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Integrating the 40 Acres: The 50-Year Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas (review)
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Reviewed by
Goldstone, Dwonna. Integrating the 40 Acres: The 50-Year Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2006.

The South Mall on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin serves as the gateway to the state’s flagship institution. With the UT Tower looming in the background and a Roman fountain at its entrance, the grass quadrangle is meant to signify history and tradition as an architectural expression of the collegiate spirit. In recent years, however, the South Mall has become a point of contention on campus as the statues of Confederates Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Albert Sidney Johnston (accompanying the likes of George Washington) stand as painful reminders not only of the legacy of slavery, but also of the sorted history of segregation at the University of Texas. The argument over whether to preserve, remove, or contextualize the statues has played out as a backdrop for an institution which strains to address a striking lack of diversity on its campus. Dwonna Goldstone’s thoroughly researched history of the struggle to integrate UT provides a much needed back story to the oft-forgotten “peaceful” integration of Southern universities. Lacking the dramatic confrontations that accompanied James Meredith at Ole Miss or Vivian Malone and James Hood at the University of Alabama, UT’s first African-American student, Heman Sweatt, suffered through an arduous legal process and a more implicit form of racial intimidation when he registered for classes in the law school in 1950. Breaking from our iconic memories of court-mandated integration, no National Guardsmen accompanied Sweatt, nor was the governor of Texas blocking his entrance. Instead, Sweatt patiently waited in line to register following a four-year ordeal in which the state government and the university attempted to bypass his right to attend through every conceivable legal channel, even going so far as to create an entirely new institution (Texas State University for Negroes) to avoid the possibility of Sweatt sitting in an Austin classroom.

Sweatt is one of the many quiet and unassuming African-American students who Goldstone uses to tell her story. Overall, however, Goldstone avoids creating heroic tales of triumph in the face of adversity and instead relates a straightforward (if sometimes plodding) account of institutional barriers and the legal and administrative decisions that led to their removal. Beginning with access to the classroom, Goldstone expands her focus toward integrating UT’s dormitories, athletic teams, and off-campus businesses. In doing so, Goldstone makes her most compelling observations in detailing the push and [End Page 693] pull between the university community itself and the angry white voices throughout the state who had no personal relationship with the school.

The long period of uncertainty separating Sweatt filing suit against the university and his eventual admission serves as a starting point for Goldstone’s analysis of classroom inclusion. Originally, Sweatt’s admission to the law school was argued on the legal grounds that there were no law schools available in the state of Texas which African Americans could attend. Instead of integrating, the state often paid for its black residents to go elsewhere for law school, which allowed African Americans the opportunity to attend fine private schools in the North, but also distanced them from their home and families. Following Sweatt, the university slowly opened up its undergraduate classrooms to black students as well. However, while the classroom became a space of equal opportunity (legally, at least), campus life was largely separate and unequal for the few black students attending UT in the 1950s and ‘60s. Goldstone is well served by her detailed approach to chronicling the continuous struggle of black students to become full-fledged members of the UT community. Whereas gaining access to the classroom could be construed as closure for the narrative, Goldstone instead uses the Sweatt case as a starting point. As Goldstone points out, simply being in a classroom is only part of the college experience. Rather than conceptualizing the university as a space for academic training, Goldstone focuses most of her attention on African-American students integrating outside the classroom, from extra curricular activities on campus and...