Houston 101: An Earlier Time When Shots Rang Out At TSU

Categories: Spaced City
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On May 17, 1967 racial tension and misinformation led to a riot on the Texas Southern University campus.

At the time, Houston, like the rest of the country, was struggling with race relations. Herman Short was chief of police under Mayor Louie Welch; Short was especially disliked by Houston's black community for his strong-arm tactics. So when a rumor spread across the TSU campus that a black six-year-old had been shot by a white police officer earlier that day, the reaction was swift and angry. (In fact, it was a six-year-old white boy that had been wounded by another white boy.)

As a police cruiser drove by, something was thrown at the car (Time magazine reported that it was a watermelon, but we're going to leave that alone).

Angry students gathered, more police arrived. Rocks and bottles were thrown. A shot rang out, wounding an officer in the thigh, and within minutes, a full-blown riot erupted. Over the next hours, HPD shot 3,000 rounds of shotgun and carbine fire into the building, and received return fire. Five hundred officers eventually stormed Lanier Hall, the men's dormitory, from which the first shot supposedly came. When the smoke cleared, one police officer was dead, one student and two officers were wounded, and 488 students were arrested.

Time reported one police officer as saying, "It looked like the Alamo."

The dead officer was 24-year-old rookie Louis Kuba, who had been with the police force only 14 days. More than 480 students were released from custody by the next morning. Five eventually stood trial for Kuba's death, but the charges were dismissed when the jury couldn't reach a verdict. (One of the students charged was Charles Freeman, who went on to become a high-powered lawyer working with, among others, Zacarias Moussaoui, known as the 20th hijacker of the September 11th attacks.)

When I attended TSU, men living in Lanier Hall often offered to show female students the bullet holes that supposedly still marked the brick building. (It was sort of a perverse variation of "Let me show you my etchings.") I never took any of the guys up on their offer, so I can't confirm if the bullet holes are still visible, but I wouldn't doubt it.

Shots rang out again at TSU yesterday. Not quite the same situation.

Lanier Hall today:

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My father was a Houston Police Dept. Sergeant.  At that time I was almost 9 years old.  My father took his children to the funeral home to see the young police officer that was killed that day. The sight of that officer, dressed in his blue uniform with a bandage wrapped around his head lying in the casket remains with me. And I learned sometimes the big, important changes require big, important actions and sometimes, people get hurt in the process.  The officer had been on the force for 9 months and had a brand new baby and new wife at home.

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