Black History Month: How Saint Artemisia Bowden transformed St. Philip’s College

SAN ANTONIO – Throughout February, we are showing you different ways to celebrate Black History Month and diving into the history of St. Philip’s College, the nation’s only Hispanic-serving institution and historically black college.

KSAT spoke with Jennifer Walker, who grew up hearing stories about her great aunt Saint Artemisia Bowden, who led St. Philip’s College for 52 years.

“Seeing her school every day was a constant reminder that this is what’s in your DNA,” Walker said.

Walker was filled with joy walking through the college campus.

“It makes me feel proud and thankful and just a pleasant sacrifice and happy to be part of the legacy,” she said.

Walker admires the strength and passion Bowden had.

“She was 23 when she came here, and she got on the train ride all by herself. She left her good job that she had in North Carolina to take a chance on an opportunity,” Walker said.

According to college records, James Steptoe Johnston, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, chose Bowden to lead St. Philip’s Normal and Industrial School.

“He found Mrs. Bowden and brought her here to create a grammar school,” Dr. Adena WIlliams Loston, president of St. Philip’s College said. “But history and the legend of this individual is that she took it much further. Not only a grammar school, but a vocational school, an industrial school and now a college.”

Loston said Bowden overcame many challenges.

“During the depression, the church separated from supporting the college,” Loston said. “It was left to Artemisia to keep the school afloat. She brought her family members here. She quit taking a salary, and then she developed many different strategies to raise money for the college.”

Bowden’s pictures are all around the campus, including Loston’s office.

“This is Black History Month, and what it means to me is that it is a time to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of our elders, the people that made a difference,” Loston said.

This month, Walker remembers not only the past but also the present and future.

“We’re able to look back on what our ancestors accomplished, we’re able to be in the present moment, and appreciate it as the gift that it is from God, and just be able to love on our family and give educational information and inspiration to everybody that we meet,” Walker said.

There are many events taking place this month. On Feb. 13 at 11 a.m. at the MLK Turbon Student Center, you can sharpen your knowledge of Black history with a Kahoot Trivia Game.

Also, there will be a soul food taste on Feb. 13 at 12 p.m. at the Tourism, Hospitality and Culinary Arts Building. St. Philip’s College Culinary students will prepare soul food dishes.

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