Sweatt v. Painter (1950)

Klarman introduces Sweatt v. Painter (1950) as one of two cases “instrumental to desegregating higher education in the border states and the peripheral South” (253). The case led to the desegregation of the University of Texas, and set a precedent allowing educational facilities to be integrated.

The case began in Texas in 1946, where a man named
Herman Marion Sweatt
Courtesy of TPR
Heman Marion Sweatt, was denied admission to the University of Texas Law School,
since entrance was restricted to whites. The President of the College, Theophilus Painter, refused to change the University’s policy restricting blacks from entering. When Sweatt asked the state courts to order his admission, the university simply constructed another university so that they could utilize the Separate but Equal Clause of Plessy v Ferguson (1896). The Texas State Supreme Court agreed with this idea, and its decision, found at HouseofRussel.com allowed the state of Texas to create a separate institution. Sweatt appealed the decision, and brought the case to the Supreme Court. At the Supreme Court, he argued that the “separate but equal” facility that Texas had created was in fact inferior to the University of Texas, citing its smaller, less prestigious faculty, its restricted course offerings, and a library that offered far fewer books than the main campuses library. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled in favor of Sweatt, agreeing that since the other schools facilities were inferior, the state of Texas had not met its “separate but equal” claim.
There is a great deal of literature and resources available for Sweatt itself, and regarding the circumstances surrounding the case. There is R. Scott Baker’s book Ambiguous legacies: The NAACP’s legal segregation in Charleston, South Carolina, 1935-1975, which provides background information about black higher education in the South. Additionally, The Crisis magazine published an article in 1951 entitled “Undergirding the Democratic Ideal” by Roy Wilkins, which spoke about education for African Americans as a hallmark of a democratic society. An article called “Racial Integration in Education” by Thurgood Marshall and John Clay Smith discusses the history of African Americans trying to receive equal education. There are also contemporary accounts of the case written by the African American newpaper, Houston Informer,(25 Articles) which has accounts of the case from March 5, 1946 to June 24, 1950. The case was also covered by four other contemporary newspapers, the Austin American, (11 Articles) the Daily Texan (1 article), the Dallas Morning News( 7 Articles), and The United States Law Week.
Chief Justice Fred Vinson wrote the decision which reversed the opinion of the trial court, which stated that the “privileges, advantages, and opportunities for the study of law substantially equivalent to those offered by the State to white students at the University of Texas”. Vinson compared the two schools and noted the “[t]he University of Texas Law School has 16 full-time and three part-time professors, 850 students, a library of 65,000 volumes, a law review, moot court facilities, scholarship funds, an Order of the Coif affiliation, many distinguished alumni, and much tradition and prestige. The separate law school for Negroes has five full-time professors, 23 students, a library of 16,500 volumes, a practice court, a legal aid association and one alumnus admitted to the Texas Bar; but it excludes from its student body members of racial groups which number 85% of the population of the State and which include most of the lawyers, witnesses, jurors, judges, and other officials with whom petitioner would deal as a member of the Texas Bar.” He was joined in his opinion by Hugo Black, Stanley F. Reed, Felix Franfurter, William O. Douglas, Robert H. Jackson, Harold H. Burton, Tom C. Clark, and Sherman Minton.
There is not a great deal of literature available for Justice Vinson. In 1969, Herman Pritchett wrote Civil Liberties and the Vinson Court. (The University of Chicago Press, 1969), which I could not find. There is also Division and Discord: The Supreme Court Under Stone and Vinson, 1941-1953 by Melvin I. Urofsky, which discusses his court cases while in the Supreme Court.
The life of Herman Sweatt is not altogether well recorded. Gary M. Lavergne’s book Before Brown details Sweatt’s attempts to get admitted to Law School, as well as other African American attempts to gain equality in education before Brown. Otherwise, he is simply part of books detailing the Civil Rights movement, such as Dwonna Naomi Goldstone‘s book about racial equality Integrating the 40 Acres, but not a key part of the book.
Likewise, Theophilius Painter is not mentioned a great deal in the pages of history. Actually, he is more remembered for his contributions to science than to medicine. James Schwartz’s In Pursuit of the gene: from Darwin to DNA speaks about Painter’s contributions to genetic science in his lifetime. The only other resources on him are all related to the trial, and there is no definitive biography on him. The best I was able to find was the University of Texas’s Biographical Note, which briefly discusses his life before providing the location to documents about his life.

This entry was posted in Supreme Court Cases. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *