Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 2005 Issue »

    Editor's Review of Amilcar Shabazz's Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas

    Richard J. Reddick
    Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 320 pp. $49.95 (cloth), $19.95 (paper).

    A Texas native son and graduate of the state’s public higher education institutions, Amilcar Shabazz tackles the history of desegregation in Texas colleges from the perspective of African Americans in his recent book, Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas, which was recently honored as the 2004 T. R. Fehrenbach Book Award recipient. Shabazz, now a historian at the University of Alabama, recounts his orientation at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin as instructive in learning traditions and impressive facts about the institution, but notes, “Never once was I told that the people whom the state designated as Negro or black like me had only recently been allowed to attend UT” (p. 2). He continues:

    I wonder how my undergraduate experience might have been different if I had been able to read what is presented in this book. I wonder how the undergraduate experience of all university students might have been transformed if the role and relationship of race to higher education and democracy in U.S. and Texas history had been a mainstream part of our higher education. (p. 2)

    In Advancing Democracy, Shabazz introduces a central question: What were the costs of adhering to the NAACP’s philosophy toward integration, which stated that separate facilities for Blacks and Whites were inherently unequal in Texas higher education? He posits that African Americans in Texas also held competing ideas of self-reliance and independence from Whites. Advancing Democracy explores whether the eventual victory of the NAACP-inspired philosophy toward Black participation in Texas higher education might have had unintended consequences.

    Shabazz’s work follows in the footsteps of other historians, such as James Anderson (1988), David Cecelski (1994), David Montejano (1987), and Guadalupe San Miguel Jr. (2001), in detailing the struggle with and resistance to White supremacy by communities of color as they worked to dismantle the two-tiered system of education in the United States — which many scholars argue still exists (Marable, 2003; Orfield, 2001; Orfield & Lee, 2004). Advancing Democracy is a foray into a topic rarely examined by historians, namely, the history of the experiences of African Americans in higher education from the postbellum period to the last third of the twentieth century: “No historian has yet picked up the story where Anderson left off and carried forward the evolution of ‘Negro Higher Education’ or, more broadly, the education of black southerners up to their rendezvous with what Manning Marable calls ‘liberal integrationism’”(p. 4).

    Shabazz eschews the political calculations that some academics employ in avoiding historical inquiry into topics that mar the reputations of policymakers and politicians — as well as venerated institutions — and presents an accessible, in-depth look at the men and women who fired the first salvos in the continuing war against de jure and de facto segregation in Texas colleges and universities. The author places his work at the intersection of Anderson’s (1988) historical study of Black education in the South, which ends in 1935, and the start of what political scientist and historian Manning Marable (1991) terms “liberal integrationism.” As Marable (1996, 1997) defines it, liberal integrationism promotes the eradication of legal barriers to educational and political equality, the representation of African Americans in positions of decisionmaking and political power, and alliances with liberal Whites. As one moves through the chapters of Advancing Democracy, Shabazz’s challenge to the reader to consider the relation of Black Texans and their allies to this philosophy becomes apparent: While real opportunities were realized under the strategy of liberal integrationism, troublingly recalcitrant attitudes by some Whites in these institutions and communities did not change.

    In this review, I discuss how Shabazz first reveals that the idea of a separate but truly equal system of higher education for Black Texans had its roots in the post-Reconstruction era. I then describe how the author details the diversity of opinion among Black Texan education advocates, such as how the NAACP strategy articulated in the 1954 Brown decision gained momentum and how Blacks in the state continued to support multiple approaches to gaining educational equality. Finally, as Brown presents American society with the familiar mantra “separate is inherently unequal,” I examine how Advancing Democracy ponders some of the continuing challenges of integration and how Black Texans have fared in a system that may no longer support legal segregation but has continued to support a hegemonic structure that devalues the participation and contributions of African Americans and other people of color.

    Early Higher Education in Texas for African Americans

    In the first chapter, “From Promise to Problem,” Shabazz rapidly summarizes the higher education landscape in Texas between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War II. As in much of the South, Reconstruction afforded Blacks unprecedented educational and political opportunity — albeit for an astonishingly brief period (Anderson, 1988; Marable, 1991). In detailing the events in the Texas legislature between 1866 and 1873, the book becomes fascinating and revelatory. For instance, in 1867, the work of ten Black legislators led to the removal of racial segregation in Texas law and increased educational opportunity for Black Texas youth. However, in six years, the separate but equal doctrine was enshrined in Texas law, a legacy that inherently promoted inequality through insufficient public school funding and legislative neglect.

    Like Anderson (1988), Shabazz uncovers reluctance by the White legislature to educate Blacks unless the course of instruction was centered on menial work of an agricultural and mechanical nature. In 1895, Booker T. Washington famously endorsed this vocational focus, exhorting freed Blacks to “cast down your bucket where you are” in forging positive relationships with Whites, and to “cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions” (Washington, Harlan, & Smock, 1972). Under this model, however, the state’s first college for Blacks, Alta Vista Agricultural College, floundered, as Blacks showed little interest in industrial training. Rechristened the Prairie View State and Normal Industrial College (today, Prairie View A&M University) and rededicated to the training of Black teachers for Black students, the school attracted significant numbers of Blacks.

    The history of Prairie View suggests that Black Texans in the late 1800s understood, as expressed by Du Bois (1995), that “the white community, undoubtedly, wants to keep the Negro in the country as a peasant under working conditions least removed from slavery. The colored man wishes to escape from those conditions” (p. 266). Indeed, despite the inclusion of teacher education, the Prairie View campus still exemplified the finest in industrial education modeled after the Tuskegee and Hampton institutes. The “escape” was illustrated in successful petitions by Blacks to include college-level courses at Prairie View, and Shabazz details protests by Black Texans against the legislature’s failure to establish a Black branch of the University of Texas, as promised in the state constitution and mandated by popular vote in 1882. This promise went unfulfilled until the NAACP raised the threat of integration at the University of Texas in 1947.

    Revealing Organizational and Intra-Class Synthesis and Struggle

    Perhaps the greatest contribution of Shabazz’s work is the unearthing of several organizations led by Blacks that worked toward the goal of equal educational opportunity for Blacks in Texas. Groups such as the Colored Teachers State Association of Texas (CTSAT), the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce (DNCC), the Texas Commission on Inter-racial Cooperation (TCIC), the Bi-racial Commission on Negro Education in Texas (BCNET), and the Texas Negro Conference on Equalization of Education (TNCEE) — along with the more familiar NAACP — organized as early as 1884. Shabazz presents the reader with a complex picture of pioneering work, strategic allegiances, and even vitriolic exchanges among the organizations. It is a departure from a traditional view of civil rights groups following the NAACP strategy toward integration in lock-step. The second chapter, “Ideological Struggle and the Texas University Movement,” brings these challenges to the forefront.

    The Texas University Movement was the struggle led by the aforementioned civic organizations in the state to provide equal educational opportunity to African Americans in higher education. Unsurprisingly, social class and professional stature greatly influenced the leadership of the Texas University Movement. This is a theme common to many historical accounts of social change: Cecelski’s (1994) account of desegregation in Hyde County, North Carolina, details the efforts of the Black middle class to organize resistance to integration, and San Miguel (2001) delineates the leadership of middle-class Mexican Americans in the struggle to integrate the Houston Independent School District. Similarly, Shabazz notes that

    Black professionals were more important members of society than their roles or income-level would dictate for the average white professional. Their small numbers and the hardship it took to achieve their class status infused them with a sense of special importance and mission. (pp. 41–42)

    Class homogeneity, however, did not generate consensus. Shabazz pushes beyond previous analyses by historical researchers Mark Tushnet (1994) and Merline Pitre (1999), recounting a fascinating debate between Carter Wesley, publisher of the influential Informer newspaper, and the NAACP. Carter’s “equality first, desegregation second” mantra clashed with the NAACP’s view of segregation as an inherently unequal condition. Furthermore, the correspondence between Wesley and Lulu and Julius White of the Houston NAACP suggests that there was jockeying for leadership of the civil rights struggle in higher education in Texas. Though full of drama, one ponders the damage to reputations and relationships over such arguments — Wesley and Marshall, for instance, started their correspondence with playful jests, but eventually employed a more combative tone.

    To a great extent, Shabazz’s analysis unearths a pivotal struggle between the civil rights intelligentsia and the men and women from towns in Texas, such as Beaumont, who he states “did not struggle for abstract ideas from anyone’s head but for concrete, material changes in their quality of life” (p. 61).

    The Advent of Liberal Integrationism: Pioneering Blacks, White Allies, White Resistance

    Although Shabazz states that neither Wesley nor the NAACP “won” the debate over the strategy for achieving educational equality for Blacks in higher education in Texas, it is evident by the mid- to late-1940s that the NAACP assumed leadership during this stage of the campaign. In chapter three, Shabazz introduces the pioneering Black students who worked with NAACP lawyers to break the color line in graduate education. He is respectful in also recalling those Black students who were not involved in the NAACP’s plan, presenting several aspiring Black scholars employing different strategies to accomplish the same goal: individual advancement and progress for the Black community. Shabazz’s skill in fleshing out these men and women comes to the fore as he presents vignettes of Heman Sweatt, the war veteran carefully vetted by the NAACP, and Henry Doyle, the first Black student to attend the aforementioned Texas State University for Negroes (TSUN) law school (in actuality, a basement classroom staffed by junior faculty from the University of Texas Law School). Sweatt represented the liberal integrationist perspective promoted by the NAACP — a segregated institution with inferior facilities was an inadequate response to his application. To the casual observer, it might appear that Doyle’s decision to attend TSUN contradicted Sweatt’s stance, but Shabazz describes Doyle as making an understandable and respectable choice in attending the new law school that was lauded and appreciated by Black Texans as much as Sweatt’s.

    Shabazz’s intent in chapter three is as much to emphasize the massive political and social resistance of the majority of Whites in policy, law, and academia as it is to highlight the noble achievements of students W. Astor Kirk, Herman Barnett, Everett Givens, and the mentor behind the scenes, James Hemenway Morton of Huston College. As Williams (1987) comments, the opportunity to garner political power and popularity figured largely in the stances of UT president Thomas Painter and Texas governors Beaufort Jester and Allan Shivers. Their efforts to avoid desegregation seem tragicomic, from the hastened establishment of a separate university for Blacks, destined to be equal to the University of Texas in 1947 (which, Shabazz notes, was the original demand of Norris Wright Cuney and other Black educational leaders at the close of the 19th century), to the contract policy, which stated that Blacks could only attend White institutions if no such program existed at TSUN or Prairie View.

    The liberal integrationist philosophy did garner significant support from some Whites, as evidenced by White participation in marches and the creation of a UT branch of the NAACP. This was a mixed blessing for the Texas University Movement, as White liberals, socialists, and communists became a liability when White supremacists attempted to link the NAACP and the Black students to the Communist Party. Shabazz introduces several courageous Whites who assisted the desegregation efforts on both a policy and a personal level. An example of this is found in Shabazz’s account of Chauncey Leake, a classmate of Herman Barnett. Leake features prominently in Barnett’s life, first as a welcoming classmate, and later as a provider of medical care when Barnett was savagely beaten by a White police officer immediately after his graduation. Through such vignettes, Shabazz reminds the reader that while the legal barriers to segregation were slowly being dismantled, each of the pioneering students paid an exacting price emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. The support of peers and those invested in the struggle for equality was essential to these men’s successful navigation of an environment in which the attitudinal barriers of White supremacy remained intact.

    The fourth chapter of Advancing Democracy looks at the first of three stages of desegregation in Texas higher education identified by Shabazz, the post-Sweatt, pre-Brown era from 1949 to 1954. In Sweatt v. Painter (1950), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided that the newly established Texas State University for Negroes law school was grossly inferior to the University of Texas law school in terms of facilities, prestige, and resources. Furthermore, the Court stated, “the law school, the proving ground for legal learning and practice, cannot be effective in isolation from the individuals and institutions with which the law interacts” (p. 634). Legally, separate but equal was close to expiring in higher education in Texas, but this did not cause a shift in racist attitudes in communities and institutions.

    Black and Brown Solidarity: Cross-Racial Alliances in the Fight for Desegregation

    Shabazz’s analysis proves that threats from racists like Texas Attorney General Price Daniel that desegregating colleges and universities would result in social disorder were unfounded — for the most part. In West and South Texas, the NAACP and courageous students successfully integrated Howard County Junior College in Big Spring, Amarillo College in Amarillo, and Del Mar Junior College in Corpus Christi. Del Mar Junior College is one example of the intriguing stories found in Advancing Democracy that speak to a situation unique to Texas: the cooperation of Mexican Americans and African Americans to desegregate schools. Shabazz notes that NAACP chief counsel Thurgood Marshall consulted with educational activist George I. Sánchez and appropriated aspects of the strategy employed by the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Westminster School District v. Méndez (1947) for the Sweatt case. As Montejano (1987) details, the question of segregation first entered the courts in Salvatierra v. Del Rio Independent School District (1931), in which the state district court issued an injunction against the Del Rio school board, which had attempted to segregate Mexican American children in a separate school. Regrettably, the injunction was voided by the state court of appeals; however, the case helped to galvanize support in the Mexican American community for LULAC. LULAC continued this struggle in Texas in Delgado v. Bastrop Independent School District (1948), in which the U.S. District Court found that separate schools for Mexican American children violated the Fourteenth Amendment. This victory, however, rung hollow, as the law was weakly enforced. Montejano’s text exemplifies that Jim Crow, in terms of racial violence and inequality, was a deleterious experience for Mexican Americans as well as African Americans.

    In his history of Mexican American desegregation in the Houston public schools, San Miguel (2001) notes allegiances, though mostly rhetorical in nature, between the Mexican American Education Council and the NAACP, as well as less prominent Brown-Black coalitions, in the effort to equalize resources and funding for schoolchildren of color. Shabazz unearths more evidence of such alliances, stating that African Americans in Corpus Christi were inspired by the activism of Mexican Americans in LULAC and the American G.I. Forum. This is evidenced in the desegregation of Del Mar Junior College in 1952, which saw two African American students, Alice Fay James and Lavernis Royal, become campus leaders two years later with the support of “black, brown, and white students alike” (p. 127). Indeed, Shabazz comments that the “remarkable” case of Del Mar was a result of “many years of strong interracial solidarity-building in the city” (p. 128). Though Shabazz provides analysis of such cooperative efforts in Brownsville, Corpus Christi, and other municipalities, the nuances of these collaborations are somewhat murky. Shabazz is more successful in his description of how the “Filibusteros,” a group of state senators from South and West Texas led by Henry González and Abraham Kazen Jr., held the longest filibuster in the Texas legislature’s history to defeat an anti-NAACP bill, as well as eight out of ten prosegregation bills, in 1957.

    Massive Resistance: The Last Stand of the Segregationists

    The work of González and Kazen represents the reaction to Brown and Brown II in the years 1954–1957, which is detailed in Shabazz’s fifth chapter, “Black Equality versus White Power.” Here Shabazz focuses on those institutions, municipalities, and regions of Texas fully involved in what he terms “massive resistance” — a more subtle but equally insidious version of Virginia’s strategy in the 1950s and 1960s to eliminate state funding for institutions attempting to follow the Supreme Court’s mandate to desegregate (Virginia History Production Consortium, 2001). The East Texas strain of massive resistance was so virulent that of the NAACP’s seven collegiate desegregation cases, six involved institutions in the eastern region of the state. The Associated Citizens’ Council of Texas (ACCT), essentially a modified incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan, led the fight against desegregation in the court of public opinion, while individual acts of terror — shootings, beatings, and lynchings — took place in and around communities such as Kilgore, Texarkana, and Beaumont. Shabazz describes how the ACCT employed a tactic familiar to the FBI, conservative Texas businessmen, the Ku Klux Klan, and McCarthyists — linking civil rights activism to communism — in an effort to delegitimize and stigmatize activists, and to outright eradicate the NAACP in Texas (Cecelski, 1994; Marable, 1991; Montejano, 1987; Williams, 1987). By highlighting the story of assistant attorney general R. E. Fletcher’s interrogation and harassment of Beaumont-area NAACP members, Shabazz presents a particularly chilling example of the “campaign of coercion and suppression designed to deprive Negro citizens of Texas of their civil rights” (U.S. Tate, quoted on p. 189). The threat of legal and personal persecution rested heavily on the hearts and minds of the NAACP and reform-minded Texans, but, as Shabazz writes, “the struggle to advance democracy continued” (p. 195).

    De Jure Desegregation, But No Significant Climate Change

    In Shabazz’s penultimate chapter, “Plowing Around Africans on Aryan Plantations,” the author revisits the question posed at the beginning of the book: What were the costs of adhering to a liberal integrationist philosophy concerning equality in Texas higher education? From 1958 to 1965, the “hold-out” institutions, fighting against Jim Crow’s death throes, suggested the offensively titled “salt-and-pepper plan,” which would allow some institutions to choose to remain all White, all Black, or integrated — similar to “how people like to season their food.” Shabazz profiles entrenched White supremacists like the flamboyant E. A. Munroe, perhaps the pioneer of the “reverse racism” mantra, who applied to the Texas State University for Negroes (TSU) in 1958. He was admitted, but rapidly withdrew, stating that he had been the victim of prejudice and discrimination from Black students. A less conspicuous White applicant, Clayton McMahill, applied to TSU to exemplify “a world Christian brotherhood” (p. 202). Unsurprisingly, McMahill reported no negative experiences with his fellow students.

    In contrast, the problems of African American students entering White institutions in the 1950s and 1960s resonate disturbingly with the experiences reported by many African American students today (Allen, 1992). Shabazz’s account of Arlington State University circa 1951, replete with Confederate flags, the Johnny Reb mascot, and Old South Week (sponsored by the Kappa Alpha fraternity, with a culminating “slave auction”) is strikingly similar to an incident half a century later at the University of North Texas in Denton, where current members of the same fraternity allegedly used racial slurs and waved a Confederate battle flag at a group of mostly Black football recruits (Second Kappa Alpha Chapter Suspended, 2001). Shabazz’s accounts of pioneering African Americans are presented in great detail; however, the vastness of his study affords only paragraphs of the experiences of the men and women who desegregated the colleges and universities of Texas. Readers should look to studies of individual campuses, such as Almetris “Mama” Duren’s (1979) Overcoming: A History of Black Integration at the University of Texas at Austin for a detailed account of the experiences of the first African Americans on the campuses.

    Shabazz closes this volume by examining the parallels between the civil rights struggles of the past and current examples of White supremacy, such as Senator Trent Lott’s December 2002 comment about the 1948 segregationist presidential candidacy of Senator Strom Thurmond:

    I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either. (quoted in Edsall, 2002, p. A6)

    Shabazz states that the victory of the African Americans behind the Texas University Movement “did not prevent whites from continuing to maintain the supremacy of their race; and, here and there, down to our own time, the struggles continue” (p. 221). The author is doubtless referring to the reversal of progress achieved by people of color that is evident in policies such as California’s Proposition 209 and the spate of “reverse- racism” lawsuits including Hopwood v. Texas (1996), Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), and Gratz v. Bollinger (2003). State-mandated programs attempting to affirmatively address racial inequality are at best seriously compromised after Grutter, and Shabazz’s work helps to illuminate the fact that progress toward equal education has consistently been challenged, from the 1870s to the 2000s.

    Advancing Democracy is a compelling, readable effort to excavate the individuals and organizations, from the grassroots to the bureaucratic level, responsible for advancing the cause of equity in education in a state that is often a bellwether for race relations in the South. Building on Anderson’s (1988) history of Black education in the South, it examines the historical record through World War II, McCarthyism, and the civil rights movement. It is also a call for historians, educators, and sociologists to continue to critically examine the histories of other states and regions, and to examine how desegregation has progressed there. While this volume will be of particular interest to those associated with Texas higher education, there is much to interest any student of civil rights history and education.
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    Summer 2005 Issue

    Abstracts

    Communities and Schools
    A New View of Urban Education Reform
    Mark R. Warren
    Adjusting Inequality
    Education and Structural Adjustment Policies in Tanzania
    Frances Vavrus
    Learning from Self-Study
    Gaining Knowledge about How Fourth Graders Move from Relational Description to Algebraic Generalization
    Laura Grandau
    Editor's Review of Amilcar Shabazz's Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas
    Richard J. Reddick

    Book Notes

    Black in School
    By Shawn A. Ginwright

    Becoming Multicultural Educators
    Edited by Geneva Gay

    A New Look at Black Families
    By Charles Vert Willie and Richard J. Reddick

    Learning to Trust
    By Marilyn Watson, in collaboration with Laura Ecken

    I Am a Pencil
    By Sam Swope