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Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South

Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane, and Vanderbilt

Melissa Kean

Publication Year: 2008

After World War II, elite private universities in the South faced growing calls for desegregation. Though, unlike their peer public institutions, no federal court ordered these schools to admit black students and no troops arrived to protect access to the schools, to suggest that desegregation at these universities took place voluntarily would be misleading In Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South,Melissa Kean explores how leaders at five of the region's most prestigious private universities—Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane, and Vanderbilt—sought to strengthen their national position and reputation while simultaneously answering the increasing pressure to end segregation. To join the upper echelon of U. S. universities, these schools required increased federal and northern philanthropic funding. Clearly, to receive this funding, schools had to eliminate segregation, and so a rift appeared within the leadership of the schools. University presidents generally favored making careful accommodations in their racial policies for the sake of academic improvement, but universities' boards of trustees—the presidents' main opponents—served as the final decision-makers on university policy. Board members--usually comprised of professional, white, male alumni--reacted strongly to threats against southern white authority and resisted determinedly any outside attempts to impose desegregation. The grassroots civil rights movement created a national crisis of conscience that led many individuals and institutions vital to the universities' survival to insist on desegregation. The schools felt enormous pressure to end discrimination as northern foundations withheld funding, accrediting bodies and professional academic associations denied membership, divinity students and professors chose to study and teach elsewhere, and alumni withheld contributions. The Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 gave the desegregation debate a sense of urgency and also inflamed tensions—which continued to mount into the early 1960s. These tensions and the boards' resistance to change created an atmosphere of crisis that badly eroded their cherished role as southern leaders. When faced with the choice between institutional viability and segregation, Kean explains, they gracelessly relented, refusing to the end to admit they had been pressured by outside forces. Shedding new light on a rare, unexamined facet of the civil rights movement, Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South fills a gap in the history of the academy.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

I happily acknowledge that I could not have written this book on my own. I would never even have begun it if not for the warm welcome and encouragement I received years ago from the faculty in the History Department at Creighton University, especially Dennis Mihelich, Dick Super, and Ashton Welch. At Rice, first as a graduate student and then as University Historian, I have always been surrounded ...

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pp. 1-7

This is a story about how a group of very powerful people— the leaders of the South’s elite private universities— came to do something that many of them did not want to do: admit black students. This story is quite different from the one that played out in the region’s public institutions. Here, no federal court ordered these schools to admit black ...

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1. Intelligent White Men of the South: The Late 1940s

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pp. 8-56

The presidents of Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane, and Vanderbilt, charged with leading these universities into an uneasy post–World War II future, found themselves in the 1940s at the center of gradually growing controversy on campus. Each of these schools nurtured strong traditions and was deeply proud of its roots. Their alumni revered the founders and early leaders and the philosophical foundations of southern higher ...

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2. “The Sense of Security No Longer Exists”: The Early 1950s

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pp. 57-93

As the 1950s opened, change pressed on the South with growing intensity. The victory of the Communists in China and the beginning of the Korean War brought global challenges to American power into sharp focus. At home, an aggressive anti- Communism arose to counter the perceived threat of subversion from within. In the South itself, deep changes spread through the economy, demographics, and culture.1...

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3. The Backlash against Brown: 1954

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pp. 94-126

On January 15, 1955, Rufus Harris wrote to an old friend in his hometown of Monroe, Georgia. Wearily, Harris told him, “I watched the old year go out without regret. It went out burdened with fears, hates, scandals, and some bumbling stupidity. It had seen a premium placed on hate as a way of life with organized hate-mongers setting neighbor against neighbor for political gain and scaring the wits out of millions of ...

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4. Unable to Lead: The Late 1950s

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pp. 127-175

By the late 1950s the worst fears of the private university presidents seemed to be coming true. Angry whites reacted violently to the pressing demands of southern blacks for some measure of justice. A now steady stream of highly publicized incidents—the Montgomery bus boycott, the acceptance and then expulsion of Autherine Lucy at the University of Alabama, the ugly mob scenes in Little Rock, the bombing of a ...

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5. Push Comes to Shove: The Early 1960s

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pp. 176-233

By the early 1960s the quickening pace of the civil rights movement brought each of these schools to the same critical point. The moral strength of opposition to institutionalized racial discrimination was swaying opinion throughout the country. The Kennedy administration, while not notably aggressive on civil rights, did use federal power to advance equality of opportunity in areas where they could avoid getting bogged ...

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pp. 234-239

After World War II the pace of change in the United States, and especially in the South, seemed dizzying. The region was utterly transformed in these years, becoming more urban, more industrial, and far more prosperous than ever before. Southerners, black and white, were better educated. Ties to the rest of the nation grew stronger as south erners moved North and northerners migrated to the South’s cities to ...


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pp. 241-305

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 307-321


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pp. 323-333

E-ISBN-13: 9780807134627
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807133583

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2008