Austin exhibit honors first Black students to integrate the university

The free exhibit is open to the public through the end of the month.

The University of Texas at Austin has developed a new outdoor exhibit highlighting the stories of its first Black students in the 1950s.

The temporary exhibit, “Precursors — We Are Texas East Mall,” features 118 wooden posts that represent the university’s first Black undergraduates. As The Daily Texan reports, displayed on each post along with a QR code directing visitors to the project website are the names and photos of each student.

University of Texas
Landscape of Academic building dome in University of Texas (UT) in Austin, Texas. UT, founded in 1883, has the fifth-largest single-campus enrollment in the U.S. (Credit: AdobeStock)

This free exhibit is open to the public through March 31. It is part of a series of displays the university will host on the East Mall, according to a press release

Sharon Wood, executive vice president and provost, said in the release that the exhibits aim to engage “our campus community on the social and environmental histories of the East Mall site, as well as offering a glimpse into what the site will become.”

The university’s Contextualization and Commemoration Initiative created the project and noted on its website that the space is “dedicated to the students, faculty, and staff members who helped move the university along a historic path of increasing inclusivity.”

UT admitted its first Black undergraduates in 1954 following the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, according to the CCI. The first official group of students did not start classes until the fall of 1956, KXAN reports. According to the project, this group is known as “precursors.” 

“The East Mall project will commemorate these precursors’ experiences as well as those of the other Black students in the early days of campus integration,” the project website said.

The first Black students were admitted to UT’s law school and graduate programs that were not offered at Texas Southern or Prairie View universities — two historically Black schools in the state, according to UT’s diversity and community engagement division.

A decade after the Precursors made history on campus, UT began to fully integrate, according to KXAN. The university ended race-based segregation of the dorms, the student health center, the student government, and the athletics program.

“As CCI conducts ongoing research about early Black UT students, we will continue to add information to this online archive and to honor their important role in the university’s history,” the project’s website read.

Last year, President Jay Hartzell announced MASS Design Group would redesign the East Mall to honor the Precursors.

“We are excited and proud to honor the Precursors, whose perseverance in the face of extraordinary challenges helped pave the way for the opportunities our Longhorns enjoy today,” Hartzell said at the time, according to UT News

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