January 31, 2011

Remembering Heman Sweatt

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting several relatives of Heman Marion Sweatt, the civil rights figure whose courage and perseverance resulted in the integration of The University of Texas School of Law.  The occasion was the 25th Annual Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights on our campus.

Heman Sweatt, 1950. Photo courtesy of UT's Briscoe Center for American History

Heman Sweatt in line for registration, 1950. Photo courtesy of UT's Briscoe Center for American History

Heman Sweatt was the plaintiff in the landmark case, Sweatt v. Painter, in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that separate law school facilities for African Americans in an Austin basement could not provide a legal education equal to that available at UT.  The 1950 decision enabled Sweatt to enroll here later that year and established an important precedent for Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation in public schools.

Coincidentally, last week The New York Times published an editorial the same day entitled, “One Nation, Indivisible.”  The article described a recent decision by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that upheld a lower court decision permitting UT to consider race—among other qualifications—in admissions.

The Times wrote, “Like many other universities, the University of Texas values diversity’s many education benefits.  Students educated in a diverse university are better prepared for a diverse work force and for helping bring about what the Supreme Court called the dream of ‘one nation, indivisible.’”

UT’s history is inextricably linked to the story of access to education in America.  From Sweatt v. Painter to Hopwood v. Texas to the Top 10% Law to the most recent case—Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin–UT remains at the forefront of our national conversation on diversity, equality, and education.

We honor the memory of Heman Sweatt and remain committed to building a diverse student body of exceptional students who will serve society with distinction.

Bill's Signature






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4 Responses to “Remembering Heman Sweatt”

  1. Argus says:

    President Powers,

    I am sorry to hear you have not been well, sir.

    Please get some rest, take care of yourself and have a speedy recovery.

  2. Bob Duke says:

    I remember it well !! Sweatt’s first class was our Torts class with Dean Keaton. Several of us met before class and decided there would be no problem…and there was none, Heman was accepted into the Law class of 1950 without any problem. I love the picture of Kleber Miller, now a well respected lawyer in Ft. Worth drinking a coke behind the action…shows how excited we all were that day !!!

  3. Argus says:

    President Powers,

    Thank you for honoring Mr. Sweatt, just as you recently honored Dr. King.

    Can you tell us more? For instance, did Mr. Sweatt complete his degree in law at UT and move on to practice? Did many of his fellow students befriend him? Was his academic performance judged on the same basis as that of his peers?

    I have heard from people who claim to have known him that Mr. Sweatt was an irascible little guy who would not take no for an answer. Surely he was tough. And certainly he endured untold abuse on a personal level.

    Gradually the University does change for the better. I will grant that.

    There are actually copies of dissertations and theses on file in UT libraries based on the formerly accepted premise that non-whites were genetically inferior. Graduates earned advanced degrees on submitting such hogwash. I am sure that if this were more widely known, a movement might arise to purge the libraries of such claptrap. In my opinion, we are better served by keeping those things on the shelves as historical artifacts.

    I wonder what Mr. Sweatt, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez and others who kept their heads high would say of the bizarre phenomenon of minorities who succeed in joining the old boys’ club—-replete with fat salaries and all the trappings of power—-only to close the door behind them and play by the same old crooked rules of the erstwhile dominant lily-white class?