Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Brownsboro School Board Shooting in 1960

By Jaycie Smith

updated: December 2, 2016.

On a hot summer night shots rang out at a Brownsboro, Texas, school board meeting in 1960. A feud that had split the town for over twenty years culminated in the shooting death of Thurman Jackson. Suddenly, Brownsboro, Texas, made national news, from Niagara Falls, New York, to Brownsville, Texas, and the trial that ensued was heavily covered throughout the country. 

In April of 1960, a newly elected school board ousted school superintendent, Homer D. Bass, who had served the school district for twenty-three years. Many citizens remained loyal to Bass, and controversy followed. The new secretary of the school board was osteopathic physician, Dr. Charles Collins Rahm. Dr. Rahm had previously served the community as mayor of Brownsboro. In June, Brownsboro citizens were still divided: pro-Bass and anti-Bass. 

 Most graduating seniors in May of 1960 had attended school their entire lives at Brownsboro. Bass had been the only Superintendent they had known. Bass' long tenure as school board president generated a deep small town-loyalty. Many students insisted on having Bass' name signed to their diplomas. The school district refused and a controversy over the diplomas ensued. The printer said the diplomas were printed. The school district claimed the diplomas never arrived at the school for distribution in May. The post office vowed that the diplomas had been mailed. 

 Several students approached Dr. Rahm for a meeting to discuss the diploma issue. Dr. Rahm refused to see the students.

On June 16, 1960, the Brownsboro school board held a meeting in the Brownsboro high school study hall. In attendance where three Henderson County sheriff’s deputies. At the meeting, matters were discussed, including the firing of nine negro teachers in the district’s all-black school at Moore Station, Bullock High School. The Texas Education Agency had investigated the school and found that several negro teachers weren’t properly certified. As the meeting was coming to an end, a negro man asked if the teachers would be re-hired. Stories differed as to why, but shortly after discussion of the negro teachers began, the school board meeting was adjourned. At that point, citizens began crowding around the school board members. One spectator, Thurman Jackson, demanded an itemized budget from the school board. Most witnesses agreed that at about the same time Jackson made his demand, blows were exchanged between school board president Ivan H. Long and spectator Bill Barton. From that point on, the room erupted into a free-for-all. 

For several weeks leading up to the June 16 shooting, Dr. Rahm later claimed he had been threatened and harassed. To protect himself, he and Long had driven to Dallas and Dr. Rahm had purchased a gun. On the night of the school board meeting, Dr. Rahm was in possession of that gun. 

During the scuffle that ensued in the study hall, Dr. Rahm was hit in the head with a chair and knocked to the ground. He later testified that his glasses were knocked off and he was being repeatedly punched and kicked. In fear for his life, he pulled his .45 caliber pistol and fired two shots. Thurman Jackson was shot and his spinal cord severed. He died soon after. Jackson’s brother, Clarence, jumped on Dr. Rahm, holding his wrist as Dr. Rahm brandished the gun. Board member Wayne Smith jumped in and took the gun from Dr. Rahm. Smith turned the gun over to a nearby deputy sheriff. W. M. (Bill) Melton was hit in the arm with the second bullet, but was not seriously injured.

Dr. Rahm was taken to Athens where he received several stitches. While at the hospital, Dr. Rahm delivered a second gun to Dr. A. Duphorne who had attended him. In short, on the night of June 16, Dr. Rahm was carrying two pistols. Rahm was taken to the Smith County Jail, and stayed there for several weeks. Fearing his safety, his location was not disclosed to the public. Texas Rangers were called in to patrol Brownsboro in the aftermath of the shooting. 

Dr. Rahm was charged with the murder of Thurman Jackson, as well as assault with intent to murder W. M. (Bill) Melton. Gussie Lee McCowan was charged with aggravated assault on J. P. Parker, a member of the school board, and with simple assault on Buddy Pearl Williams. W. M. Melton was charged and plead guilty to assault and battery. Others charged included W. R. Guthrie, J. P. Parker, Bill Barton, Clarence Hatton, S. M. (Bill) Watley and Arland Boles. George Rash was charged with assault with intent to murder Gus Crow, and Gus Crow with assault with intent to murder George Rash. In late July 1960, Dr. Charles Rahm was released from jail on $12,500 bond. 

On July 25, 1960, the Henderson County grand jury met to consider the murder case against Dr. Rahm. The grand jury determined there was enough evidence to hold a murder trial. Special prosecutor, William Steger, sought to have the trial moved to another location because of the publicity the case received. Henderson County District Judge Melvin Johnston entered an order for the murder trial to be moved over 200 miles away to Orange, Texas. 

On December 12, 1960, the murder trial against Dr. Rahm began in Orange, Texas, with Charles W. Tessmer defending. The state did not seek the death penalty. At the trial, a witness testified that president of the school board, Ivan H. Long, had asked a deputy in attendance to arrest Thurman Jackson because he was creating a disturbance. Instead, Jackson agreed to leave the school board meeting and not return. 

Deputy Charles Majors, one of the deputy sheriffs on hand at the school board meeting, testified that a crowd of 150 people rose out of their chairs at the adjournment of the meeting and began crowing around board members. While Deputy Majors intercepted the first fight with Bill Barton and Ivan H. Long, he heard the two shots go off. When Deputy Majors looked to where the shots came from, he saw Dr. Charles Rahm, Thurman Jackson and Clarence Jackson in a heap with blood all around. Majors also testified that prior to the shooting, Dr. Rahm had filed disturbing the peace charges against a nephew of Thurman Jackson. 

Defense witnesses corroborated Dr. Rahm’s claims of prior threats. John Stokes of Brownsboro testified that around town prior to the meeting he had heard, “they are going to beat the hell out of that board.” 

There was general dissent with the witnesses as to how the actual shooting took place. Some claimed that Thurman Jackson had stumbled over a chair just before he was shot. Others claimed that he was in a scuffle with Dr. Rahm when the gun was produced. 

Dr. Rahm took the stand in his own defense. Sobbing and clearly emotional, Dr. Rahm exclaimed that he never meant to kill anyone. “I would have had anything else happen than this,” he said. 

After three days of testimony jurors received the case. Prosecutor William Steger admonished the jurors to “do justice” in the murder case. District Judge Homer Stephenson had conducted long, overtime sessions of his court to complete the murder case before the Christmas holidays. He left the jurors with several potential verdicts; acquittal under Dr. Rahm’s plea of self-defense; two years to life in prison on conviction of murder with malice; or two to five years on the lesser offense of murder without malice. 

After 40 minutes on Saturday, December 17, 1960, Dr. Charles Rahm won acquittal in the murder of Thurman Jackson.

("A Tense Moment as a Man Hears That He Will Be Free" Judge Stephenson (left rear), Dorman, Mrs. Rahm, Dr. Rahm)

He planned to return to Brownsboro to resume his practice. However, he and his wife later moved to Lubbock and started a family. In 1974, Dr. Charles Rahm took his own life with a shotgun shot to the head. 

Thurman Jackson is buried in New Hope Cemetery near Brownsboro. Homer DeWitt. Bass, longtime superintendent for the Brownsboro schools, died in 1991 and is buried in Holly Springs Cemetery near Martins Mill. Ivan H. Long, succeeding superintendent, died in 1972 and is buried in Asbury Cemetery near Edom. Charles W. Tessmer, defense attorney, died in 2003 and is buried in Dallas. Prosecutor William Steger passed away in 2006 and is buried in Tyler. 

After the Brownsboro school board shooting, citizens tried to move on and forget the incident. In fact, many people growing up in Brownsboro never even heard of the infamous school board shooting, including myself. Actual news coverage of the trial can be found by clicking here


  1. I graduated in 63 from Brownsboro HS and the event was definitely a defining factor in the rest of my high school life - many of the better teachers left and the City of Brownsboro essentially ended its growth after this event.

    I'm not interested in commenting publicly, but would love to discuss it if you care to.
    My email is dinah.hatton@gmail.com. I now live in California.

  2. Dinah, you should have been sitting ion the window of the library that night (remember, no A/C). Several; of us guys were cutting up and looking on...when the shot(s) rang out , everyone went backwards out the windows !!!, and spread out. The next morning the Town Grill (our dad's café) was full of police officers (Texas Rangers)..I do not recall if we had school that day or not, do you ? Johnny Williams

  3. Hi Johnny,
    We didn't have school because we would have been on summer break by June 16, when the shooting took place. Don't think students were in the library until school opened in the fall. They'd had to clean things up and I remember the library looked different but I couldn't remember what it had looked like before.
    There are so many mysteries tied up in the past about this event. Nobody will ever know everything.
    How are you?