Opinions and house keeping

Black Women and The Desegregation of Higher Education

Vivian Malone Jones arrives to register for cl...
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Before the 1940’s the options for higher education were very limited for African-American students; particularly in the segregated south. The United States federal infrastructure saw southern segregation as an embarrassment. Considering their status and the fight against communism they couldn’t afford to be looked down on by other Nations that they needed support from. The Truman commission on Higher Education began the cold war era with a resounding condemnation of segregation and so because of this the stage was set for a major change to occur. The American south, in contrast to the rest of the country, saw changes to their way of living as communism, and so they fought hard to protect their way of life. Interestingly enough, change has a funny way of happening no matter how hard people fought to remain the same. In those battles women were on the front lines. Enduring humiliation, disappointment, and persecution to help other arrive to heights they couldn’t previously reach.

Desegregation and voting rights were on the top of the list and many women risked life and limb to help change their circumstance. Desegregation in the field of education was the longest process. It started with college students and ended with Elementary.  Private and public institutions were all taken to task by men and women  alike.  Women like Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, Charlene Hunter Gault, Cheryl Butler, Autherine Lucy, Viviane Malone and Alice Jackson. These are women who simply challenged huge universities for the purpose of making a difference and for bettering their lives.  These women saw the opportunities that came with a better education and decided that they only wanted the best and so that’s what they pursued. Each of them pioneering success for blacks at these predominately white institutions, but also paving the way for younger generations of black women with big dreams.

Different institutions handled the process of desegregation differently. Before the end of the 1960’s every University in Georgia was desegregated so that they wouldn’t lose their credibility. Many private institutions desegregated by choice. Schools such as Emory University faced a lot of problems following that decision. Because many Colleges and Universities were state funded and state governments were pulling funding and threatening to close down schools that admitted “colored students” or if legal battles didn’t go the way they wanted them to go.

University of Alabama

Prior to the 1956 week long desegregation of University of Alabama policy regarding admissions wasn’t directly anti-integration, but that was their tradition. They discouraged blacks from applying for attendance, but there was no written policy. Little did they know, a challenge to their practice was going to surface in September of 1952.

Autherine Juanita Lucy was born in Shiloh, Alabama on October 5, 1929 to Minnie Hosea Lucy and Milton Cornelius Lucy. She was the youngest of ten children. Juanita, as she liked to be called, was a very bright student and excelled in many academic fields. She graduated high school and attended university, and became an English teacher. While attending Miles College she met the two people who would become very instrumental in her becoming a civil rights activist, Hugh Lawrence Foster, her future husband and Pollie Anne Myers. Juanita and Pollie Anne became the best of friends, and Pollie Anne convinced Juanita to apply to the University of Alabama’s graduate school.

In September of 1952 ( prior to the Brown V. BOE Topeka, Kansas ruling) These two African-American women sent letters of inquiry and the University replied with application They paid a deposit for their dormitory and soon received acceptance letters. After the University received papers revealing the ethnic identity of the women they began to everything in their power to dissuade them from attending. The women went to the NAACP and their legal team wrote the University president requesting that he let Lucy and Myers in and The President wouldn’t change his mind. From there the NAACP took legal action against the university. “Whatever career ambitions had spurred [the two women’s] original desire to apply would now be subservient to ‘the cause.’” While waiting for their day in court, Lucy became an English teacher in Mississippi. Then in May of 1955, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in the matter of Brown v. the Board of Education, unanimously declared that segregation was illegal. It became clear that Lucy and Myers’s attempt to enroll at the University of Alabama would be the first great test of Brown.  The University of Alabama pulled out all the stops. The hired private investigators and did everything they could to deter the women from continuing the suit and also to discredit them. After months of battling it out Autherine Lucy was admitted to the University of Alabama but their triumph didn’t last too long.  With-in the first week of being there Ms. Lucy was expelled through trumped-up violations of university policy.

For seven years no one dared follow in the foot steps of Autherine Lucy, but in 1963 Vivian Malone and Jason Hood integrated into the all white University of Alabama. The school stood alone being the only school to not have any sort of integration (token or otherwise). Viviane Malone was from Mobile, Alabama and enrolled at Alabama A&M and transferred to University of Alabama. The transfer didn’t come without a fight from the Governor himself.  George Wallace stood in the doors and gave a speech about state sovereignty and blocked entrance to the auditorium where Malone and Hood were trying to enter. The big difference between the Lucy’s acceptance and Malone’s was simply the President. President Eisenhower stood by and watched everything play out while President Kennedy did no such thing. Kennedy Nationalized Alabama National Guard troops and they escorted Malone and Hood into the building. Vivian Malone was the 1st black woman to graduate from the University of Alabama. She went on to work for the department of Justice. Mrs. Vivian Malone Jones died at the age of 63 after working many years for the Justice department and the Environmental Protection Agency.   In 1988 Autherine Lucy Foster’s expulsion was over turned and she completed her degree in 1992.

University of Missouri

The University of Missouri never had a written exclusion of African-Americans but that was their practice. Lucile Bluford dared to challenge the status quo. She believed the education was the way to reach first class citizenship and she wanted the best education possible. She believed she could get it by applying to the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. So in 1939 that is what she did. She was accepted and then turned away when she went to register for classes. Just the year before a man by the name of Lloyd Gaines sued the University of Missouri for admittance to their law school and won. Sadly, Mr. Gaines mysteriously disappeared soon after his victory. Ms. Bluford decided she would try her luck 11 different times. Finally, she and her lawyers prevailed and University of Missouri admitted her. They also closed the School of Journalism citing that most of the students and professors were fighting in World War II being the reason. The University of Missouri finally integrated in 1950. Lucile Bluford however went on to become one of the most well-known and prominent voices of the civil rights era in Kansas City, Missouri, and received a metal of honor from U of Missouri for her work in civil rights. She died in 2003 at the age of 91.

University of Georgia and Georgia State University

The University of Georgia’s policy regarding black students was very clear. They in no way wanted to integrate. The Universities Standards for admissions became far more rigid going as far as requiring student to get a letter of recommendation from Alumnus and from a superior court judge in the area in which they lived. The state legislature went as far as deciding to pull funding from any university that integrated. Little did they know,  the fight had only just begun for them.

In 1956 three middle-aged women, Barbara Hunt, Myra Elliott Dinsmore Holland, and Iris Mae Welch, attempted to apply to The Georgia State College of Business Administration ( later becoming Georgia State University). They were denied admission to the School because, in the words of the administration, “They didn’t fulfill all the requirements of applying.” Like The University of Georgia, Georgia State College adopted various means to keep black students out of its doors. Because the school was an all white institution the women finding someone to speak on their behalf was “difficult if not impossible” in the words of Judge Sloane, the judge who presided over that particular case. In the wake of the decision, The Board of regents suspended all applications and changed the requirements to get in with loop holes for white applicants. They also went as far as requiring character assessments and personality tests before admittance.  These tactics allowed for the schools to remain segregated a little longer, because it’s policies led to the exclusion of all the applicants who sued.

Again, in the fall of 1960 state officials were in court to defend their admissions policies. Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter applied to the university more than a year earlier, during the summer of 1959, but were given the excuse that the dormitories were filled to capacity and could not accommodate any more students. They renewed their applications each semester following, only to be refused admission on each occasion due to “limited facilities.” After getting the run around and exhausting administrative appeals Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton E. Holmes files suit against the University.

Hunter-Gault was born to Charles S.H. Hunter Jr., and Althea Ruth Brown in South Carolina She spent most of her childhood in Covington, Georgia, and attended Henry McNeal Turner High School in Atlanta.  She applied to the University of Georgia after a group of prominent young adults visited her high school.  She briefly attended Wayne State in Michigan but was summoned home in December 1960 because the long awaited trail was under way. Following a successful trial Hunter and Holmes went to enroll in their classes. Hunter –Gault recounts her experience in the first day of being on campus in January of 1961.

”On January 9, 1961, I walked onto the campus at the University of Georgia to begin registering for classes. Ordinarily, there would not have been anything unusual about such a routine exercise, except, in this instance, the officials at the university had been fighting for a year and a half to keep me out. I was not socially, intellectually, or morally undesirable. I was Black, and no black student had ever been admitted to the University of Georgia in its 176- year history.”

Their admittance to university of Georgia began Georgia’s Civil rights revolution. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 1963 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Charlayne Hunter-Gault Accomplish a lot in her years as a journalist. She convinced the leader of the Ku Klux Klan to denounce it and she’s worked with American Media staples such as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She was  CNN’s special correspondent for South Africa until 2005 and she has won many honors and awards.

University of Oklahoma

Ada Lois Sipuel –Fisher is the premier pioneer of desegregation. She was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma as the daughter of a minister. She and Her brother both decided that they wanted to challenge the segregation in Oklahoma by applying to University of Oklahoma law school.  Her brother backed out choosing not to put his career on hold and attended Harvard Law instead. Ada however was willing to wait it out. In 1946 she applied to The Law school and was rejected because of her race. With legal aid from the NAACP Fisher took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that because no equal facility was provided for black students University officials had to admit Fisher. In the midst of the trial state officials tried to create a law school at the local Black university, but because the project failed they had no choice but at admit her to the all white University law school. This case was a landmark one simply because it was prior to the overturning of Plessy V. Ferguson. So at this point and time “Separate but Equal” was still the lie being told.

Although this proved to be a huge victory for Fisher and the NAACP it didn’t prepare Fisher for the things she would have to endure while at U of OK Law school. She had seating roped off with signs that read “Colored” she had a separate area in the lunch room equipped with security guards. However, her teachers and her classmates were very helpful to her. After Graduating Fisher practiced law for a few years, then returned to be a professor at Langston University. Fisher died in 1995 at the age of 71.

The work of women during the civil rights movement isn’t always spoken on. As we look back on the major changes made, many women were the first ones to embark on these journey’s of change. The risks they took to open doors for children, and grandchildren have yet to be out done. The strides they took helped break glass ceilings and make a way for the powerful black women of our day. We can thank the Charlene Hunter-Gault and the Shirley Chisholm for their success and opportunities that black women have. Their unparalleled strides of heroism continue to inspire women of all creeds and races. While we still have quite a way to go. These women have walked ahead of us so that we can chase our dreams.

7 thoughts on “Black Women and The Desegregation of Higher Education”

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