Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice

By Gary M. Lavergne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
The Basement School

After years of agitation it suddenly became “imperative” that the Negroes have
a university and have it now. Why and what started it all? The firing on Fort
Sumter?

AUSTIN AMERICAN, FEBRUARY 28, 1947

A poll taken a couple of weeks after the Sweatt trial decision in December 1947 found that, by a ratio of eight to five, African American Texans favored the creation of a university for Negroes rather than the integration of the University of Texas.1

Despite the poll, Thurgood Marshall still believed that the black community was solidly behind his attempts at integration. After all, the NAACP had raised $34,000 to litigate the Sweatt case, and such a result could have happened only with widespread grassroots support. His assessment of support was undoubtedly true, but even though he consistently and vehemently opposed equalization, his efforts were producing real results in Texas for the equalization faction. As he explained, “When the state thought the Sweatt case was an equalization case they changed the name of Prairie View and provided no money. When they saw it was a direct attack on segregation they appropriated $2,600,000 to construct a new university.”2 The integrationists who recruited Sweatt, raised the funds, and litigated the case were, perhaps paradoxically, bringing about the greatest equalization effort in American history.

Sweatt v. Painter kept African American leaders in Texas together because both the integrationist and the equalization factions were reaping benefits. Carter Wesley more accurately defined what most African American Texans wanted, but it was Thurgood Marshall and Heman Sweatt who were delivering it. The only issue that Carter Wesley, Maceo Smith, Thur-

-139-

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Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1- Prologue 5
  • Chapter 2- One of the Great Prophets 8
  • Chapter 3- The Cast of Characters 20
  • Chapter 4- Iron Shoes 34
  • Chapter 5- The Shadow of Failure 45
  • Chapter 6- The Second Emancipation 58
  • Chapter 7- A University of the First Class 73
  • Chapter 8- [A Brash Moment] 86
  • Chapter 9- The Great Day 96
  • Chapter 10- [Time Is of the Essence] 111
  • Chapter 11- [the Tenderest Feeling] 124
  • Chapter 12- The Basement School 139
  • Chapter 13- A Line in the Dirt 152
  • Chapter 14- [I Don't Believe in Segregation] 170
  • Chapter 15- The Sociological Argument 187
  • Chapter 16- The House That Sweatt Built 204
  • Chapter 17- [Don't We Have Them on the Run 222
  • Chapter 18- A Shattered Spirit 238
  • Chapter 19- The Big One 253
  • Chapter 20- Why Sweatt Won 267
  • Chapter 21- Epilogue 285
  • Notes 295
  • Bibliography and Notes on Sources 335
  • Index 343
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