There was a time when Houston’s African-American high school graduates had limited opportunities when it came time to advancing to the collegiate academic and athletic levels.Thanks in large part to the efforts of a select group of high school coaches and counselors in Houston and throughout America, that scenario changed dramatically during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Edgar Alan Harvey was the recipient of a previously unheard of chance to excel at a university that had seldom opened its doors to Blacks or other minorities. This is his story.
Born to Jessie Lawrence Harvey Sr. and Birdie Lee Williams on August 1, 1949 in Dallas, Texas, Edgar was the oldest child to siblings Jessie Jr. and stepsisters, Deborah and Donna Simmons.
Raised by his mother and stepfather Lorenza Simmons, Edgar maintained a strong relationship with his father Jessie and step-mother Hester Louise Harvey. Edgar’s father passed away in 1979.
After the family moved to Houston, Edgar attended Worthing High School and became involved in sports and band. He played the snare drum and ran hurdles with the track team.
While in the band, Edgar was one of the leaders in introducing the use of the tenor drum for cadences while marching in parades. He also was a backup player on the bass drum.
During his senior year in high school, Edgar was recruited by universities across the country for academics and athletics. He also received an appointment from the Naval Academy before eventually being disqualified with an irregular heartbeat in the last round of qualifying.
Texas A&M recruiter Charlie Thomas intensified his efforts to get Edgar along with Worthing classmates Hugh McElroy and Sydney Chachere to attend the school located in College Station, Texas. Curtis Mills of Lufkin was another African-American targeted by Thomas and the foursome eventually ended up as suite mates at Texas A&M.
“I don’t believe Coach Thomas ever received the credit he deserved for recruiting African-Americans to Texas A&M,” said Jessie Harvey, Edgar’s younger brother. “This came during a time when Gene Stallings was the coach and he had been a protégé’ of Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama. Bryant had once pledged never to have blacks on his football team.”
While at Worthing High School, Edgar was a two-time Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL) state champion in the hurdles (1966-67). Later in 1967, he became one of the first African American athletes to receive a full athletic scholarship to A&M.
Edgar began his collegiate career and specialized in the hurdles at A&M while lettering three years and sitting out one year with an injury. He graduated in 1972 with a degree in industrial engineering.
In September of 2010, Edgar was recognized by the Texas A&M University track team as a pioneer and they presented him with the championship baton from the Aggies’ Southwest Conference mile relay squad.
While attending Texas A&M, Edgar met his wife Alta Smith (who passed away in October of 2010). The pair conceived two children and later relocated to California where Edgar worked as an environmental engineer with a specialty in hazardous waste removal.
After living for 15 years on the west coast, Edgar moved his family back to Houston where he made a career shift in the field of construction management. He would go on to consult with some of the top construction management companies in the nation.
Edgar utilized his time in Houston to impact the lives of many people, often captivating his audiences with stories from his past. He worked tirelessly with the Kingdom of God.
Survived by a host of relatives, Edgar remained in Houston until cancer claimed he and his wife late last year. Edgar was 61.
“We came along at a good time when Worthing High School began sending students out to white universities on scholarship,” said Jessie Harvey.
“Coach Oliver Brown had one of the outstanding high school track programs in the country at the time and along with counselor Freddie Gaines, they combined to make it happen for a lot of us.
“All four kids in my family went to Worthing and all of us received scholarships of some kind to college. I attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Tx., my sister Deborah (Simmons-Johnson) went to Texas Women’s University in Denton and my other sister Donna went to Baker College in Kansas.
Jessie Harvey lives on the eastern seaboard now, but visits Houston frequently. He says his brother was proud of his accomplishments and those of his family and friends.
Hugh McElroy was another trailblazer who became one of the first blacks on the Texas A&M football team. In 1970, he became the first African-American to start on the football team. At LSU in the second game of the season, McElroy became A&M’s first black player to score a touchdown.
With A&M trailing in the final seconds, McElroy hauled in a short pass and sprinted 79 yards down the sideline for the game-winning score to lead the Aggies past LSU 20-18 and the first win against their arch-rivals in 14 years (1956).
For his athletic exploits, Mills was a recent inductee into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco.
Darrell K. Ardison