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Lubbock's first Black councilman T.J. Patterson dies at 85, leaves a legacy of service

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City of Lubbock
District 2 Councilwoman Shelia Patterson Harris looks at her father, T.J. Patterson, who died Sept. 21, 2022 at the age of 85.

Lubbock civic leader, storyteller and activist T.J. Patterson died Wednesday at the age of 85.

Thomas James Patterson, Lubbock’s first Black city council member and father to sitting council member Shelia Patterson Harris, devoted his life to the service of others – especially Lubbock’s Black community in the fight against segregation.

Born in Waxahachie in 1937, Patterson was handed adversity from an early age, battling polio in a time of whites-only hospitals. In a 2016 interview for The Portal to Texas History, Patterson said he and five other white children battled the disease. He was the only one to survive.

After moving to Wichita Falls, Patterson said it was there that he learned about the meaning of community. He learned honesty and discipline at home and in the single-building school, walking three miles there and back every day, past the whites-only school just two blocks away.

“You know, I think about that,” Patterson said. “My grandmother was a slave child and my granddaddy was German but I'm going to live in a segregated system. And my family was not segregated, so to speak. So that's a lie in society right there, but it happened.”

After going to Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, Patterson’s aunt called him in 1958 asking for help with the Mary and Mac Private School at 902 East 28th Street in Lubbock. The school was honored with a marker from the Texas Historical Commission in 2010.

In 1959, Patterson tried to enroll in the university, which was then Texas Technological College. The interim president Dr. Robert C. Goodwin met Patterson outside the building, just to tell him he would not be allowed to enroll.

Instead, he was drafted into the military.

“I told my wife that morning when I was going down the road, I said, ‘Baby, I'll be back this afternoon,’” Patterson said. “When I come back, I'd be back by five or six o'clock. I came back in a bus going South to Fort Hood.”

He served in Vietnam for 13 months. After returning, Patterson continued to be involved with the U.S. Navy Reserves, as well as community action services. He was commissioned as a Lt. Commander, and later Commander.

In September 1970, Patterson was named assistant to the dean of the College of Business Administration at the school that would not enroll him 10 years before, now called Texas Tech University. He was chosen as “Man of the Year” at the school in 1976.

Patterson became the City of Lubbock’s first Black city council member in 1984, where he served for 20 years. He served as the mayor pro tem in 1991 and 1992.

Patterson dedicated his working life to fighting drugs and gang violence in Lubbock. He led marches in the city to call out drug dealers and criminals, and worked to improve education for adults and youth. The T.J. Patterson Library on Parkway Drive stands to represent his commitment to making his community better.

In 1977, Patterson and Eddie Richardson began publishing Lubbock Digest with stories from the city’s Black community. That later became the Southwest Digest as the audience expanded. Patterson said they didn’t care who read it, their only goals were to encourage young people to learn and give voices to those who are often forgotten.

The last issue was published in May 2022, when Patterson’s health concerns grew.

Patterson served on various state and city boards, such as president of the Texas Municipal League. He was also a founder of the Texas Association of Black City Council Members.

While citizens of Lubbock and across the South Plains are remembering Patterson’s life of selfless contributions, those who worked with him in his time on the council and at Texas Tech said his enthusiasm and energy showed how much he loved his country and his city.

“T.J. Patterson embodied public service and dedication to the community,” said City Manager Jarrett Atkinson. “He is someone everyone at the city to this day admires and respects. T.J. was on the City Council when I was an intern at the City years ago. Watching him represent his constituents and work for the community was a tremendous lesson. He loved the people of Lubbock and he cared for this community. My thoughts and prayers are with the Patterson family.”

Funeral services are pending. Patterson's wife of 52 years, Bobbie, preceded him in death in 2012.