New Documents Illuminate The University of Texas’s Secret Strategy to Keep Out Black StudentsBreaking News
tags: racism, education, segregation, higher education, University of Texas
In the summer of 1955, administrators at the University of Texas at Austin had a problem: The U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Educationdecision, handed down the previous year, required educational institutions to integrate their classrooms. But the regents overseeing the state university system’s flagship campus, the old alumni who formed the donor base, and the segregationist political forces that pulled the purse strings were all determined to find ways to keep African Americans from stepping foot on campus.
UT had no conspicuous blocking-the-schoolhouse-door moment. A series of documents in the UT archives, many of them marked confidential, suggests that administration officials took a subtler approach: They adopted a selective admissions policy based around standardized testing, which they knew would suppress the number of African American students they were forced to admit.
I came across these little-discussed records, all but lost to history, while researching my book about the football player Earl Campbell and desegregation. (Campbell played at Texas in the mid-1970s, not long after the head coach finally allowed African Americans on the varsity squad.) In recent years, the university has tried to reckon with its past: Confederate statues have been removed and a portrait of Heman Sweatt, the African American postal worker whose application to the university in the mid-’40s led to a Supreme Court decision that presaged Brown, now hangs in the atrium of the law school that sought to bar his entry.
Historically, however, the university went to great lengths to perpetuate white supremacy. Today, standardized testing is widely seen as an objective index of merit. In Texas, in the immediate post-Brown era, it seems to have been used as a bureaucratic cudgel to maintain Jim Crow.
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