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Desert Diary
History/Thelma White


In 1954, the United States Supreme Court decreed that the doctrine of "separate but equal", the rationale behind school segregation, "has no place in the field of public education". With that decision, the struggle to desegregate the nation's public schools was effectively won. However, the decision in many places, including Texas, was held to not affect higher education, and by segregation law, Texas blacks were limited to attending Prairie View A & M and Texas Southern universities.

In March of 1955, Thelma White, valedictorian of the all-black Douglass School of El Paso and denied entrance to Texas Western College because of her race, filed a federal law suit. The University of Texas System blinked and decided that the college could admit blacks after all. However, federal judge R. E. Thomason ruled the segregation law unconstitutional and that all the University of Texas System must admit blacks to its undergraduate colleges. In the fall of 1955, 12 black students were admitted to Texas Western College. Once again, thanks to courageous individuals, El Paso led the way to racial justice.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.