Caprock Chronicles: Integration at West Texas State College
By Marty Kuhlman
Jack Becker a Librarian at Texas Tech University Libraries is the editor of Caprock Chronicles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Marty Kuhlman is Professor of History at West Texas A&M University and is s frequent contributor to Caprock Chronicles. He writes today on the integration of West Texas State College, which took place in 1961.
Before 1950, the vast majority of colleges in Texas were designated for whites only.
When West Texas State Normal College in Canyon opened its doors in 1910, the college offered an education to “any white person of good moral standing.”
The only state supported college in the state for African Americans at the time was Prairie View A&M.
Some movement toward desegregation of higher education appeared in the Panhandle when Amarillo’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) argued that black residents paid city taxes which supported Amarillo College (AC) and had a right to attend.
AC admitted four black students in 1951 and became one of the first colleges in the state to integrate.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ended the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ in public education with the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case.
But Texas, like the rest of the South, held onto segregation as long as possible.
West Texas State College (WTSC) being in Canyon did not help the chances of desegregation. Canyon was a ‘sundown town’ where blacks were not allowed to be in town after nightfall.
J. Evetts Haley, a segregationist gubernatorial candidate in 1956, was a prominent and influential resident of Canyon.
When a federal court ordered the University of Texas system to desegregate at the undergraduate level, an editorial in The Canyon News lamented the decision and stated, “We are happy, indeed, that Canyon does not have a Negro population.”
Guy Raleigh Tomlin, a 57-year-old instructor at the Amarillo Air Force Base who had taught in Amarillo’s black schools and been principal of Frederick Douglass Elementary and Patten High School, became the first African American to apply. Tomlin hoped to take classes in education needed for a higher teaching position at the base.
He was not allowed to enter the school.
John Matthew Shipp, Jr., a 21-year-old graduate of Amarillo’s George Washington Carver High School and Amarillo College and an employee of the Amarillo Air Force Base, applied in 1959. Shipp sought training to further his career. WTSC turned him down on two separate occasions.
The NAACP had been outlawed in Texas when Tomlin had applied, but by 1959 the group was again legal and could come to the aid of Shipp.
W. J. Durham, main lawyer for the Texas chapter, brought a case in the United States District Court in Amarillo. Durham argued that WTSC only allowed Caucasian students to enroll while utilizing public funds and had violated Shipp’s “rights secured to him under the 14th Amendment.”
The state government of Texas helped WTSC fight to remain for whites only and sent the state’s Assistant Attorney General Henry G. Braswell to represent the college in court.
The defense team admitted that Shipp had been rejected solely on race but claimed that once some colleges in the state had desegregated such as Midwestern University and North Texas State College, others did not need to.
The defense adopted what the state’s Attorney General in 1956, John Ben Sheppard, had called the “salt-and-pepper plan.” Sheppard announced that some people would accept salt and pepper mixed together, or integration. But others wanted salt only, or all-white institutions, while others wanted only pepper, all-black schools.
In February of 1960, Federal Judge Joe B. Dooley found the state’s argument to maintain exclusionary colleges to be unconstitutional and ordered WTSC to admit Shipp.
But Shipp, having already lost considerable time trying to be enrolled, went to college elsewhere and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University of Houston.
Although Shipp did not attend, Judge Dooley’s decision had a tremendous impact. One day after the decision, The Amarillo Daily News reported that the judgment “rattled the doors of all other Texas state supported schools.”
Integration came to Texas Tech in 1961 (Haley leaving the board of regents of Tech helped the chances for integration), the University of Houston in 1962, and Texas A&M University in 1963.
Betty Jo Thomas of Wichita Falls became the first African American to attend WTSC in the fall of 1960. She attended WT through 1964, but did not graduate.
Helen Neal had moved to Amarillo in 1955 and brought college credit from the all-black Langston College in Oklahoma.
She could not finish her education after moving, however, as there was not a close four-year college she could attend. The desegregation of WTSC, only 20 miles to the south, became an opportunity. Neal enrolled in the spring of 1961 and became the college’s first African American graduate in August of 1962.
Like the rest of the state, the Panhandle had dragged its feet on desegregation, but the federal court in Amarillo brought desegregation to WTSC, which influenced the rest of Texas.