A Campaign of Quiet Persuasion
How the College Board Desegregated SAT? Test Centers in the Deep South, 1960-1965
Publication Year: 2013
In 1960, the College Entrance Examination Board became an unexpected participant in the movement to desegregate education in the South. Working with its partner, Educational Testing Services, the College Board quietly integrated its Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) centers throughout the Deep South. Traveling from state to state, taking one school district and even one school at a time, two College Board staff members, both native southerners, waged "a campaign of quiet persuasion" and succeeded, establishing a roster of desegregated test centers within segregated school districts while the historic battle for civil rights raged around them. In the context of the larger struggle for equal opportunities for southern black students, their work addressed a small but critical barrier to higher education.
Shedding light on this remarkable story for the first time, Jan Bates Wheeler tells how the College Board staff members -- Ben Cameron and Ben Gibson -- succeeded. Their candid and thoughtfully written records of conversations and confrontations, untouched for nearly fifty years, reveal the persistence required to reach a goal many thought unachievable and even foolhardy. Indeed, their task placed them in the unusual position of advocating for school desegregation on a day-to-day basis as part of their jobs. This positioned Cameron and Gibson squarely in opposition to prevailing laws, customs, and attitudes -- an ill-advised stance for any nascent business venture, particularly one experiencing competition from a new, rival testing organization purported to accommodate openly those same laws, customs, and attitudes.
Cameron and Gibson also accepted the personal danger involved in confrontations with racist school officials. The officials who cooperated with the pair assumed even greater risk, and in order to minimize that threat, Cameron and Gibson pledged not to publicize their efforts. Even years after their work had ended, the two men refused to write about their campaign for fear of compromising the people who had helped them. Their concerns, according to Wheeler, kept this remarkable story largely untold until now.
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Series: Making the Modern South
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
Founded in 1900 by leaders from colleges and universities across the country, the College Board was born from the shared belief that equal access to education was a right, not a privilege. More than a century later, we recognize that there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students— regardless of their circumstances—have access to an excellent education...
The movement to desegregate southern schools, colleges, and universities was a critical step in a broadening of access to higher education in the United States. Post–World War II America demanded training beyond high school for a much higher percentage of its citizens, including those who had been left behind in the “separate but equal” racially segregated...
1. A Precedent: Desegregating the Law School Admissions Test Centers, 1960–1962
Almost from its formation in 1948, Educational Testing Services (ETS) had been concerned about segregated conditions at centers for its several test programs. Complaints from black candidates in the South arrived regularly at the ETS campus in Princeton, and the organization addressed them on a case-by-case basis, offering apologies and making special accommodations...
2. The Way Things Were, 1959–1961
In 1959, the College Entrance Examination Board opened its Southern Regional Office in Sewanee, Tennessee, in response to a growing demand for its services in the South. College Board president Frank H. Bowles hired Ben F. Cameron as o∞ce director and charged him with establishing “channels of communication” between secondary schools and colleges...
3. The Cameron Plan Is Implemented and the Special Committee Is Established, 1961–1962
Cameron didn’t have to wait long for the implementation of his seven-part plan. Within days of its adoption at the March 1961 board of trustees meeting, Justine Taylor, executive secretary to Harold Crane, director of test administration at ETS, exercised the new plan’s second principle when she refused to establish new testing centers at two white Georgia...
4. Establishing Test Centers at Military Bases, 1962–1963
Appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to advise government officials on ways to improve race relations in the armed forces, James C. Evans had spent most of his career devoted to that task. By 1962, he had become, according to Stephen Wright, “one of the two or three most influential blacks in the Federal government.” Evans would soon direct that...
5. The March through Georgia and a Setback in Mississippi, 1963–1964
In July 1963, George Hanford, vice president and treasurer of the College Board, forwarded to Ben Cameron a memorandum from Charles M. Holloway, director of information services, soliciting ideas about publicizing the College Board’s policy on desegregated testing. Having firmly established that their work must be done quietly, Cameron and Gibson...
6. The Campaign Ends, 1964–1967
Ben Gibson did not take for granted that assistance from the Department of Defense would continue indefinitely. In early 1964 he wrote to Ben Cameron and Richard Pearson, the latter now serving as acting president of the College Board following Frank Bowles’s resignation. Mimicking the formality of the political establishment, Gibson addressed his two...
In 1975, ten years after the conclusion of the test center desegregation project, the College Board celebrated its seventy-fifth birthday. As an important part of that event, the organization reviewed its role and mission, and a critical component of that review included the College Board’s work to help minority youth. Highlighted in the extensive report were histories...