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Upcoming Heman Sweatt Symposium to Focus on Health Equity

City leaders and healthcare experts explore past, present and future challenges in public health
2021 Sweatt Symposium Health Equity

Please join us for the 36th Annual Heman Marion Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 5-7 p.m. at the LBJ Auditorium. This year’s symposium will focus on the topic of health equity as a civil right. Speakers include:

  • Stephanie Hayden-Howard, assistant city manager for Health & Environment and Culture & Lifelong Learning
  • Dr. Desmar Walkes, medical director for Austin Public Health and Health Authority for Austin and Travis County

The event is free and open to the public and will be livestreamed. Go here to RSVP.

image of Heman Sweatt
Heman Sweatt in line for registration at the University of Texas in 1950.
Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

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

  • Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney for the families of many Black Americans killed by police, including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Botham Jean;
  • 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.