In Black America Podcast: Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and the Long Road To Justice – Part I
On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with Gary M. Lavergne, author of Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and the Long Road To Justice. On February 26, 1946, a 33-year-old African American mail carrier from Houston, TX applied for admission to the University of Texas School of Law. Although he met all of the school’s academic qualifications, Heman Marion Sweatt was denied admission because of his race. He challenged the university’s decision in court, and the resulting case, Sweatt v. Painter, went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Sweatt’s favor. The Sweatt case paved the way for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka rulings that finally opened the doors to higher education for all African Americans and desegregated public education in this country.
In his book, Lavergne tells the fascinating story of Sweatt’s struggle for justice and how it became a milestone for the civil rights movement. Also he reveals that Sweatt was a central player in a master plan conceived by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for ending racial segregation. Lavergne describes how the NAACP used the Sweatt case to practically invalidate the “separate but equal” doctrine that had undergirded segregated education for decades. He also shows how the Sweatt case advanced the career of Thurgood Marshall, whose advocacy of Sweatt taught him valuable lessons that he used to win the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 and ultimately led to him becoming the first African American Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.