In 1968, a small population of African American students—now known as The Precursors—endured significant challenges as they pursued their college degrees at The University of Texas at Austin. They were among the first Black undergraduates to attend and integrate the Forty Acres and pave the way for future generations.
To reflect on this pivotal time in UT Austin history—and its relevance to modern-day struggles for students of color—several Black alumni from the class of ’68 returned to their alma mater to participate in a panel event as part of the annual Black Alumni Weekend.
Below are some highlights from the commemorative event, held on Sept. 14 at the LBJ Library.
Leonard N. Moore, vice president for diversity and community engagement, provided a warm welcome to the audience, many of whom were members of The Precursors, a group of alumni who share the distinction of being among the first to integrate the campus when it opened its doors to Black undergraduates more than 50 years ago.
Before introducing the keynote speaker, Cloteal Davis Haynes, president of The Precursors Inc., provided opening remarks and treated the audience to a slideshow of photos, music and pop culture icons from 1968.
Peniel, E. Joseph, professor of public affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, delivered a powerful keynote address, expanding on the past and present struggles for racial equality here on the UT Austin campus and across the nation.
“At UT, we have so many different resources. We can absolutely lead, but we must be willing to raise important conversations, not one day of the week but every day of the week. We need to talk about all of these forms of oppression that ensconce us every single day.”—Peniel Joseph
“We had a panoramic spectrum of activism in 1968. We had Black feminists organizing all over the country and student activists—including the Precursors—demanding not just Black studies but also full and equal access to food and housing. The echoes of ’68 are all around us. —Peniel Joseph
Richard Reddick (pictured far right), associate professor of higher education administration and leadership in the College of Education, moderated the panel, asking questions about their experiences at UT Austin during a time of segregation and rampant political activism.
“My high school graduating class was a total of ’64. So it was a very different experience coming to this big university and walking into a classroom where nobody looked like me. At the time, we were less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the student population”—Michael Glaspie (B.S., Mathematics ‘73/M.S., Marketing and Finance ’77)
“I came here in ’65. On paper UT leveled the playing field but in reality, segregation was alive and well. The year of 1968 was a very pivotal time on campus as well as in the nation. We began to redefine ourselves in a new consciousness of blackness.”—Rodney Griffin (B.S., Mathematics ’70)
“Academics was important but not as important as demonstrating because we believed it was our mission to change the world. This was not just something happening at UT; we were part of a global movement.” –Arlene Lawson (B.A., English ’69)
“It was a culture shock for me because I’ve been segregated my whole life. A lot of people were unfriendly, and some were downright hostile…We became each other’s support system so we’d always have a shoulder to lean on….We had to learn how to deal with hostile environments so we could go out in the hostile workplace and learn how to handle it there.”—Camilla Hall Jackson (B.S., Mathematics, ’68)
All of their stories are detailed in the newly published book “As We Saw It.” Visit the UT Press website to read more about the book, which is available for purchase online and at local bookstores. Find more photos from the event on our Flickr site.