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Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South

Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane, and Vanderbilt

352 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / None

ebook available

Southern History

  Hardcover / 9780807133583 / October 2008
  Paperback / 9780807133583 / August 2013

After World War II, elite private universities in the South faced growing calls for desegregation. Though, unlike their peer public institutions, no federal court ordered these schools to admit black students and no troops arrived to protect access to the schools, to suggest that desegregation at these universities took place voluntarily would be misleading In Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South,Melissa Kean explores how leaders at five of the region's most prestigious private universities—Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane, and Vanderbilt—sought to strengthen their national position and reputation while simultaneously answering the increasing pressure to end segregation.

To join the upper echelon of U. S. universities, these schools required increased federal and northern philanthropic funding. Clearly, to receive this funding, schools had to eliminate segregation, and so a rift appeared within the leadership of the schools. University presidents generally favored making careful accommodations in their racial policies for the sake of academic improvement, but universities' boards of trustees—the presidents' main opponents—served as the final decision-makers on university policy. Board members--usually comprised of professional, white, male alumni--reacted strongly to threats against southern white authority and resisted determinedly any outside attempts to impose desegregation.

The grassroots civil rights movement created a national crisis of conscience that led many individuals and institutions vital to the universities' survival to insist on desegregation. The schools felt enormous pressure to end discrimination as northern foundations withheld funding, accrediting bodies and professional academic associations denied membership, divinity students and professors chose to study and teach elsewhere, and alumni withheld contributions. The Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 gave the desegregation debate a sense of urgency and also inflamed tensions—which continued to mount into the early 1960s. These tensions and the boards' resistance to change created an atmosphere of crisis that badly eroded their cherished role as southern leaders. When faced with the choice between institutional viability and segregation, Kean explains, they gracelessly relented, refusing to the end to admit they had been pressured by outside forces.

Shedding new light on a rare, unexamined facet of the civil rights movement, Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South fills a gap in the history of the academy.

Melissa Kean is Centennial Historian at Rice University.

Praise for Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South

“Thoroughly researched and attractively written, it is a welcome addition to the scholarly literature.”—Journal of Southern History

“This book is a welcome addition to the historiography of higher education. Kean gives readers a lively, engaging narrative that expands the understanding of racial desegregation at elite southern private universities....It should become an indispensable entry on the reading lists of scholars and students of the history of higher education and educational leadership.”—H-Education

“Kean has written a superb book, which makes a fine contribution to the historiography of school desegregation in the South by shifting the scene from the riotous campuses of the University of Alabama and Ole Miss to the board rooms and presidential offices of Duke, Emory, and company.”—History of Education Quarterly

“[This book] should be required in classes teaching the history of higher education.”—American Studies

“An illuminating and thoroughly researched exploration of the thoughts, decision, and policy announcements of university presidents and trustees at five Southern private universities from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.”—Louisiana History

“[A] thoughtful, well-paced study....Strongly researched and engagingly written...An invigorating study that should spark debates conceming the push to end desegregation in higher education, Kean's book is a welcome addition to the growing historiography of race in universities.”—East Texas Historical Journal

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