For most of the 20th century, black students were unheard of at Southwest Texas State. This changed, however, when five African-American women enrolled in 1963 after a court-ordered desegregation.
Texas State celebrated 50 years of integration Thursday night, paying tribute to the first African-American students to attend the university. The event was moderated by Sandra Mayo, associate professor in the department of theatre and dance, and Curtis Hadley, marketing junior.
President Denise Trauth welcomed the audience. Then, the conversation among the “five pioneers” of diversity at Texas State began.
Mabeleen Washington Wozniak, one of the first African-American students, cited her father as the main reason she attended the segregated university.
“My dad wouldn’t pay for me to go out of town,” Wozniak said.
After initially facing a rejection letter due to her race, attending the university was not easy, Wozniak said. Never giving up hope, Wozniak turned the letter into the NAACP and was eventually granted access to the university.
Staying near home was a collective sentiment among the five. Helen Jackson Franks, one of the students, reiterated the university’s close proximity to home. Affordability also played a role Franks’ choice.
Franks said that she wouldn’t change anything about her experiences.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” said Franks. “I wouldn’t give it up.”
Although negativity followed the women through their college experience, they “persevered” said Gloria Odoms Powell, fellow African-American student.
“I felt the difficulty of being here,” Wozniak said. “My grades slipped, but I married and went back to school and was the top of my class.”
Despite an older adult telling her she should switch colleges and majors because of her lack of experience, Wozniak scored excellent grades in her required science classes.
Dana Jean Smith was another of the five who applied to the segregated university, with an emphasis in athletics. Smith said her determination helped her gain admission into the institution, as well as her “unfazed mentality,” Smith said.
“(Texas State) tried to send me a rejection letter, but I knew I would come here,” Smith said. “I got a lawyer, sat down and signed papers.”
African-American students were given bodyguards, and Georgia Hoodye Cheatham cited her bodyguard as more than physical protection. He also acted as a support system, Cheatham said.
“I had a personal bodyguard, so no one bothered me, and I felt very safe,” Cheatham said.
Collectively, the five alumnae emphasized the importance of a support system for students.
President Trauth concluded the evening by presenting commemorative plaques to the women.
Tamara Johnson, president of Hip Hop Congress, presented a poem titled 1963.
“The Avengers are spectacular, but these women my heroes,” Johnson said.