Backroads

A Texas newspaper in 1953 proclaims that lower courts threw out school segregation laws.

Two sisters in January 1957 enrolled at what was then called Temple Junior College. As they paid their tuition, they promised to do well and work hard.

They were no different from all the thousands of students who had attended the college before then or since — except for one thing.

What was significant is that the two sisters, Rosie Lee Granderson and Elner Lue Granderson (1939-1998), were the first African-American students to enroll in the college.

After much debate and discussion, trustees concluded that African-Americans paid taxes to support the college but were barred from admittance because of their skin color. The practice of “taxation without registration” was indefensible, they concurred.

The Granderson sisters are heroines in a little-known story of how integration came to Bell County and Temple College. What is unusual about the TC integration story is that no one protested or boycotted.

“We are going to be as good students as possible,” Rosie told the Temple Daily Telegram, “and I believe we will not have any trouble.”

The daughters of Roosevelt (1911-1984) and Jessie Lue Gilleon Granderson (1918-2007) of Temple, the Granderson sisters were 1956 honor graduates of Dunbar High School in Temple.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in May 1954 outlawed segregated education.

When the court announced the decision, four African-American students in Bell County applied for admission to Temple College, at the time not open to them because they were black.

College trustees, meeting in June 1954, kept the discussion to a minimum and decided not to decide. Board minutes were brief, but the Temple Daily Telegram detailed trustees’ discussions. They tabled the students’ requests until the board received further directions from state officials.

Meanwhile, the all-white, all-male college trustees grappled for months with whether the school should admit African-American students and whether they should push against decades of ingrained and accepted racial segregation.

The next year, 1955, Newman Smith (1907-1994), who held dual positions of TC president and TISD superintendant, told trustees they needed a plan to integrate the college campus. Robert McBurney (1910-1986), board president, appointed two trustees to develop a policy for admitting black students: Arthur “Butch” Fowler (1917-2002) and Hanes Brindley Sr., M.D., (1918-1990).

However, by late 1956, no plan was in place, mostly because trustees said they lacked clear direction from the state. Coincidently, that same year, the college moved out of Temple High School and to its own campus on South First Street. A half dozen African-American students applied for admission for the fall term. TC trustees again faced the issue of integration.

McBurney raised ethical issues. “We have obligated ourselves to those people in that we do not have equal facilities for them, and they pay a junior college tax as well as anybody else,” he said.

Trustee Joe Everton (1906-1975), an attorney, agreed. Considering protests and strikes in other U.S. campus, Everton said he preferred to place his trust in the college’s student body. “The majority of students have sense (although) there might be some concern on the part of the parents. The Supreme Court has made a decision. I would rather go ahead and admit them rather than be forced into it,” Everton said.

Brindley countered, saying that he had talked to “a number of Negroes, and they were interested in equal facilities only.”

Trustees developed no policy, but gave tacit approval to admit all students regardless of race. “If we have a Negro apply, then it is understood that we will probably admit him,” McBurney said.

Sure enough, the Granderson sisters applied for admission, were accepted without question and registered for full-time classes in January 1957 — just like all other students.

Then, another issue arose. Temple College gave tuition scholarships to valedictorians graduating from all Bell County high schools. Black students were excluded. When the valedictorian of the Bartlett Negro High School applied for admission and a scholarship, the trustees again debated the issue.

Temple College board minutes in May 1957 simply stated, “The board authorized (Hubert Dawson, college dean) to answer in the affirmative a question from the Bartlett Negro High School as to whether or not Temple Junior College would award a scholarship to the valedictorian from its senior class.”

In other words, all valedictorians, regardless of skin color, would receive tuition scholarships.

With that, racial segregation quietly and officially ended at the college.

By September 1957, more than a half dozen African-Americans were enrolled, as illustrated in that year’s college yearbook, “The Templar.”

Being able to register was a godsend for the students. Rosie Granderson told the Telegram in 1957 that she and her sister would not have been able to further their education if they had not been able to attend TC.

“We are children from a large family with many children, and we just didn’t have the money to spend,” she said, adding that their mother, a single parent, worked as a mess attendant at Fort Hood to support her children.

The two sisters said they planned to take basic courses before enrolling at Prairie View College (now Prairie View A&M University).

Juanita Jones Glover of Bartlett was the first African-American student to graduate from TC in 1959, according to the 1976 Templar.

Temple College was among many Texas schools and colleges that had integrated quickly after the Supreme Court’s decision. The events surrounding TC’s integration are explored fully in contemporary accounts in the Temple Daily Telegram and a doctoral dissertation written by Dr. Harry Clyde Farrell Jr. (1923-2014).

“Texas was one of the leaders in desegregation throughout the South,” said Anna Victoria Wilson, writing in the Handbook of Texas. By 1964, Texas accounted for about 60 percent of the desegregated school districts in the South and for more than half of all African-American students attending integrated schools in the South, Wilson added.