Throwback Thursday: How I.M. Terrell Served as a Beacon of Hope

The I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA, formerly just I.M. Terrell, has long stood as a beacon for students in and around Fort Worth. At a time when African American students were denied a place to study, this campus welcomed those from not only Fort Worth, but also Arlington, Bedford, Burleson, Roanoke, and Weatherford. 

The East Ninth Street campus was the first free public school that served African Americans. Established in an era of racial segregation, the school’s doors were open to students from a wide area, reflecting its commitment to education for all.  

In 1882, Fort Worth Superintendent of Schools Alexander Hogg selected Isaiah Milligan Terrell as the principal of the school. A year later, Terrell married Marcelite Landry, an accomplished music teacher, hinting at the musical legacy that the school would eventually foster. Throughout the 1880s, Terrell was instrumental in advancing education and improving working conditions for African Americans.

In 1890, Terrell was named Principal and Superintendent of the African American schools and the East Ninth Street School was moved. A 1909 bond election allowed the district to build a new building, which opened in May 1910. 

Once the new building opened, Terrell served as the principal for five years. In 1921, the school was officially named after him.

Terrell didn’t see the school close in 1978 during racial integration. The campus was revived in 1998 as an elementary school and has undergone several transformations, culminating in its 2018 rebranding as the I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA, as part of a bond program. 

I.M. Terrell’s has a long history of producing iconic musicians, even before it became a performing arts academy. Some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians played in the halls of the campus. Legends such as Ornette Coleman, King Curtis, and Cornell Dupree were proud I.M. Terrell alumni. Francine Morrison, the first Black person to participate in a Texas governor’s inauguration, also graduated from I.M. Terrell.

Perched on a hill in Fort Worth, the original structure of the I.M. Terrell campus has long symbolized a pursuit of educational equality and excellence. Decades later, the school has survived many changes to become what it is today, but its purpose remains the same — an equal opportunity at education for all.