Low-key registration came at end
of legal battle for integration
By David King
On a February afternoon almost 50 years ago, four young African-American women strode into the registrar’s office at Texas State and quietly registered for classes.
But the seven months leading up to the afternoon of Feb. 4, 1963, had been anything but quiet.
It had taken a formal letter of application, a formal rejection, a lawsuit and a court order for the university, known at the time as Southwest Texas State College, to open its doors to four African-American students: Georgia Hoodye, Gloria Odoms, Mabeleen Washington and Dana Jean Smith.
Texas State wasn’t the first university in the state to integrate, nor was it the last. The enrollment of African-American students in February, 1963, was part of a tide rolling across the nation, one that began at the end of World War II and one that continues today.
The legal path to the integration of Texas State began with Sweatt v. Painter, a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision in 1950. In the case, the court ruled that “separate but equal” facilities for law students in Texas were not, in fact, equal.
By the time of the court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, which outlawed segregation in public schools, a dozen colleges and universities in Texas were integrated, including the University of Texas.
But change came more slowly to the system that governed the state’s teachers colleges, including Southwest Texas.
Dana Jean Smith graduated from Austin’s Anderson High School in May 1962 and requested that her transcript be sent to Southwest Texas to begin the application process.
A response came in June from John G. Flowers, longtime president of the university: Although her grades met the school’s “academic qualifications for admission admirably,” the law that created the school in 1899 did not allow him to admit someone of her “racial background.”
The only ways for Smith to be admitted to the school: a change in the law by the legislature or a court order.
After attempting to register anyway — and being turned away — Smith filed a lawsuit in federal court in September. The case was scheduled to be heard on Feb. 4, 1963.
In the four months between the filing of the lawsuit and the hearing, attorneys on both sides of the case were able to condense it down one issue: Can a university deny admission to a student based solely on race?
At 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 4, 1963, U.S. District Court Judge Ben H. Rice Jr. answered the question simply: No. His court order meant the university had to admit Smith and any other qualified African-American applicants “forthwith.”
Flowers, who in September had announced his retirement at the end of the 1963-64 academic year, said “We will accept Negro students as we would any other academically qualified students.”
Smith and the other young women appeared at the registrar’s office less than an hour after Rice’s order and signed up for classes.
Flowers said the college would “obey the court order and provide a model for peaceful integration.” And in fact, there were no large-scale protests on campus, no major backlash over the integration of the 60-year-old school.
A photo of the group appeared on the front page of the College Star newspaper, and a shot of Flowers and Smith was published in the Pedagog yearbook as well.
In 1967, Smith became the first African-American graduate of the university, earning a bachelor of science degree in elementary education.
Today, 6.3 percent of the student body population at Texas State is African-American, 1,737 undergraduates and 2,051 overall.
Background on the story of the integration of Texas State can be found in the book African-Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas, by Amilcar Shabazz and in The African-American Presence at SWT: Celebrating Forty Years, published in 2003.
Click here for more on the Texas State commemoration of Black History Month.