#BlackHistoryMonth | Reflections On the 40 Acres
In 2016, The University of Texas at Austin (UT) will celebrate two important milestones, the 30th anniversary of the Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights and the 60th anniversary of the first black undergraduate students to enroll. These historic moments aren’t just special, they are relevant to current conversations and experiences on college campuses across the country. As America engages in important conversations on civil rights and renegotiates institutional and political practices of equality, fairness and access, UT Austin stands in a powerful position to both engage in and lead these critical and necessary social shifts.
The story of integration at UT amidst the backdrop of the Jim Crow South is complex and momentous, and a story that necessitates understanding and sharing. Likewise, this narrative is inextricably linked to present conversations of students’ negotiations of identity and place in higher education. UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) As We Saw It project is a representative sample of important narratives that helped create and continue to shape both the infrastructure and conversations of inclusion, equality and access in higher education.
Take a look at some of the stories we’re highlighting in honor of Black History Month:
HEMAN MARION SWEATT
The stories of the first black students at The University of Texas Austin (UT) begin with what Heman Marion Sweatt called a “brash moment” when he agreed to file suit against the University for admission to the School of Law. The suit, Sweatt v. Painter, resulted in opening the School of Law and Graduate School to black applicants, where Sweatt became the first black student to enroll. By the mid-1950s, African Americans were also admitted as undergraduates.
Appointed valedictorian of her all black high school in 1964, Dr. Dorothy Cato earned a scholarship to attend UT Austin. She attained her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from The University of Texas at Austin in in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Early Childhood Education. Now a retired educator, she credits her success on the 40 acres to Almetrius “Mama” Duren, who served as a dorm parent and campus advisor to most black students of the time.
Julius Whittier was the first African American to grace the gridiron on the 40 acres, ushering in a new era in 1970. When Julius Whittier committed to attending Texas, he didn’t know he would become the Longhorns’ first black letterman. “I didn’t go there with that as a goal,” he says. “I went there because I wanted to play big-time football, take a shot and see how I stacked up against guys like me. If I was an icebreaker, I didn’t feel the breaking ice.” Whittier has gone on to have a successful career in law after earning degrees from both UT’s Law School and Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
SHERRYL GRIFFITH BOZEMAN
Originally from Houston, Texas, Sheryl Griffith Bozeman arrived on the 40 acres in 1960, nearly a decade after the first African American student was admitted to UT. Her senior year she served as a plaintiff in a critical and controversial lawsuit filed against The University of Texas in an effort to desegregate dormitories on campus. On her 22nd birthday and days before her graduation, the Board of Regents granted the students request to integrate dormitories on campus.
Dr. ED DORN
Born in a small farming town in West Texas, Dr. Ed Dorn understood the value of education from an early age. Although he earned a scholarship to both Howard and Fisk universities, Dorndecided to enroll at The University of Texas in 1960. Optimistic that the school would afford him a wonderful education in his home state now that it had opened its doors to black students, he witnessed
the continued culture of division and discrimination brought on by the social politics of the South. Almost thirty years later he would return to the 40 Acres to teach courses on race and immigration at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.