Integrating the 40 Acres: The Fifty-Year Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas

Integrating the 40 Acres: The Fifty-Year Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas

Integrating the 40 Acres: The Fifty-Year Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas

Integrating the 40 Acres: The Fifty-Year Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas

Synopsis

You name it, we can't do it. That was how one African American student at the University of Texas at Austin summed up his experiences in a 1960 newspaper article--some ten years after the beginning of court-mandated desegregation at the school. In this first full-length history of the university's desegregation, Dwonna Goldstone examines how, for decades, administrators only gradually undid the most visible signs of formal segregation while putting their greatest efforts into preventing true racial integration. In response to the 1956 Board of Regents decision to admit African American undergraduates, for example, the dean of students and the director of the student activities center stopped scheduling dances to prevent racial intermingling in a social setting.

Goldstone's coverage ranges from the 1950 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the University of Texas School of Law had to admit Heman Sweatt, an African American, through the 1994 Hopwood v. Texas decision, which ended affirmative action in the state's public institutions of higher education. She draws on oral histories, university documents, and newspaper accounts to detail how the university moved from open discrimination to foot-dragging acceptance to mixed successes in the integration of athletics, classrooms, dormitories, extracurricular activities, and student recruitment. Goldstone incorporates not only the perspectives of university administrators, students, alumni, and donors, but also voices from all sides of the civil rights movement at the local and national level. This instructive story of power, race, money, and politics remains relevant to the modern university and the continuing question about what it means to be integrated.

Excerpt

The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.—William Faulkner

In October 1956, a faculty committee chose African American Barbara Smith to play the female lead in a University of Texas production of the opera Dido and Aeneas. Because the committee had chosen two white men to play the male lead, the opera would have an interracial cast. After Texas legislator Jerry Sadler learned of the casting, he demanded Smith’s removal from the cast. Sadler and another Texas representative threatened to vote against appropriations for the university because the people of Texas did not “want mixing of Negroes and whites publicly.” Perhaps afraid that the university would lose funding, UT president Logan Wilson removed Smith from the opera. As this episode demonstrates, although racial integration occurred in the classrooms at the University of Texas at Austin, white administrators and legislators worked to preserve other aspects of segregation and the white supremacy it bolstered. No one doubted Smith’s talents as a singer, but her appearance was enough to threaten what whites had come to expect under segregation. And like other white southerners, white university administrators and Texas legislators seemed obsessed with miscegenation.

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