Prairie View A&M University, the first state-supported college in Texas for African Americans, was established during the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War. The board of directors purchased more than 1,300 acres of land for the new campus from Helen Kirby, the widow of a colonel in the Confederate Army. The land was formerly the Alta Vista Plantation, owned by the Kirbys. It once had a population of more than 400 enslaved individuals.
The Alta Vista Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas for Colored Youth opened in 1878 with eight students. In 1879, the name was changed to Prairie View State Normal School in Waller County for the Training of Colored Teachers. It received its current name in 1973.
Many of the school’s records were lost in a 1947 fire. Now a committee has been formed to learn more about the university’s past and the town it calls its home. Descendants of Jared Kirby, the former owner of the plantation, and various members of the university community, are joining together to learn as much as they can about the history of the area.
“Stories and storytelling and truthful storytelling can really build a community and that’s the whole aim of the project,” Becky Vanderslice, a third-generation grandchild of Kirby, told a local television reporter. “It’s really to make sure we’re telling the story of Prairie View.”