Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

University of Texas Integration Pioneer Passes Away

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

University of Texas Integration Pioneer Passes Away

Article excerpt

Along with Heman Sweatt and John Hargis, John Chase is among the most well-known African-Americans in the history of integration at the University of Texas. Chase, the first African-American to enroll in the School of Architecture and one of the first Blacks to attend the university, died March 29 in Houston. He was 87.

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Chase made history twice at the university: first, when he was admitted to graduate school in 1950, and later when he became the first Black president of the Texas Exes, the university's 100,000-strong alumni association, in 1998. At the time, the university was dealing with the fallout from the 1996 ruling in Hopwood v. Texas, which banned race as a consideration in admissions. Gains in recruiting Blacks and presenting the university as a welcoming environment were threatened. Though the process for Chase to become president had been in place for some time, his selection as leader of the alumni association of the flagship university came at an opportune time and sent an unspoken message that UT was an inclusive environment.

"He had just the right temperament at the right time," says Machree Gibson, president of the Texas Exes and the first Black female leader of the alumni group.

Chases story was sometimes eclipsed by that of Sweatt, the Houston postal worker whose persistent quest to enter the UT Law School eventually toppled racial barriers to higher education in Texas and paved the way for Chase to apply to graduate school. Two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of desegregating graduate and professional schools in Sweatt v. Painter, a 25-year-old Chase, in a suit and tie, enrolled at UT with the support of the dean of the School of Architecture.

"I remember Mr. Chase saying it was Mr. Sweatt who blazed the way for him," says Gary Lavergne, director of admissions research at UT and author of Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and the Long Road to Justice.

Chase enrolled in June 1950. And in September 1950, Sweatt became the first African-American to enroll in the law school. Undergraduate programs didn't desegregate until 1954, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. A year later, Hargis enrolled at UT; in 1959 he became the first African-American to receive an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering.

But disagreements still exist about who was the first Black student at UT. …

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