May 17, 2024 - News

Decoding a desegregation photo

Heman Sweatt registering for class.

Heman Sweatt in the registration office at the University of Texas. Photo: Neal Douglass via Austin History Center

More about desegregation: We heard this week from Axios Austin reader Victoria Cheney, who told us a little more about the photo we ran of Heman Sweatt registering for class in 1950.

  • Sweatt, a Houston postal worker, had sued the University of Texas after it denied him admission to its law school on the basis of race. In 1950, in a case that anticipated Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

What they're saying: Cheney told us the woman in the photograph is Frances Oliver, a longtime assistant registrar. Cheney met Oliver after she moved to Austin in 1969, and Oliver shared with her a story that showed how officials' racism ran so deep, they wanted to keep paperwork separate.

  • "She told me that when African American (undergraduate) students were fully admitted to UT ... she was ordered by university officials to file their registration cards separately and not mix them alphabetically with the white students'."
  • "She refused and said, 'You want them to serve your food, to clean your home. And you're afraid for their registration cards to touch white students' cards — I won't do it!'"

The bottom line: "And she got her way."

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