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Recap: 2020 Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights

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Latinx voter mobilization, the impact of the U.S. Census, and racial inequities within the U.S. criminal justice system were the big topics of our 34th Annual Heman Marion Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights, held on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Engineering Education and Research Center.

Below are a few highlights from the event. All photos can be found on our Flickr site.

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Hallease Narvaez, UT Austin alumna and executive producer of Stumblewell, discussed her advocacy work as a digital storyteller and shared some tips on how to empower others to enact social change.

“Try to keep it positive; try to show that progression has been done so when you give people that strong call to action, they can start moving the needle forward.”– Hallease Narvaez

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Maria Renee Morales (pictured above)  and Rudy Vega of JOLT Action, presented current statistics about the rapid growth of Latinx communities across the nation and offered insight into how this demographic of voters can shape future elections.

“Our mission is to get Brown and Black communities involved in the civic process. We want our community to go out and vote. We want to win on issues that matter to us. “ – Rudy Vega

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Leonard N. Moore, vice president for diversity and community engagement, moderated a powerful conversation with civil rights attorney Ben Crump. He shared experiences representing some of the most high-profile cases in the U.S., including the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Stephon Clark.

“When we fight for the Trayvon Martins of the world and the unknown Trayvon Martins—or what my grandmother calls ‘the least of these,’ we’re helping America live up to its creed. We’re helping America become the beacon of hope. We’re helping Americans be America for all Americans. I rest my case.”– Ben Crump

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Two remarkable students, Ashley Ikwuagwu and Brandon Okeke, were honored with Student Legacy Awards. Both will be graduating from the College of Natural Sciences this spring and will be attending medical school in the fall.

image of people at eventAfter bringing the crowd to their feet, Crump signed copies of his new book “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.” Guests included students, faculty, staff, community leaders and members of the Precursors, a group of African American alumni who share the distinction of being among the first Black students to attend and integrate UT Austin more than 40 years ago.

More about the Heman Sweatt Symposium

The origins of the Heman Sweatt Symposium date back to the 1980s. The Black Student Alliance had the idea to a hold a Civil Rights symposium on the UT Austin campus. After gathering support from faculty, students, the Friars Society  and the University Council, they met with then President William Cunningham to propose the idea. Cunningham agreed to the symposium and asked History Professor George C. Wright, (who later became the president of Prairie View A&M University), and Ed Sharpe, clinical professor in the Department of Educational Administration at UT to form a committee to develop a symposium that would honor leaders of the Civil Rights Movement with a focus on the conversation of race both nationally and at UT.

The inaugural Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights was held in April 1987 and paid tribute to Heman Sweatt and all of the university’s precursors—the first Black students to attend UT Austin.

That first symposium included many high profile speakers including

    • Judge A.L. Higgingbotham, who sat in the courtroom during the Sweatt case;
    • Linda Brown Smith, lead Brown v. Board plaintiff;
    • John Saunders Chase, a precursor at UT;
    • James Meredith, the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi; and
    • Ernest Green, one of the original Little Rock nine.

Later symposiums have featured columnist William Raspberry, attorney  Johnnie Cochran, former NFL player Jerry LeVias, opera star Barbara Smith Conrad, poet Nikki Giovanni, actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Georgia Congressman John Lewis and Olympic athlete Jackie Joyner Kersee.

In recent years, we have added the Heman Sweatt Student Legacy Award, honoring students who have been active in student organizations and made significant accomplishments during their time at the University of Texas at Austin.