byerly, a Victoria College history professor, will give a presentation titled Grappling with “Jim Crow and Booker T. Washington: Alonzo Daniel Sheffield and the Push for Academic Education in Victoria, Texas,” at 6 p.m. Feb. 9 in the Alcorn Auditorium of UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The event is free and open to the public.

Ed Byerly

“A.D. Sheffield embraced a vision of education that focused on learning for academic rather than vocational reasons, which was controversial at the time,” Byerly said. “He ended up having a profound impact on the generation that would take part in the Civil Rights movement in Victoria. His influence helped promote a voice of protest and activism in the community.”

The free presentation is part of UHV’s A.D. Sheffield Symposium on African American History. This will be the first installment of the second annual symposium. The theme for this year is Before Brown: Segregated Education in the Crossroads.

Byerly first became interested in the history of the Victoria African American community when he moved to the area in 2000. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of official documentation available, so most of his research came from old issues of the Victoria Advocate.

One of the pieces he found was an article from 1934 written by Sheffield titled “The History of Colored Education in Victoria.” The information in that article and other pieces by Sheffield helped Byerly develop a basic understanding of the segregated education system in Victoria during the early 20th century.

“As I learned about the community, I became more interested in him as well,” Byerly said. “He was just about the only voice in the community who was documenting and speaking up for black education during that time. I began to appreciate him and his efforts immensely, especially when I learned more about him and the challenges he overcame.”

Beverly Tomek

A few years ago, Byerly was able to contact Sheffield’s son, A.D. Sheffield Jr., a retired Massachusetts physician. Through those interviews, Byerly was able to learn more information about Sheffield’s personal life and family history.

Sheffield was the son of former slaves, and he and his seven siblings had to overcome many challenges associated with that situation. They went on to become college-educated professionals, such as teachers and doctors, during a time when that was uncommon in the black community. Sheffield eventually held the post of principal of the Victoria Colored School for 16 years.

“It’s so important to remember our local history,” said Beverly Tomek, UHV assistant professor of history. “Every community has stories of people who made a profound impact, and this presentation will give today’s Victorians a clear portrait of one of those people.”

Jeffrey Di Leo

That impact and advocacy for education in a segregated community were some of the reasons the symposium was named in honor of Sheffield, said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences.

“A.D. Sheffield was a true advocate for education and one of the people instrumental in shaping the future of Victoria,” Di Leo said. “This is an opportunity for Victorians who want to know more about their community to get an understanding of one man who left a lasting impact on our hometown.”

The second symposium presentation will be at 6 p.m. Feb. 25 in the same location. Jennifer Ritterhouse, an associate professor of history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., will share a presentation titled Growing Up Jim Crow. It will examine how children in the South grew up and learned the social rules in a Jim Crow society.

To learn more about the symposium, contact Tomek at 361-570-4363 or

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.