University of Texas at Austin Honors First Generation Black Students With Public Exhibit

University of Texas at Austin Honors First Generation Black Students With Public Exhibit

The University of Texas at Austin is paying homage to the school’s first Black students.

A temporary exhibit is being displayed on campus to honor Black students who enrolled in the 1950s. Titled “Precursors — We Are Texas East Mall,” KXAN reported the display tells the story of UT’s first black undergraduate students. Created by the Contextualization and Commemoration Initiative, students can see the display located near the Martin Luther King Jr. statue.

With 118 wooden posts, each one shares a name and photo with a QR code that goes to the Initiative’s website. Executive Vice President and provost, Sharon Wood, said the purpose of the exhibit being open to the public is to boost community morale. “The exhibits are open to the public with the purpose of engaging our campus community on the social and environmental histories of the East Mall site, as well as offering a glimpse into what the site will become,” Wood said, according to The Daily Texan.

Started in 2020, the initiative was formed to renovate the entrance of Painter Hall, honoring Heman Sweatt, the first Black student allowed admission to Texas Law in 1950 after suing former university president, Theophilus Painter.

Sweatt was one of only a few Black students allowed to attend before the historic 1954 ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education desegregating schools across the country. The first generation of Black students at UT enrolled in 1956. Those students enrolled in the school’s law school and other graduate programs that weren’t available at historically black colleges, Texas Southern or Prairie View.

Almost 10 years later, other parts of the school, including the student health center, dorm, and athletics, began to integrate. Julius Whittier, the university’s first African American football player, was recruited in 1970, and before that, Gwen Jones, the first Black student assembly member, was elected in 1962.

The exhibit is free and open through March 31.