ExxonMobil presents Thomas Freeman at Lamar University Feb. 17 in “Living Legends – An Evening with Dr. Thomas Franklin Freeman” in celebration of Black History Month. The presentation, sponsored by ExxonMobil’s Black Employee Success Team (BEST) and hosted by Lamar University, is free and open to the public. The lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in the University Theatre.

Freeman, who is distinguished professor emeritus of Texas Southern University, has given more than 69 years of service to become an icon of Texas Southern, the African American community and the nation. A former professor of psychology and philosophy at TSU, Freeman taught at Morehouse College, Virginia Union University, Houston Community College and Rice University.  In 1947, while a visiting professor at Morehouse, he taught one of the nation’s and the world’s greatest orators and most inspiring leaders, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A college graduate by age 18 and a Virginia Union University professor in his 20s, Freeman was among the Black intellectuals hired in 1949 to teach at what was then Texas State University for Negroes. That year, he staged a debate in his logic class drawing from his own undergraduate experiences. Students begged him to coach a debate team that soon found success at out-of-town tournaments.

Freeman is perhaps best-known for founding and coaching TSU’s highly acclaimed debate team, which has won hundreds of awards, traveled the globe and during the period when Freeman and King became re-acquainted, helped desegregate college forensics.

An advocate for strong debate skills that translate readily into broad life skills, Freeman pushes students hard, occasionally resulting in them shedding a tear or two as they strive to please him.

Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington sought Freeman as a consultant for the 2007 movie, The Great Debaters, based upon the triumphs of a Depression-era Wiley College debate team and its coach Melvin Tolson.

A TSU professor of philosophy since 1949, Freeman has taught and influenced generation after generation of college students, may rising to the top in fields of law, education and government. Among his former students is the late U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, who honed her oratory skills as a TSU debater in the 1950s. For Freeman, educating young people is as much a calling as one that led him into the ministry. He also has been a church pastor in Houston for 60 years.

In 2009, Texas Southern named its newest academic unit the Thomas F. Freeman Honors College and Freeman is its founding dean. He is also TSU’s Distinguished Director of Forensics, having directed the university’s debate team for 69 years.