Courtesy: UT Briscoe Center
The 60th Anniversary Of The First Black Undergraduate Students At UT
In 1956, the University of Texas at Austin experienced its first wave of Black students on campus. UT admitted a total of 75 undergraduate African-American students, but their struggle towards equality in the classroom was far from over.
On September 9, Black precursors were invited to share their experiences, attend the UT vs. UT El Paso football game and take part in other events in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the first Black students at the UT Austin. The event was held in the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Museum auditorium.
UT president Greg Fenves said students had a great opportunity to listen to these so-called “trailblazers” who paved the way for future students of color.
Before the audience and honorable guests sat down for the presentation, students watched precursors and their families reunite with each other.
After speeches from guest speakers, the audience had the honor to hear from three of the undergraduates of 1956. Leon LaForest Holland, Edna Odessa Humphries-Rhambo, and Charles Murray Miles shared their personal stories and experiences at UT which involved their daily fears, restrictions and unlikely friendships.
Leon Holland, a retired Army Colonel, told the Austin-American Statesman his experience at the university as “decidedly uncomfortable.”
During his monologue, he detailed what his social life was like. Due to the amount of restrictions presented to the Black undergraduates, college life was far from typical.
“We did not support the university like a normal student would,” Holland told the audience.
Edna Odessa Humphries-Rhambo recalled Black students not being allowed in the West Campus district.
Along with entrance restrictions to certain parts of campus, Black students were ridiculed by their white counterparts who had no intentions of welcoming them. Students and professors alike made life at the university incredibly difficult to earn a quality education. Such actions forced Black students to stick together for support.
“We formed our own little social groups, but not in the sense of a school spirit,” said Holland.
Edna Humphries shared her personal story next. She recalled having a restricted social life, separated from white students.
“We were relegated to just studying and attending classes,” Humphries said. “On campus we weren’t allowed certain types of social engagements.”
From 1956-1960 Black undergraduates were prohibited from staying in the university dorm rooms while they spent their time on the Forty Acres. They also lived with fears of being lynched and shot, but their greatest fear was not being able to gain a proper education due to acts of discrimination.
The last keynote speaker, Charles Miles, began his contribution to UT students by making it evident that he still had the energy and personality of a college student. He told a diverse story about a class experience. A math professor told Miles’ friend a ‘D’ was the highest grade he could attain which spitefully encouraged Miles to do better.
Instead of allowing others, including his professors, to degrade and intimidate him, Miles was able find the silver lining in most of encounters. For the remainder of his time on stage, Miles joked about memories shared with his peers who all joyously responded back to him.
In conclusion of the event President Fenves recognized the progress UT has made and commemorated precursors for paving the way for all current, future, foreign and minority students who attend UT Austin.