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Dr. Thomas F. Freeman (L) with Hilary Clinton in 2015 | Source: Thomas Shea / Getty

Thomas Freeman, the spirited debate coach and professor at Texas Southern University whose connection to the HBCU lasted for more than eight decades, died Saturday. His son and the university confirmed the news. He was weeks shy of his 101st birthday.

Freeman became part of the TSU faculty in 1949 as a philosophy professor. He initially wanted to go back into the church following the school year but after assigning a student a debate in logic course, TSU convinced him to stay on as the school’s debate coach.

Under Freeman’s early tenure the debate team had bested schools such as Harvard and the University of Chicago, only three months after he took the job.

He became a fixture in Third Ward and a legend within the Texas Southern community. He worked closely with Denzel Washington when Washington was filming the 2007 film The Great Debaters, taught and worked with U.S. Reps Mickey Leeland and Barbara Jordan, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and others.

“I am an instrument in the hand of God, working with people to develop them,” he told the Houston Chronicle as he celebrated his 100th birthday in 2019. “If they do not develop, then that means that all my efforts are in vain. They determine whether I am successful. If they have success, then I have been successful in my effort to develop them. The same goes for those who haven’t been successful.”

Freeman is survived by his wife, Clarice, three children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


Legendary Texas Southern University Debate Coach Dr. Thomas F. Freeman Passes Away At 100  was originally published on