Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Actuating Equity: Historical and Contemporary Analyses of African American Access to Selective Higher Education from Sweatt to the Top 10 Percent Law

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Actuating Equity: Historical and Contemporary Analyses of African American Access to Selective Higher Education from Sweatt to the Top 10 Percent Law

Article excerpt

HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY RESEARCH

Access, Opportunity, and Adjudication: 1952-1969

The literature review begins in the 1950s and details the role of legal enactments in the context of the desegregation era and the impact of those enactments on Texas's K- 12 public schools and the UT-Austin. Specifically, we consider how pervasive and hostile attitudes toward desegregation influenced the speed with which students of color had access to all levels of education in Texas. We then transition to the impact of the civil rights movement on access and opportunity.

In 1946, Heman Marion Sweatt, a Black veteran, applied for, and was denied admission to, the UT-Austin School of Law. Sweatt filed suit against UT-Austin in Texas's 126th District Court alleging that this denial was an infringement of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. At the time, there were no separate Black law schools in Texas (Lavergne 2010). After six months, Iudge Roy C. Archer of the 126th District Court decided that if the UT-Austin Board of Regents created a separate first-class university law school then the UT-Austin School of Law would not be required to accept Blacks (Duren and Iscoe 1979, 3). Sweatt appealed to the U.S. 3rd Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to retrial.

The Sweatt case is dissimilar from the Missouri ex rei. Gaines v. Canada (1938), University v. Murray (1936), Sipuel v. Board of Regents ( 1948), and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950) Southern higher education desegregation cases as the state of Texas sought to create a "separate but equal" law school to head off integration at UT-Austin. During the appeal, the Texas Legislature approved the establishment of the Texas State University for Negroes (TSUN, later called Texas Southern University or TSU) in Houston. This new university was created to offer general and professional programs equivalent to those offered at UT-Austin for Blacks. On March 10, 1947, the school opened, but Sweatt did not attend due to TSUN's inferior quality and the NAACP's desire to integrate White institutions (Lavergne 2010). After the Texas Supreme Court refused Sweatt's motion for a rehearing of his case, the NAACP filed the case at the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation's highest court ruled on lune 5, 1950, that the educational opportunity for Black and White law students was not "substantially" equal to meet the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment, thus, the UT-Austin School of Law was required to admit Sweatt.

Despite Sweatt, the official end of the Iim Crow era arrived after the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which held that the Plessyv. Ferguson doctrine of "separate but equal" was unconstitutional. Following Brown v. Board of Education (1955), the second Brown decision, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the responsibility for integrating public schools to local officials under the scrutiny of the federal courts; in addition, these courts needed to ensure that local officials were making a "prompt and reasonable start" with "all deliberate speed" (Ogletree 2004).

However, this notion of "all deliberate speed" became "all deliberate slowness" in its implementation in Texas. Then Governor Allan Shivers saw the Brown decision as a federal invasion into states' rights on the doctrine of "separate but equal" and, as such, did not believe that the schools in Texas needed to change to reflect the Brown decision (Lavergne 2010).

Then Attorney General lohn Ben Shepperd, reacting to a Texas high court decision to permit the use of state funds for integrated schools, stated that though the case settled the law for the state, the time frame for integration would be a community-by-community decision (Wilson and Segali 2001). This "slowness" permeated into postsecondary institutions in Texas as well; although there was to be eventual integration at all levels of the schooling system in Texas, the speed of integration was to be determined by educational institutions and not the federal government (i. …

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