Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 1, Spring 2012 Page: 32
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Breaking the Color Bar
BY WILLIAM R. SIMON
n January 3, 1951, when two black ministers
stepped on campus at Southern Methodist Uni-
versity and joined their white classmates as
regularly enrolled Perkins School of Theology
students, the rigidly segregated racial divide in
Dallas narrowed. You couldn't say the color bar
came crashing down, but it had been broken. It
was an occasion for jubilant celebration in the
black community. "MINISTERS ADMITTED
TO SMU" blazed the banner headline from the
weekly Dallas Express, the city's leading black
newspaper. A feature story and photographs of
the ministers monopolized the paper's front page
above the fold. By the time the Express published
news of the event on January 20, a third minis-
ter had registered, and the paper identified the
new students as Rev.W L. Sneed, Rev. Laurence
E. Hall, and Rev. M. E. McMillan. The previous
year, litigation by the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
concluded in a major victory when the United
States Supreme Court invalidated racial segrega-
tion at The University of Texas School of Law.
It was the absence of legal coercion that drew
praise from the Express. "The significant feature
of this move lies in the fact that SMU officials
agreed upon this progressive step without there
being any court order."
It may have been voluntary, but there was
little evidence of pride when SMU Vice Presi-
dent Willis Tate discussed the new policy with
The Dallas Morning News. Tate emphasized the
new students' physical separation from the rest
of the school. Approval for desegregation came
from a November (1950) board of trustees deci-
sion "which gave the theology school permis-
sion to enroll Negroes 'when theology school
administrators considered the time opportune,'
said Tate. The theology school is in the process
of moving into its new quadrangle, removing
it from the rest of the university. For this rea-
son, the administrators believe, now is the time
to admit the students, Tate said." Those troubled
by the possibility of the new measure spreading
to other parts of the university were reassured
by the board's policy of strict containment. "The
board's action permits Negro admission only to
the school of theology, a graduate school."2
There was good reason for caution. Integra-
tion violated fundamental, long-held convictions
about race for Dallas's dominant white majority,
many of whom held strongly racist views toward
African Americans. For segregationists, the idea
of "social equality" triggered their deepest fear.
White supremacy ideology claimed "race mix-
ing" would lead to miscegenation and the de-
struction of the white race.And the surest way to
accomplish that, many believed, was the "forced
race mixing" of boys and girls in schools. Per-
kins countered potential resistance to its ground-
breaking initiative and other interracial advances
by adopting a strategy that became known as
"cautious advance." It was a gradualist approach
that balanced the concerns of those who feared
integration and of those who advocated greater
The path that led to African American en-
rollment at Perkins followed cautious, incremen-
32 LEGACIES Spring 2012
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 1, Spring 2012, periodical, Spring 2012; Dallas, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth277423/m1/34/: accessed October 3, 2022), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.