How Heman Sweatt Led To ‘Brown v. Board Of Education’ [An Interview]

Book cover for Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and the Long Road to JusticeIn the September|October issue of The Alcalde, we offered an exclusive excerpt of a new book about alumnus Heman Sweatt and the largely overlooked role he played in the Civil Rights Movement.

Sweatt v. Painter involved an African-American man who wanted to attend the University of Texas Law School but was prevented because of his race. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and ended with Sweatt being ordered admitted to UT Law.

Author Gary Lavergne argues in his new book, Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and the Long Road to Justice, that Sweatt’s case is largely lost in the shadow of of Brown v. Board of Education.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court finally squashed the doctrine of separate but equal in Brown, the foundation for that ruling was laid in Sweatt, Lavergne argues.

Inside Higher Ed did a Q&A with Lavergne, who doubles as UT’s director of admissions research, that ran this week.

“It is my observation that, with the exception of a few classes in some law schools, a negligible number of people, especially in higher education, really appreciate the significance of Sweatt v. Painter,” Lavergne told Inside Higher Ed.

And there are lessons in that history for the University and its alumni, Lavergne said.

“Texas and UT Austin are not unlike other states and institutions: on occasion we are haunted by the vestiges of our unfortunate history when it comes to race,” Lavergne said. “On many occasions I’ve said to students that wisdom is not possible without studying history — to believe otherwise is to think wisdom is a psychic phenomenon. So, I wanted to create literature that makes us wiser, and the story of Heman Sweatt was an ideal choice.”

You can score a copy of Lavergne’s book here, or scope out the latest Alcalde for a sneak peek. If you’re not a member of the Texas Exes, click here to look into joining.


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