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Interracial Relationships amid the Civil Rights Movement

By Megan Corley

 

Introduction

My project is about how fear of miscegenation impacted African American students at the University of Texas between the years 1957 and 1968. My project focuses on three sections of student life at the University of Texas: theatre and drama, athletics, and housing. Each of these sections were impacted by the cultural fear of interracial relationships, which manifested itself in different ways. This fear caused Barbara Smith Conrad to be kicked off a student-run opera, football to remain segregated until 1968, and women’s dorms to not be officially desegregated until 1964.

The Revolution of Barbara Smith 

Barbars Smith Came to UT for Education
The Daily Texan, 1957, Dolph Briscoe Center

Barbara Smith Conrad was an African American college student at the newly integrated University of Texas at Austin in 1957. She was an amazing actress and singer, going on to become a famous Opera star later in life. Due to her magnificent talent, she was quickly cast for the lead role in the University of Texas’s school play, Dido and Aeneas. Alongside her in this casting was a white male. The controversy arose when, in the production, the two characters would have to be in love, thus depicting an interracial relationship. In the end, the Texas Legislature became involved, and advised the President of the university to remove Barbara from the play. She was essentially denied the right to fully integrate into the school, because of the cultural fear of interracial dating. She could go to class, and go to her dorm, but campus events involving other white students seemed to be off limits to black students. [1]

The Hyper-sexualized Black Athlete

The Board of Regents felt that the “immediate use of Negroes in contact sports” at the University of Texas in 1961 would “alienate other Southwest Conference members.”[1] Track and field though, became seen as an option, since it was a no contact sport, and black athletes were performing much better than the white athletes at that time, according to one regent Stephen Holloway.[2]

In 1958, the University of Texas hosted the NCAA track and field competition. For the first time in the school’s history, black athletes who attended other universities were permitted to compete, and the black athletes did substantially better than white athletes. Their lift of the segregation ban allowed the University of Texas to hold the track and field competition, which they had been offered before, but had to decline due to black athletes not being allowed to compete.[3] Track and field became the first sport under consideration for integration at the University of Texas, under the argument that since the sport had “no bodily contact,”[4] the integration of the sport would not “whip up the jaded nerves”[5] of the Texas community. The thought of black and white men having to touch each other stirred up feelings of “black hyper sexuality,”[6] so the integration of contact sports in 1958 was not even entertained. Even with track and field being a no contact sport, the regents decided not to integrate it.

Austin History Center, Segregation Files S1700(1)

The University of Texas officially desegregated the track and field program, and announced its first African American on the team in 1963.[7] Some students had been wanting intercollegiate athletics to be integrated since 1958, when a student panel called for the University of Texas to lift “any restrictions or agreements forbidding students to participate in athletics because of race.”[8] The University of Texas became the first college in the South West Conference to allow an African American on their team, and began actively recruiting African Americans on the track and field team.[9] Although Baylor, SMU, and Texas A&M had officially desegregated their sports, none actively recruited, or had black members on their teams. [10]That same year, the University of Texas’s football team won its first national championship in football, without a single black athlete on the team.[11] The fact that the University of Texas had allowed an African American on their track and field team, but not their football team, is a direct result of the culture of anti-miscegenation and the culture of hyper sexuality around black students. Alumni and Harry Ransom recognized this, and in 1963, a letter written by an alumnus to Harry Ransom  cited that the participation of African Americans in football would “result in negroes marrying white women, and tainting the white race.”[12] Harry Ransom assured the alumnus that the head coach had no intention of recruiting black football players, especially to promote miscegenation.[13] The administration remained uncomfortable and put off by the idea of black men being involved in contact sports for the next five years. The results of this caused the first black football player, Leon H. O’Neal II, not to be signed by the University of Texas until 1968, ten years after the first conversation of integrated sports.[14]

 

This is further shown by the University of Texas’s coaches and administration focusing on the great athletic ability of African Americans, but stating that their intelligence could not get them into the university. Over the years, students advocated for integrated sports, and black students tried out for athletics, consistently. The idea of black men being raw physical beings, instead of intellectual ones, came up multiple times. The assistant head coach of the University of Texas’s football team “indicated that most of the Negro prospects cannot pass the entrance requirements”[15] to get into the university. He stated that the athletic program “cannot afford to take who we don’t think can make it here,”[16] so they would not be adding a black player onto their team. One university official, who chose to not be named, said that the African American students “come to the University under a handicap. They simply don’t have very sound high school preparation, and academically many of them have trouble.”[17] The dean of student life, Arno Nowotny, even went as far as to say that “there has never been a qualified Negro to try out.”[18]

The Inequality in the University of Texas’s Housing

By 1963, girl’s dormitories on the University of Texas’s campus still remained segregated, and part of the reason lies in the culture of anti-miscegenation that surrounded the Texas university. The principal concern of the administration in 1957 was the “intimate social contact between white and Negro students,”[1] a problem that they felt would be exacerbated if housing became integrated. The administration feared that “public appearances where the relationship between whites and [black] students [would] be offensive to observers,”[2] and thus, would not desegregate the university’s dorms, no matter how horrendous the difference between white and black students living conditions became. The university became increasingly more prone to keeping the dorms segregated, to prevent the proximity of black men to white women.[3]

Austin History Center, Segregation Files, S1700(1)

The administration’s decision rests in the idea that, according to Texas Board of Regents member W. W. Heath, “the people of Texas are not prepared for social integration.”[4] The university wanted to limit the social interaction between blacks and whites, specifically intimate social interaction, as stated above. The universities fear of “offensive”[5] relationships between black and white students directly caused the continuation of segregated housing facilities.  The results of this were dire; the segregated girls’ dormitories proved, once again, that separate could never be equal.

The University of Texas’s all girls Kinsolving Dorm, built in 1958, became the university’s most expensive dorm to date. According to the Daily Texan, the Kinsolving dorm had two enclosed patios, a roof deck on top of the living room ding hall area, air conditioning central heating, and four elevators.[6] The dorm also included “laundry rooms on each floor, and vending machine areas,”[7] handmade furniture made in Italy, and the colors of the house were aqua, white and gold.[8] The Kinsolving dorm was glamorous, hotel-like compared to the housing offered to black women, but Harry Ransom noted that the University of Texas would run into a “tough social spot if [they] integrate our women,” and chose not to move forward with finding adequate black women’s student housing.[9]

The only three university housing ‘dormitories’ that black women were allowed to live in by 1958 were 2512 Whitis Co-Op, 2610 Whitis Co-Op, and the Almetris Cooperative, all of which were “available to all applicants and is not a residence exclusively for Negro women” according to the Dean of Student life, but only black women lived there.[10] The conditions at the cooperative facilities were far worse than those at the all-white dormitories. According to the Texas Observer, the black girls who lived in the cooperative housing could not “help but notice that their old frame structures differ considerably from the large and modern brick dorms across the street” from them.[11] The facilities had many fire hazards, issues with bugs (including crickets), water-stained wallpaper, bare lightbulbs, and plumbing issues.[12]

Along with these obvious discrepancies between the equality in facilities, the University of Texas created a “Closed Door Policy”[13] to ensure that intimate social interaction would not happen. In 1961, it was reported to the Texas Observer that this policy barred black female students from visiting with white female students from being in the public areas of white girl’s dorms, including the dining hall, sitting, and TV areas. This policy also prohibited black female students from using restrooms, or water fountains, at the white girls’ dormitory, and only allowed black female students to visit in a white female’s room, with the doors closed.[14] Again, to prevent the intimate social contact between black and white students, the closed-door policy also stated that “Negro men visiting the white women’s dorm must be there only on errands.”[15]

Conclusion

Overall, the decisions made by the University of Texas’s administration and Board of Regents were, in part, due to their fear of black and white races mixing. As mentioned before, during that time interracial marriage was still illegal in the state of Texas, and any promotion by the state school could offend donors, alums, and parents of white students.[1] Due to this fear, black female students were forced to live in run down, barely functioning housing cooperatives for the first eight years of the University of Texas as an integrated institution. Black female students were essentially punished by the university, in the administration’s attempt to keep members of the opposite sex and race separate.

Fear of miscegenation prevented black college students from integrating fully into the University, by preventing them from joining extracurricular activities such as theatre, sports and having adequate housing. This fear of miscegenation permeated into every aspect of black college student’s life; from enjoying a sporting event, being able to compete in a sporting event, being able to participate in theatre productions, and being able to live where they wanted to live. These findings suggest that interracial relationships are difficult to fathom, because a fear has been instilled in society from the beginning of America’s foundation, through the mid twentieth century. Once this systematic fear is further studied, academics can begin to understand the obstacles of having and maintaining interracial relationships today.

The implications of this research prove that the underlying, driving force in decisions made on social integration at the University of Texas were largely fears of black and white students coming engaging in sexual contact with each other. The University’s administration waited eight years to integrate housing, and twelve years to integrate football, all because they did not want white women falling in love with black men. They also pulled Barbara Smith from the student opera production, so that white men would not start seeing black women as attractive, possible partners.

About the Author

Megan CorleyMy name is Megan Corley and I am a double major in History and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. I am a junior undergraduate student, and I am involved in the Texas Undergraduate Law Review, Kappa Kappa Gamma Beta Xi chapter, and the Wooldridge Mentoring Program. This project was my first time doing an independent research paper, and is for the class HIS350R: Civil Rights from a Comparative Perspective. This research project is something that I’ll always remember, it is such a privilege to be able to contribute to the history of the University of Texas at Austin.

[1] Ibid.[1] H. T. McCown Dean of Student Services, to President Logan Wilson, May 21, 1957, UT Presidents Office Files.[2] Ibid.[3] Dwonna Goldstone, Integrating the 40 Acres, page 94.[4] “Regent Sees Limit by UT in Integration.” Austin American Statesmen, Austin History Center Segregation Files.[5] Ibid.[6] Daily Texan “Kinsolving Dorm Ready by 1958,”[7] “Kinsolving Dormitory,” The Alcalade, Sept 1958[8] Ibid.[9] Dean of Student Records number 13.[10] “Housing for Negro Women Students,” Almetris Duren Papers.[11] Ironic Tensions Turn Institution Against Itself, Texas Observer, 11/3/61, Segregation Files, Austin History Center[12] Dwonna Goldstone, 100.[13] Ironic Tensions Turn Institution Against Itself, Texas Observer[14] Ibid.[15] Ibid.[1] ‘Due Deliberation wasn’t Progressive,” The Alcalade, Segregation Files, S1700(1) The University of Texas, Austin History Center[2] Integrating the 40 Acres, pg. 120.[3] “Big Things Planned in Track and Field,” Austin Statesmen, Segregation Files, S1700 (1) University of Texas, Austin History Center[4] Sterling Holloway to Logan Wilson UT Chancellors Office Records[5] Ibid.[6] Integrating the 40 Acres, 121.[7] “Track Trial” The Daily Texan, December 1963, Alemtris Duren Papers, box 44A242, E file.[8] “Full UT Integration Favored” 5-16-58, the Austin Statesmen, Segregation Files S1700, The University of Texas, Austin History Center.[9] “Track Trial” The Daily Texan, December 1963, Almetris Duren Papers, box 44A242, E file.[10] Ibid.[11] “Perfect Season,” Austin American Statesmen, Segregation Files, University of Texas, S1700(1), Austin History Center.[12] A. Rogers Miely to Harry Ransom, November 19th 1963, box 102, folder “Desegregation,” UT Chancellors Office Records.[13] Harry Ransom to A. Rogers Miely, December 16th, 1963 box 102, folder “Desegregation,” UT Chancellors Office Records.[14] Austin Statesman February 1968.[15] “All White Sports Decried by NAP” Daily Texan 1967.[16] Ibid.[17] “Negro Students Have Sense of Exclusion,” Texas Observer, October 1960, Segregation Files S1700, University of Texas, Austin History Center.[18] Ibid.[1] “Barbara Smith Conrad – Biography.” The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. November 11th 2018. https://www.cah.utexas.edu/projects/when_i_rise/barbara_conrad_bio.php
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