Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas

Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas

Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas

Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas

Synopsis

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), it is important to consider the historical struggles that led to this groundbreaking decision. Four years earlier in Texas, the Sweatt v. Painter decision allowed blacks access to the University of Texas's law school for the first time. Amilcar Shabazz shows that the development of black higher education in Texas--which has historically had one of the largest state college and university systems in the South--played a pivotal role in the challenge to Jim Crow education.

Shabazz begins with the creation of the Texas University Movement in the 1880s to lobby for equal access to the full range of graduate and professional education through a first-class university for African Americans. He traces the philosophical, legal, and grassroots components of the later campaign to open all Texas colleges and universities to black students, showing the complex range of strategies and the diversity of ideology and methodology on the part of black activists and intellectuals working to promote educational equality. Shabazz credits the efforts of blacks who fought for change by demanding better resources for segregated black colleges in the years before Brown, showing how crucial groundwork for nationwide desegregation was laid in the state of Texas.

Excerpt

Our clients’ victory in the 5th Circuit is now final…. I think the main thing
we are learning is that racial discrimination perpetuates racial discrimina
tion, and if we are ever to get beyond that regrettable chapter in our nation’s
history, it is time to stop doing it for all purposes.

—Theodore B. Olson, attorney for Cheryl Hopwood, who sued the
University of Texas on the grounds that it had practiced “unconstitutional
reverse discrimination,” reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision,
quoted in Houston Chronicle, 1 July 1996

When the incisive wit of Richard Pryor’s Bicentennial Nigger warms my heart, I recall my hopes and dreams in 1976 as a young American who happened to be of color. I had no limits. My vision was to become the first black to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, perhaps one day to become president of the United States. Of course, the reality and prevalence of racism and white supremacy did not escape me. Like Nat Turner and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., two of my heroes, I felt I was destined to play a profound role in lifting humanity above outmoded attitudes and practices to higher ground and a better day. I worked hard all through my school years preparing: being a class representative, winning oratorical and writing contests, and reading voraciously, especially the works considered masterpieces. Then in 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, came my senior year and time to pick a university where I would further educate myself and advance toward my ambitions. From my peers, teachers, and persons who seemed to be in the know there was only one choice: the University of Texas at Austin (UT).

I do not recall ever doubting whether I would be admitted to UT. My first SAT score was not promising. I retook it on a day when I was struggling . . .

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