R. O'Hara Lanier to Jester, April 14, 1949
A second aspect of education that Governor Jester faced was the push for desegregation of public universities. Jester was committed to maintaining a dual system of education, with separate facilities for whites and blacks. Increasingly, the courts were ruling against Jester's way of thinking, telling states that universities must offer comparable programs for white and black citizens. Now Texas faced such a legal challenge when Heman M. Sweatt filed a lawsuit to force desegregation of the University of Texas law school. Sweatt met all qualifications for the law school except for his race, and argued that that he must be admitted since no other facility in Texas was available for him to study law.
Jester and others hoped to preserve the dual system with an ambitious plan to build a "Texas Negro University" that would be comparable to the University of Texas. The Texas State University for Negroes was established by the legislature in 1947 and began to hold classes on the campus of the Houston College for Negroes. The legislature authorized the university to offer a full range of degree programs, including pharmacy, dentistry, arts and sciences, journalism, education, literature, law, and medicine, all to be equivalent to those offered at the University of Texas.
Ralphael O'Hara Lanier was appointed the the first president of the new university. Lanier was a long-time college administrator who had most recently worked for the United Nations and as United States ambassador to Liberia, the first African American to be an ambassador in over 50 years. As president of the college, Lanier had to balance the conflicting desires of African Americans, who supported the black university while continuing to fight for integration. Lanier was also constantly under fire from the white establishment.
Despite the creation of the new university, the Supreme Court ruled in 1950 that Texas must desegregate its institutions of higher learning. The case of Sweatt v. Painter was a landmark in the overturning of the separate but equal doctrine. It paved the way for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision that invalidated segregration in the public schools.
In 1951, the Texas State University for Negroes was renamed Texas Southern University. Today TSU continues to offer a full range of undergraduate and graduate programs to over 10,000 students and houses several major research centers. Its alumni include Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland.
R. O'Hara Lanier to Jester, April 14, 1949, Records of Beauford H. Jester, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.