Release date: August 3 |
Wayland marks 50th anniversary of landmark voluntary integration
It wasn't a matter of breaking new ground or setting a precedent. It wasn't about who was right or wrong.
For Annie Taylor, applying to attend Wayland Baptist University was simply a matter of convenience. But her act, and the college's acceptance, would gain international media exposure for its role as a blow to the nation's practice of segregation. This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Wayland's move to voluntarily integrate, becoming the first four-year, liberal arts college in the former Confederate South to do so.
Taylor, a 48-year-old black teacher from Floydada, had a simple goal: she needed a few classes in order to keep her teacher certification. Her alma mater, Prairie View A&M College, located a short distance northwest of Houston, was one option. Huston-Tillotson in Austin, was the closest option open to African-Americans. Wayland College, at just 30 miles away, made more sense. But that was 1951, a time when the United States still separated blacks from whites in restaurants, restrooms, drinking fountains and public transportation.
"The legislature had just passed the Gilmer-Aikin Bill, which increased requirements for public school teachers. In order to keep their jobs, they had to take classes and get certified," explained Dr. Estelle Owens, professor of history and chairman of the Division of Social Sciences, who serves as the university's official historian. "She just walked in the door and asked (then-registrar) Audrey Boles what people would do if she applied at Wayland."
Boles apparently took the matter - and Taylor's application dated May 21 - to Dr. J.W. "Bill" Marshall, the university's president at the time, for his opinion.
The man behind the move
Whether Annie Taylor thought she'd meet opposition at Wayland or not is unclear. A Baptist herself, Taylor likely felt that allowing her to enroll was the Christian thing to do, Owens believes. As it turned out, she encountered a man who felt the very same way.
Having been in the presidency at Wayland since 1947, Marshall had already made a name for himself as a visionary. In 1948, he'd led the school to senior college status. He'd also initiated a ban of smoking, drinking, dancing and playing cards either on- or off-campus, gaining national attention and prompting many to predict Wayland's demise. The opposite had proved true: enrollment had increased.
So when Taylor presented herself as a potential student, Marshall realized the opportunity for the college to take a stand and do the right thing.
"He had thought about (integration) before and wasn't afraid of it," Owens said. "He was very loving and had already led the college in accepting Hispanics, students from South America, Asians and Native Americans. He knew if someone serious came and applied it should happen."
Owens said Marshall's childhood in Indian territory in Oklahoma made him open to all people and "racism was something he could never understand."
"Marshall said 'Jesus reckons with a person's soul, not his packaging' and he saw that (Wayland) was doing the right thing," she added. "He said later, 'This is maximum Christianity applied as well as advocated, because nothing less would be acceptable.'"
In Owens' opinion, Marshall's push for Wayland's integration wasn't based on any desire to make a show or start a controversy. But just the same, Bill Marshall must have been very aware that the issue was one of enormity, not just in Plainview, Texas but also across the country.
"It was definitely going out on a limb," Owens said. "There was no tax money for support, just hundreds of sweet little ladies from places like Clarendon who sent in $2 a month. He had to have the support. It was a very bold, brave thing to do."
The course of events
The college's president spent the next few days gauging the campus' opinion on integrating. At the urging of Board member A. Hope Owen (then pastor at First Baptist Church who would later become president of the university himself), Marshall presented a secret ballot to the faculty, who voted unanimously in favor of the question "Should Negroes be admitted to Wayland College?" A few wanted conditions put on the students, permitting them to enroll for classes but not live in dormitory housing or eat in the campus dining hall.
The same secret ballot was presented to Wayland students gathered for Chapel services late in the spring semester of 1951. Of the 274 students polled, only 9 were against allowing Negroes to enroll. The overwhelming majority of those asked believed a completely non-segregated basis was best.
With this information in hand, Marshall approached the final decision-makers - Wayland's Board of Trustees - calling a special meeting with the available trustees and several parties from which he had garnered support. Among those were the pastors of the First Baptist Church Plainview and College Heights Baptist Church, both of which had large numbers of Wayland students as members. Both had been asked and agreed that they would allow Negro students to join their congregations.
At that meeting, those present were for the most part in favor of allowing integration to occur at Wayland. A formal meeting was scheduled on May 31 for the final vote.
During the final board meeting, the minutes record a lengthy discussion on integration among board members. Some were in favor of the move, like Board President W. A. Mayes of Amarillo, about whom the minutes recorded, "The color line has already been erased at Wayland College and he wants to be one that is counted for it because he feels that is the Board's place and position to back the President."
Some counted Christian values of brotherly love as their impetus for accepting Negro students. James Peyton of Canyon was quoted in the minutes as saying, "I don't see how we can be Christian consistently and not admit colored students. It is unchristian to discriminate, therefore I am for admitting all races to Wayland College."
Others were not so open to the move, reflecting views the nation as a whole held about intermarriage, "mixing of the races" and allowing separate facilities for races. One trustee predicted doom for the university, stating, "The parents of students from my town would try to get their students out of Wayland if Negroes are accepted." Two members expressed their opposition and suggested a Negro school be built locally to solve the problem.
Marshall remained firm in his position, calling on common sense and Christian decency. "We are coming to a new age, a new generation," the minutes record him as saying. "Wouldn't it be fine for Baptists to be the leaders. The best thing to do is to open the doors to our schools to all races."
In the end, the vote was 13-2 in favor of complete integration without any limitations, evidence of Owens' belief that Marshall had quite a following at the university.
"He had a faculty who would follow him anywhere and a student body much the same," she said. "I don't think he knew the extent the board would back him on this issue."
The news of Wayland's voluntary integration reached far and wide. Local and regional papers carried the news, as did Time magazine. The November issue of Ebony magazine featured a six-page spread over the decision.
Locally, Annie Taylor's application was processed and classes began on June 4 with her enrolled in two. Another student who had applied on the same day, Ernest Dykes of Plainview, was in classes as well. His wife Vera and Bessie Williams, a teacher from Muleshoe, also enrolled for that first summer term. Another student enrolled for the second term.
According to Dykes, now a retired teacher and minister living in the Dallas area, Wayland's acceptance of Negroes meant he didn't have to travel for needed classes.
"I was teaching in Plainview and got a better job in Lubbock. They told me I needed some science courses," he recalled. "I tried up at Canyon, but they wouldn't accept us. I was told we had the right credentials but the wrong color."
At just eight blocks from their home, Wayland was a much more convenient place for Dykes and his wife to pick up a few summer courses. He remembers that summer as a positive experience, where he learned a little something about zoology and botany, as well as something about the goodness of others.
"I learned that there were all kinds of abilities and all nationalities and backgrounds," he said. "Some people feel that some races are above others academically, and you find that in all races. But people were very accepting of us."
Dykes remembers Bill Marshall as a "very considerate man. The way I pictured him was that a man was a man with him. But there were others on campus who felt this way too."
The reaction outside of the campus was for the most part very positive. Out of nearly 90 letters, postcards and telegrams that Marshall received, only 9 were against the integration decision. The letters applauding Wayland's move came from far and wide, mostly from folks who had no real affiliation with the college but wanted to throw in their support. One letter, from former student Charles Carlton of Ann Arbor, Mich., was especially laced with gratitude.
"If I had a million dollars, I sure would like to give it to you now, but since I haven't, I want you to know that I am very proud of Wayland and its decision," Carlton said in the letter dated June 15, 1951. "I know that the school and community will benefit from your example of practicing Christianity in a practical way."
Most of the negative letters were unsigned and carried hateful, bigoted messages, predicting doom for the college in that parents would begin pulling their students out of Wayland. The truth was that enrollment continued to climb, with the general attitude being one of applause for the college taking such a bold step.
Wayland's open doors would welcome several Negro students from Columbia, South America in the fall, enrolling full-time. George May and Bonnell Williams both graduated in 1954, having amassed a number of honors such as campus and class favorites. The next years would see the enrollment of African Americans continue to rise.
Owens believes that though the years may have served to downplay the magnitude of Marshall's move to integrate and the college's overwhelming support for that decision, the fact still remains that Wayland's step was historic.
"This was three years before Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 (which ruled against segregation in public schools)," Owens said. "But none of that legislation would have applied to Wayland because we were private.
"His heart was in the right place, though he got a lot of criticism for it. We tend to underestimate how brave it was."