Friday was a night to celebrate that group, the Precursors, and all those who have come after with the Heman Marion Sweatt Legacy Award ceremony.
Hosted by UT and its Division of Diversity and Community Engagement in partnership with the Texas Exes Black Alumni Network, it was a black-tie evening of warmth and fellowship. The ceremony opened with a powerful duet of Barbara Smith Conrad’s favorite spiritual, “When I Rise, Give Me Jesus.”
Heman Sweatt, the first African-American who challenged UT’s admissions policies in order to enter the University, was remembered gratefully. “Superman knows he can take the bullets,” UT vice-president for diversity Greg Vincent said. “Heman Sweatt did not know he could take the bullets—but he endured.”
Powers added, ” What a great debt we owe to Heman Sweatt, to Barbara Smith Conrad, and the Precursors. We still have challenges, and we have a ways to go, but to the people who stood early on the road and took those bullets—we owe you a great debt of gratitude.”
This year’s Legacy Award was given to Texas Exes president Machree Garrett Gibson, a former Texas Assistant Secretary of State and longtime Capitol player once dubbed the “Conscience of the Senate.” Gibson worked as the Senate legislative director for Gov. Ann Richards and is now a partner in the firm of Graydon Gibson & Brown L.L.P.
Through the years, Gibson, BBA ’82, JD ’91, Life Member, has also served her alma mater through countless committees and leadership positions. Powers called her “a friend, the boss, the czar, a queen.”
Gibson spoke from the heart about the support that brought her to and through UT and beyond, individually thanking her husband of 30 years, two children, extended family, friends from all stages, and colleagues from all over. “Now I didn’t come this far on my own. I was born into a loving family with strong ties to the University,” she said. “You see, I’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants all my life.”
Gibson’s father, Felix, wasn’t allowed by law to attend UT, so he went to the University of Utah instead. Still, Gibson said, “he loved The University of Texas, even though it didn’t love him back in 1954.” A few months ago, when he was being wheeled out of his hospital room at the end of his life, with his worried family all around, he told them goodbye as he always did: “Hook ’em.”
Gibson closed the ceremony by accepting the award in her late father’s name.
Photo by Shelton Lewis. Courtesy the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.