"At a most uncomfortable speed": The desegregation of the South's private universities, 1945--1964
Kean, Melissa Fitzsimons
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
This dissertation traces the debate about desegregation on the campuses of five elite private universities in the South from the end of World War II to the early 1960s. The presidents of Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane, and Vanderbilt, charged with leading these schools to national prominence, quickly grasped that postwar realities---including pressure from federal grantmakers and national philanthropic foundations---would require some measure of racial change if the schools were to advance. In the interest of progress the presidents were willing to accept limited participation by "exceptional" blacks in the life of the university. The critical issue in their eyes was who would control the process of racial change. While acknowledging, some more grudgingly than others, that "outside" pressure for desegregation should be heeded, the presidents insisted that the pace and manner of loosening racial restrictions must remain the decisions of educated southern whites. Many powerful trustees and alumni staunchly opposed even this. These traditionalists strongly defended southern racial customs and fought any attempts to alter them for any reason, even the advancement of the schools they served. With varying degrees of energy and success, the presidents mediated between the proponents of progress and tradition, trying to avoid open conflict while gradually improving each school's academic quality. Only Vanderbilt took steps towards opening admissions, allowing black graduate students to enroll in its School of Religion beginning in 1953. The debate over the place of talented blacks on these campuses remained subdued until 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education and the growing grass-roots civil rights movement brought increased turmoil to the South. Although many trustees vowed not to bend to this pressure, the costs of maintaining segregation on campus became too high to bear. By the early 1960s, snowballing loss of faculty, student discontent, and above all, the threat of a funding cut-off by the federal government and the foundations led all these schools to abandon segregated admissions policies.
American history; History of education; Higher education