Symposium observes Civil Rights Act

Symposium observes Civil Rights Act

April 08
10:05 2014

Obed Manuel // Senior Staff Writer

Several police office and paramedics stood around on a south Dallas street in 1956. On the ground laid a black man who had just been in a car accident.

The paramedics could not tend the man’s wounds because their instruments were for whites only. They could not transport him to a hospital because the ambulance they drove was for whites only, so they waited for the “black” ambulance to arrive.

But it failed to arrive on time and the man bled to death.

This is one of the dozens of anecdotes Collin College history professor Michael Phillips has collected through his research of the desegregation period in Texas after 1964.

“Texas itself is not usually covered in some of the big historical works. When you read histories, Texas is on the fringe,” Philips said. “It’s geographically on the margins of the South. People don’t think about Texas, but this was an important battleground for civil rights.”

Leon King, one of the first two African-American football players for North Texas, and Phillips, author of “White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001” scheduled to speak at the UNT history department’s Texas History Symposium on April 12.

This year’s Texas History Symposium takes a look at the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the ripple effect caused by its passage.

Those interested in attending the event are required to register online for the event by April 9. For more info, contact historyevents@unt.edu for more info. Students get in free with a valid UNT ID. For staff and faculty, the cost is $10. For the general public, the cost is $25.

Texas segregation

History professor Todd Moye said that racial segregation in Texas and other states in the deep South was different than the customary segregation seen throughout the rest of the country.

“Texas had laws on the book that said, ‘You will segregate. You will live in separate places. You will access public places differently.’ That was the case in Texas as well as Mississippi, Alabama and the other Deep South states,” Moye said.

Everything was segregated, Phillips said, including schools, buses, restaurants and water fountains.

The hostile atmosphere drove black families to near-desperate measures when traveling.

“African-Americans in the ‘50s and ‘60s used to pack tons of food in their cars because they didn’t know if they would be able to buy food where they were going,” Phillips said. “The NAACP would distribute brochure guides that listed where they could use the bathroom around different cities.”

Integration at North Texas State College

UNT’s integration began almost a full decade before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was the 1955 case of Atkins v. Matthews that opened the door for minorities’ admittance to then-named North Texas State College.

In a recorded interview from 1995 with UNT’s Oral History Program, Joe Atkins described walking into the registrar’s office with his mother to request an application in 1955. The seemingly simple task turned into a meeting with Arthur Sampley, vice president of the school.

“He gave us a long talk about the plans for the college at the time. He never told me that they would not admit me during that conversation,” Atkins said during the interview. “He did tell us that they did not want a test case. I remember that, the fact that they wanted to do it their own way and they did not want a test case.”

After being denied admission to the school on the basis of his race, Atkins filed a lawsuit against the school’s president James Matthews. In December of that year, U.S. District Judge Joe Sheehy ruled that North Texas would have to admit minority students without delay, according to “50 Years of Integration,” a written history compiled by the North Texan.

Phillips said that the 1950 case of “Sweatt v. Painter,” a case that desegregated the University of Texas’ law school, set precedent for the decision to go Atkins’ way.

In fall 1956, North Texas College admitted its first two black football players, Abner Haynes and Leon King.

King, in a recorded interview from 1982, said that he and Haynes never really felt isolated from the team, but were frustrated they could not live on campus.

“We kind of grumbled a little bit because it was a hardship on us to have to go to the scout meeting one night and then the next night you have to review game film. We had to walk – oh, my god – about eight or ten miles or so to where we lived,” King said during the interview.

Ramon Ruiz, who was the first Mexican-American on the North Texas football team, said that most of the racial slurs came during away games.

“I remember it was a game against Ole Miss when someone in the stands yelled something at Abner [Haynes]. He went on and scored five or six touchdowns on them,” Ruiz said while laughing.

General, choral and instrumental music sophomore and recently elected SGA president Troy Elliott said that UNT’s early integration displays the forward-thinking momentum of the university.

“Our history encourages me. I know there’s a lot of negativity in our past and I feel that blacks still need more representation in the current make-up of staff and student population, but it was a showing of progress,” Elliot said.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 

Moye said that the passage of the 1964 law impacted the UNT campus and Denton by forcing any “Whites Only” signs around the city to be taken down.

“The legacy is that it makes outright expressions of discrimination illegal,” Moye said. “It at least made it possible for everyone to enjoy public spaces – restaurants, hotels, libraries – on an equal basis.”

It is important to remember, Phillips said, that though the law provided legal protection to minorities, the long-standing attitudes of prejudice remained.

“It’s not a magic wand that’s waved and suddenly change happens,” Phillips said. “Social pressures keep a lot of places segregated long after the passage of the law.”

The lasting legacy

Phillips said that the passage of the law, while a grand achievement, had more long-lasting impacts on larger cities.

In places like Dallas, the passage of the 1964 law caused a phenomenon known as “white flight.”

“White parents moved their kids out of these cities as a way to avoid desegregation,” Phillips said. “In doing so, they drained all the money out of those inner- city school districts.”

Moye said that even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not alleviate the economic and social issues faced by minorities, its passage was a tribute to the efforts of civil rights activists.

“It’s important to remember that it’s a response to people’s organizing, to the public protests that were going on in Birmingham in 1963 and Mississippi in 1964,” Moye said. “This is Congress and the president responding to a groundswell of people’s activism. That kind of activism can have major consequences in the form of legislation like this.”

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