How Integrated Education Began at the University of Texas at Austin

Email a Friend

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher versus the University of Texas. It’s a case that could bring an end to affirmative action, if the plaintiff, white student Abigail Fisher, wins.

Integration in Texas — and the United States — began not with Brown v. the Board of Education, as many people presume, but with Sweatt v. Painter in 1950.

In that case, black law student Heman Marion Sweatt fought to be admitted to the University of Texas Law School, whose then president was Tehophilus Painter. Thurgood Marshall was Sweatt’s attorney. He won the case, and in the process, made history, four years before Brown v. the Board of Education.

Sweatt has since died, but his daughter is alive and well, having gone on to become an accomplished doctor. Her name is Mellie Sweatt Duplechan.

Mellie’s son, Heman Lawrence Duplechan is a 13-year-old honor student who writes for his school newspaper. Among his biggest assignments? Covering the current University of Texas at Austin case

"I think it's kind of ironic that 50 years ago my grandfather is fighting to get admission into the school that he wants to go to, and now, some years later, another girl is fighting so that she can get into this school, and she claims that she was denied entry because of her skin color," Heman says. 

His mother thinks it's more than ironic though. She says she's surprised this case has made it to the Supreme Court at all.  

"To be quite frank, the admissions policies for schools are a little bit like voodoo," Mellie says. "A kid gets into Harvard and Yale, but doesn't get into Stanford — it really doesn't make sense to me." 

Mellie says she struggles to understand the claim that Fisher is making, since the college admission process does seem so arbitrary. 

"To say that you didn't get in because of this one single factor," Mellie says, "when you're not really talking about a student who has across the board the best marks. It wasn't like it was a no-brainer that admission should have been allowed."

Heman wrote a piece for his school newspaper about the Fisher case. The title? "I just called it 'Here We Go Again,'" he says.