Profs recall racial integration at BU

Feb. 1, 2005

By MEGHAN MERCHANT, staff writer

In January 1964, the first African-Americans enrolled at Baylor as students. The five black students, taking evening classes, entered the university after a decade of debate over integration, sparked by the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Four years later, Baylor had 18 blacks registered and graduated its first two African-American students.

Today, 41 years later, the Baylor student body is composed of 25 percent minority students, 6.8 percent of which are black, according to the most recent statistics released by the university. The percentage of minority students has increased 3.9 percent since 1997.

The decision to integrate Baylor wasn't an easy one for then Baylor president, Abner V. McCall, and the school's trustees.

A poll taken by The Lariat in September 1954, four months after the Brown v. Board decision, revealed 33 percent of those surveyed thought it would be all right for blacks to attend Baylor and participate in all aspects of university life. In addition, the poll showed 43 percent thought blacks should only attend undergraduate classes at Baylor and 62 percent agreed they should be allowed to attend Baylor graduate school.

Eight years later, a sample poll taken in the spring of 1962 showed 70 percent of students supported Baylor's admission of black students, according to an article published in the spring 2004 issue of The Baylor Line magazine.

Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences endorsed the racial integration of Baylor in 1963. A resolution introduced by Dr. Paul Armitstead and Dr. Rufus Spain, both emeritus professors of history today, to accept qualified students, regardless of race, passed unanimously, according to Lariat archives.

"The students ... have shown that they are in favor of integration, and I think that it is now [the faculty's] turn," Armitstead said, according to the article in The Baylor Line.

Looking back, Armitstead recalled his feelings of nervousness during the vote and was impressed with the gumption he showed as a new professor.

"It was a big issue around nation at that time," Armitstead said. "It was simply a matter of the south coming reluctantly around. ... We were generally earlier among the private schools to [integrate]. I felt that was a good thing because it had something to do with religion and everything else."

Since integrating the school in 1964, other events have marked Baylor's history of integration as well.

In 1966, Dr. Vivienne Mayes became the first black faculty member on the tenure track at Baylor. She had been rejected as a graduate student five years earlier due to segregation policies.

Baylor was also one of the first Southwest Conference schools to have integrated athletics as well.

Racial diversity and integration remain an issue at Baylor.

A 1996 Lariat article reported that a Princeton Review survey ranked Baylor first in strained race/class relations out of 309 surveyed schools. The Review's most recent survey ranked Baylor ninth as a school where there is little race/class interaction.

One student comment published in the Princeton Review ranking said, "Baylor could be considered segregated, but the segregation is not due to hatred or dislike of other groups but rather a preference of involvement in different activities."

"I don't think that's true about the little race and class interaction, because I pretty much get along with everybody," LaSteshia Runyon, a Fort Worth sophomore, said in response to the survey results in an Aug. 31, 2004 Lariat article.