Black Students in Texas Desegregate Del Mar College 1951-1952

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Timing
Time Period:  
1951
to
September
1952
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Corpus Christi, Texas
Goals: 
This campaign's goal was to get Del Mar College to allow black students to attend classes.
 

From its founding in 1935 until the early 1950s, Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas accepted only white students. In 1951, when NAACP chapter leader Henry Boyd Hall began work to desegregate the college, community college classes for African American students were held at the city’s Solomon M. Coles High School for Negroes. However, these classes were insufficient in several ways. A class was only offered when ten or more students expressed interest in the subject, which meant that black students could not efficiently pursue a course of study because so few young black people in the area sought higher education and because the college did not offer sufficient courses to complete a degree. Solomon M. Coles High School, where the classes were held, was also not a clean or modern facility.

In 1951, Henry Boyd Hall phoned Del Mar College President, E. L. Harvin, and threatened to march on the college if it did not desegregate. The college appeared to give no response to this threat. Hall continued to strategize how best to pressure the Board of Regents to desegregate.

Then on 3 June 1952, about two years before Brown v. Board of Education mandated desegregation, and while Texas state law still required segregated schools, three black students in Corpus Christi attempted to register at Del Mar College. They were unsatisfied with the curriculum available to them at Coles Junior College, which for that summer consisted only of a general biology course, which could “count toward a bachelor’s degree offered by any Texas college for Negroes.”

The students, Clifford Vernell Smoots, Jo Ann Lawson, and Willie Andrew Miller, were high-achieving graduates of Solomon Coles High School. Each of them approached the registrar, Dr. A.C. Pierce, and inquired about registering for specific classes at Del Mar College. When they were told that “Negroes were registering at Coles,” the students used their inquiries about classes to demonstrate how insufficient Coles Junior College was. Lawson pointed out that there was no music course available to her because of insufficient interest for a class at Coles. Smoots told Pierce that he could not take a mechanical drawing class at Coles because they did not have sufficient materials and supplies. When the students asked directly why they could not register at Del Mar College, Pierce informed the students that they could not register because of the “segregation law,” and told them that until the law was changed, their only option was Coles Junior College.

Hall and the NAACP phoned to threaten legal action against the college, stressing that the facilities at Cole were “by no stretch of the imagination equal to Del Mar College.” After that, Del Mar’s Board of Regents met and unanimously voted to desegregate the college, effective 1 September 1952. On that day, seven black students registered for classes at Del Mar.

This victory followed a similar case in Amarillo, Texas, where black students were admitted without the filing of any lawsuit. The Del Mar campaign’s effects were far-reaching within the community, as most white and Latino peers and neighbors had no objections to black students attending Del Mar alongside white students. The overall attitude of the college toward the black students was one of protective support. President Harvin, while he did not disallow black students from participating in school activities, discouraged them from attending the Freshman Dance and traveling with the school band, because he felt that they would be at more of a risk in such highly visible situations. The community received the desegregation well and revealed itself as more amenable to integration than the Board of Regents or President Harvin had predicted.

Research Notes
Influences: 

This campaign was influenced by a similar case in Amarillo, Texas, where black students were admitted without the filing of any lawsuit.

Sources: 
Anon. 1952. “Negroes Fail in Attempt to Enter Del Mar.” Corpus Christi Times, June 3.

Morse, Arthur D. 1954. “When Negroes Entered a Texas School.” Harper's Magazine. Retrieved April 5, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20150406160442/https://southtexasrabblerousers.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/dmc-harpers-1.pdf).

South Texas Rabble Rousers. 2014. “1952: Desegregation of Del Mar College.” South Texas Rabble Rousers History Project. Retrieved April 6, 2015 (http://web.archive.org/web/20150406155939/https://southtexasrabblerousers.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/1952-desegregation-of-del-mar-college/).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Beatriz Grace Baker 05/04/2015