ABOVE: Dr. Thomas F. Freeman receives a proclamation from Mayor Sylvester Turner
A celebration in honor of Dr. Thomas Freeman’s 100th birthday was held this past Sunday, June 30th, at the place where he has had the distinct honor of ministering at for over 68 years – his very own Fifth Ward’s Mt. Horem Missionary Baptist Church. Dr. Freeman was surrounded by his family, such as his wife, daughter, his sister, as well as his close friends and fellow church-goers; all of whom have been touched by his legacy throughout his long life.
The celebration, which was presided over by Deacon David Williams and Rev. Gwendolyn Pierre, was meant to give thanks and well wishes to the good Dr. Freeman, allowing all to reminisce of their times under his wings.
“Doc gave us more than an experience in debate,” said Bruce Austin, one of many past Texas Southern University debate students that would speak kind words on Dr. Freeman’s behalf that afternoon. “He gave us an experience in fellowship. He gave us experience in religious philosophy. And I think we all became better Christians because of it; better understanding what that was.”
The ceremony was not merely for former debaters and church members to honor Dr. Freeman, but was also a forum for many others to come out and celebrate the 100 year-old legend.
State Representative Dr. Alma A Allen of the Texas House of Representatives, attended the event, as well as U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and even the Mayor of Houston himself, showed up to give Dr. Freeman their well wishes and speak on his behalf.
Dr. Allen recalled her time in Dr. Freeman’s speech class, to which she owes him her success in becoming a member of the Texas House of Representatives. She presented him with a resolution from the state of Texas.
“Even today when I have the opportunity to stand at the microphone at the House of Representatives, you know who crosses my mind? Dr. Freeman,” said Dr. Allen. “How he would want me to say it, what inflections he’d like for me to use, what words, what tone to use. He crosses my mind. He probably doesn’t know it, but today I really wanted to express that to him.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner followed Dr. Allen, and was met with an uproar of support from the crowd. Turner delivered a powerful testimony on Dr. Freeman’s behalf, before declaring June 27th as Dr. Thomas Freeman Day in the city of Houston.
“This is someone who has been the debate coach at Texas Southern University for 70 years. Someone who’s been a part of this church for 68 years. Someone who is a dean at Texas Southern and got his name over at the Forensic Center at the University,” said Turner. “Dr. Freeman has taken his students all over the world! 4 international championships. He has received and won thousands of awards for his students. He taught people like Barbara Jordan, Mickey Leland and even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.…and then when Denzel Washington needed a consultant for his film, “The Great Debaters”, he didn’t go to the east or west coast, but he came all the way down south to find Dr. Thomas Freeman. That’s why, there should not be any doubt why I can say therefore I, Sylvester Turner, Mayor of the City of Houston, hereby proclaim June 27, 2019 as Dr. Thomas Freeman Day in the City of Houston!”
Those words spoken by the mayor rocked the house to its very core, bringing a wide smile to Dr. Freeman’s face.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who notably presented Dr. Freeman with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Phoenix Award back in 2017, once again shared a stage with the legendary man of the hour. Just as everyone else did before her, Congresswoman Jackson Lee spoke of Dr. Freeman in great regard, recalling the event itself and the uproars of applause he received when he was in Washington D.C., referring to him as a man “belonging to the nation.”
The attention was then given to Dr. Freeman’s relatives, the first being his sister, Elsea Louis, who gave insight on their childhood, as well as speaking about their mother, Louise Freeman.
“I came one day, and everybody in my class had gotten a C, and I got a B and I was so proud,” said Louis. “But my mother came to me and said ‘they’re still giving out A’s aren’t they?’, and this was the standard we were upheld to.”
Next, was a serenade directly to Dr. Freeman by his niece, Cheryl Freeman. Her lovely voice hushed the entire room as she sang Amazing Grace to her proud uncle.
Dr. Carlotta Freeman, daughter of Dr. Freeman and his wife, spoke lovingly to her parents, speaking of her time as a preacher’s kid and how it feels to have a father such as Dr. Freeman.
“Another question that someone asked me this weekend was ‘what is it like to have a father who’s 100 years-old?’ And it’s just like asking me what it’s like to have a mother who’s 99 years-old. And when I turn and look at them, they’re the same age as they were when I was born,” said Carlotta. “And when you think about the fact that even though we’ve all grown older, we’ve grown older together. And that distance has not changed. And neither has my love for them, and I dare say their love for me.”
Lastly, Clarice Estell, Dr. Freeman’s own wife, whom had been sitting alongside him the entire duration of the service, spoke on his behalf as well.
“God has blessed me in such a way that I have been able to fill the absence of my husband and all these trips abroad,” said Clarice. “I’ve only been abroad what? Three times? And not with the debate team! But I did spend a whole summer over there once. And I have chosen to be with Tom Freeman. With his faults… his failures… his triumphs, and I am thankful that God allowed me to find someone like him.”
Finally, Dr. Freeman concluded the service with some powerful words of his own, to which everyone in the room remained silent, to the point you couldn’t hear a whisper.
“How can I say thank you for the things you have done?,” said Dr. Freeman. “The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude. I owe it all to God, for the things he has done through me. Let me say thank you to all of you. Thank you, and best wishes to you, so that you too may enjoy 100 years of life!”
These were the kind and moving words of a man who has touched millions of lives. A man who moves others with his conviction and will continue to do so from now until eternity. With nothing more to say, a final prayer was spoken, and the service came to a close.
On behalf of the Forward Times, we say Happy 100th Birthday Dr. Thomas F. Freeman!