Education Without Barriers
● By Kirby Tello
By: Kirby Tello
To look at the landscape of education in the Coastal Bend as it is today, it might be difficult to fully imagine the degree to which minority students were not afforded the same opportunities as white students in the environment of decades past. Especially for the younger generation, who have grown up after the Civil Rights Era, it could be easier to forget the times when racial tensions and biases were highly prevalent, not only in the education sector, but in all aspects of daily living right here in our town and throughout the country.
As history books will tell, breaking barriers of discrimination was not easy back in the 1950s. And while the nation as a whole has grown in its acceptance of all backgrounds since then, make no mistake: There are still major areas of opportunity to provide equal rights to historically marginalized communities.
However, in our little slice of island paradise, there is a piece of history in one of our great higher education institutions, Del Mar College, which put Corpus Christi on the map for leading the charge in desegregation in schools.
In 1952, two years before the landmark ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, Del Mar College succeeded in integrating its campus to permit the acceptance of African-American students.
In the years leading up to the college’s desegregation, Dr. Henry Boyd Hall, founding member and President of Corpus Christi’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chapter and Civil Rights activist, began a tireless effort of demanding integration in local schools. Dr. Hall’s efforts were further supported by a community of black and white women who had already formed the local YWCA together in 1950 and fought to get rid of outdated Jim Crow laws.
Between 1950 and 1952, the state of Texas still sanctioned separate facilities for white and black citizens in (to name a few) state parks and hospitals, and considered marriages between blacks and whites unlawful. These laws did not reflect the type of community Corpus Christi citizens wanted to live in. In fact, many white community members spoke openly about their desire to rid their generation of the old-school mentality of racism and segregation.
In light of this, groups such as the NAACP and YWCA were able to join forces and pressure community officials to make the necessary changes in segregation laws, and properly reflect the desires of the community.
The Board of Regents of Del Mar College were not completely blindsided by these demands. They were well aware of the mounting legal and social pressures to integrate the college, and saw the admittance of black students without discrimination as an issue that would be remedied in only a matter of time. So, when several African-American students attempted to enroll for classes at Del Mar in June of 1952 and were denied admission despite meeting the school’s qualifications, the Regents began to feel the weight of consequences of the students’ rejection, although their decision to turn black students away was supported by state law.
The NAACP threatened the Board of Regents with legal action. The surge of tension rising on campus to go against state law and admit black students was palpable. According to the Caller-Times, in a legal hearing prompted by the NAACP one month after the black students attempted enrollment, the Regents voted unanimously to “admit qualified Negro residents of the district to college-level classes in Del Mar Junior College.” Still, however, campus facilities were not made equal among black and white students. So while the board’s decision, made effective on Sept. 1, 1952, took strides towards integration, there was still work to be done to achieve complete equality.
Faculty members and white students were generally accepting of interracial education and further encouraged integration outside of the classroom. Extracurricular school functions such as dances and parties were made available to all students, but the safety of black students in those arenas couldn’t be guaranteed. And their safety was not threatened by campus culture, but rather highly conservative members of the surrounding community that stood firm with the dehumanizing Jim Crow laws set forth by the state.
However, the trailblazing unanimous vote by the Regents to integrate classes at Del Mar – two years before the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision – remains largely out of focus to students today. “[Students] have probably learned about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman,” says Dr. Lisa Welch, Del Mar College Professor of History. But the more recent groundbreaking efforts to end segregation in our community schools is a highly important achievement for the history of South Texas, and the country.
In light of this gap, Del Mar’s Communication Specialist, Michael Bratton, was part of the effort to announce a new course series that the college started to offer in 2018, which explores the depths of the city’s African-American history. These courses are designed to take a look beyond African-American history as documented during slavery, and provide focus to more recent black American history as it pertains to the Civil Rights Era.
It is true that Del Mar College was a catalyst for the nation as a whole to begin desegregating schools across other higher education institutions. Many of those involved in the Brown v. Board decision monitored the Del Mar integration to see if, in fact, allowing interracial education across the country would even work. As a poster child for achieving integration in schools, Del Mar College essentially provided a roadmap for success for all other schools that followed in their footsteps.
Keeping with its rich history of blazing new trails, Del Mar College continues to lead the pack when it comes to putting the best interests of its students first. Whether it be 1952 or 2020, Del Mar College has an outstanding record of valuing their commitment to delivering the best education and educational environment possible. And this is just the beginning.